May 2, 2022

Did Bobby Witt Jr. Overslide? Or Was He Pushed Off the Bag?

Watch the video; how do you see it?

Did Bobby Witt Jr. Overslide? Or Was He Pushed Off the Bag?

The Royals hosted the Yankees on April 29, 2022,  when an explosive argument developed in the second inning that led to Royals’ manager Mike Matheny’s ejection. Here’s what happened.

Bobby Witt Jr. was on second base with one out when he tried to get and early jump and steal third. Nestor Cortes who was on the mound for the Yankees, paused a little longer than expected in his set. He then stepped off the rubber and ran at Witt. Cortes then threw behind the runner to second baseman Gleyber Torres. Torres then chased Witt, who out-sprinted Torres to third base.

Torres chose to try to tag Witt instead of throwing to third base where Torres’ teammate DJ LeMahieu was awaiting a throw.

Witt went into his slide late, but beat Torres’ tag.

However, Torres’ momentum carried him over the bag and into the back of Witt. Both Witt and Torres slid over and off the bag.

Third base umpire Manny Gonzalez then called Witt out for being tagged off the base.

“I’m going towards third and I can kind of feel him not close to me, so I slid later,” Witt said. “I kind of just brace myself with my foot, brace myself with my knee, leg, and I’m 100 percent sure I could’ve stayed on the base without him kind of coming into me. I guess it is what it is. That’s baseball.”

Witt twisted around in an attempt to reach back to the bag with his other hand, but Gonzalez ruled Witt out for coming off the bag.

At this point Matheny emerged from the dugout. He argued with Gonzalez and was ejected.

“I saw our player outrun their player and then (Torres) knocked him off the bag,” Matheny said. “I watched again on video, and it looked exactly like I saw it the first time. He (Gonzalez) blew it. I mean, that’s a big run. The fact, too, I was concerned he’d got hurt. … You’d like to see those calls get made right.”

Ruleball Comment

  1. In such plays the umpire must judge if the runner was pushed off the base by the fielder or if the runner’s momentum is what caused him to disengage the base.
  2. Regardless how Gonzalez ruled on this play, he was not going to win. If the call went the other way, he would have received a visit from Yankees’ manager Aaron Boone.
  3. From my naked eye it appeared Witt was pushed off the base, but he did say he made a late slide. Witt has outstanding speed. Would he have been able to hold the base if Torres made no contact with him? He said he would have.
  4. I don’t have that answer. This is a pure judgment call.
  5. “OVERSLIDE (or OVERSLIDING) is the act of an offensive player when their slide to a base, other than when advancing from home to first base, is with such momentum that they lose contact with the base.”
  6. MLB Umpire Manual: “If in the judgment of an umpire, a runner is pushed or forced off a base by a fielder, intentionally or unintentionally, at which the runner would have otherwise been called safe, the umpire has the authority and discretion under the circumstances to return the runner to the base he was forced off following the conclusion of the play.”
  7. The language of the rule leaves it up to the judgment of the umpire.
  8. The play itself is not reviewable-only the tag is. If there was a question whether or not Witt was tagged, that would be reviewable.

Kent Hrbek Pulls Ron Gant Off 1B  in 1991 World Series

Many of you will recall the Kent Hrbek-Ron Gant play in Game Two of the 1991 World Series. The play that continues to be debated, parallels the Witt/Torres play in the sense did Hrbek push Gant off first base for the putout, or did Gant’s momentum cause him to be tagged off the base?  The call was crucial as the Twins won the game, 3-2 and won the Series in seven games.

The Play

With two out in the top of the third inning and the Braves trailing, 2-1, Gant singled to left field, moving Lonnie Smith to third. Dan Gladden, the Twins’ left fielder, threw the ball to the infield. It bounced away but was retrieved by pitcher Kevin Tapani, who noticed that Gant had taken a big turn around first. Tapani threw the ball to Hrbek, the Twins’ first baseman, who tagged Gant’s right leg after Gant had reached the base.

Hrbek did not walk off the base in frustration or return the ball to the pitcher in resignation. He did not do any of the other things players normally do when the conventional methods of throwing out a runner do not work.

Hrbek simply wrapped his arms around Gant’s right leg and pulled.

It’s important to note that Hrbek was a much bigger man. He weighed about 253 pounds, to Gant’s 172.

Hrbek picked up the leg as the players stumbled backward, and Gant was ruled out by umpire Drew Coble as soon as the leg left the base.

Gant, angered by the call, flung his helmet off the artificial turf of the Metrodome and screamed in Coble’s face. He was eventually escorted by teammates toward center field.

If Coble ruled that Gant was pushed off the base by Hrbek, the Braves would have had runners on first and third with one out and David Justice at the plate.

Coble’s Explanation

Coble, an American League umpire from 1982-1999, said Gant was falling over his feet. He told Bill Plaschke of the L.A. Times, “(Gant) lunged into the bag,” he said. “His momentum was carrying him toward the first base dugout. When he did that, he began to switch feet. He tried to pick up one foot and bring the other one down.

“That just carried him more to the first base dugout. Hrbek took the throw low and tried to tag him as his feet were coming up, too. As he did that, (Gant) just went over the top of him.”

Concluded Coble: “In my judgment, (Gant’s) momentum carried him over the top of Hrbek.”

Like the Hrbek/Gant play, and the Witt/ Torres play, there will be different opinions of the same play.

Rich Marazzi

Rules consultant/analyst:  D’backs, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Bally Sports, ESPN, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.  

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