May 25, 2024

Controversial Tag Play at the Plate

Cubs beat the Pirates as Joey Bart does not maintain possession of the ball

Controversial Tag Play at the Plate

The Cubs beat the Pirates 1-0 at Wrigley on May 18, 2024 in a game that ended in a controversial tag play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth. The play that was unsuccessfully challenged by Pirates manager Derek Shelton focused on the TAG rule, not the home plate collision rule.  Here is what happened as reported in part by Alex Stump. 

“With Cody Bellinger on second base and one out, Christopher Morel lined a base hit to center that looked like a winner off the bat, but Michael A. Taylor uncorked a strong throw home to make it close. Catcher Joey Bart cleanly caught the ball up the first-base line and appeared to make the tag on Bellinger’s leg before he reached home, but the ball was jarred free by Bellinger’s hand late in the slide and he was ruled safe.

“The Pirates challenged, arguing that Bart only lost the ball as he was presenting it to home-plate umpire Chris Conroy. The call was eventually confirmed…

‘My interpretation is Joey presented the ball,’ Shelton said. ‘There’s another runner on base, so he’s presenting the ball to show the umpire that he’s out. So, you see him secure, and you see tag and you see him take the ball out, and there’s contact with Bellinger. The way I see it, that’s voluntary that he’s taking the ball out and that it’s a tag.’

‘The tag was made in front of the plate,’ said a somber Bart. ‘Swept all the way around the back of the plate, pulling the ball out of my glove, show the umpire and he knocks it out of my hand. That’s basically what happened. It wasn’t like he knocked it out of my hand, and I was making a tag. I had full possession of that baseball. Like I said, they went and made the call, and it is what it is.’”

Ruleball Comments

  1. The Replay Official determined the runner touched the plate, but the catcher failed to maintain firm and secure possession of the ball throughout the tag. The call was CONFIRMED, and the runner is safe.
  2. There are arguments on both sides regarding the this play.
  3. Let’s take the argument that defends the “no tag” decision. It’s not a tag if the fielder in the act of making the tag does not hold the ball securely in his hand or glove and has secure possession throughout the tag. Also, if the fielder simultaneously or immediately following the touching of the runner drops the ball, it is not a legal tag. 
  4. Many years ago I saw a catcher attempt to tag a runner in a rundown between third and home. The catcher tagged the runner’s backside when he was chasing the runner back to third. It looked like a legal tag, but the catcher dropped the ball. Because he did not maintain possession throughout the tag, the runner returned to third base safely.
  5. Shelton and Bart argued that the tag was completed, and the catcher was showing the ball to the umpire when Bellinger knocked the ball out of his hand. If that’s what the umpire judged, then Bellinger should have been called out. But that was not the judgment of Conroy or the Replay Official. 
  6.  If Conroy determined that Bellinger intentionally knocked the ball out of Bart’s hand, he would be out. But that did not apply here.  The contact Bellinger made with his slide was, in my opinion, a normal baseball act.
  7. Umpiring such plays is not an exact science. Conroy and the Replay Official judged that possession of the ball was not maintained throughout the tag which I think is a stronger argument in this play. 
  8.  In such plays the umpire can only call what he sees and in real time it’s difficult to determine if Bart was presenting the ball to the umpire. 
  9. The intent of the catcher, or any other fielder in those situations would be difficult to determine.
  10.  If Bart had made the tag and was in the process of making a throw, the tag would be legalized if he dropped the ball. But that was not the case in this play because he was not making a throw. 
  11.  Regarding the tag rule, the laces of the fielder’s glove do not constitute a legal tag.  Also, if a fielder tags a player’s necklaces, bracelets, or any type of jewelry it is not considered part of the player’s body and is not a legal tag. But as we saw last year in the ALCS involving the Rangers’ Marcus Semien, tagging the batting gloves of a runner constitutes a legal tag. Therefore, runners when on base should have their gloves snugly tucked into their pant pocket to decrease the target area for a tag.
  12. If a fielder is tagging a base on a force play, he cannot hold the ball pressed against his body or under his armpit. The ball must be held in hand, or glove, or the ball can be pressed on top of the glove.  
  13.  In a tag situation, If the fielder has the ball pressed against the inside of his glove with his hand while the tag is applied, it should be viewed as a legal tag. This also gives the fielder more protection from having the ball jarred loose. The ball can also be pressed on top of the glove when applying the tag. 
  14.  Sometimes a fielder will tag a runner’s helmet while it is falling off. This would not be a legal tag. The intended place of a player’s helmet is on his head just as the intended place for a player’s batting gloves are in his pocket.  Common sense dictates that the player’s hat or helmet should be worn on the player’s head. If the player’s helmet is dislodged, it is no longer part of his person. A fielder could not make a legal tag of a dislodged helmet. But if the helmet is still on the player’s head, and the helmet is tagged, the runner is out, if the tag beats the runner to the base.
  15.  When a defensive player fails to tag the runner or the base and the runner does not touch the base, and the umpire calls the runner “out,” if the offensive manager challenges the call, and the Replay Official determines that that the defensive player did not tag the runner or the base,  the Replay Official shall disregard the failure of the runner to touch the base and declare the runner “safe.” 
  16.  If the defensive manager appeals the failure of a runner to touch a base prior to the Crew Chief making contact with the Replay Official and the Replay Official determines that the runner failed to touch the base and the fielder failed to make a tag, the runner is ruled out. 
  17.  There is no language in the tag rule that a fielder must make a voluntary release of the ball. While the TAG rule has no “voluntary and intentional release” language, the CATCH rule still does, albeit in a more liberalized fashion than in the past. When a fielder makes a catch of a batted fly ball, line drive, or a catch from a throw, the current interpretation of the voluntary and intentional release is that the fielder must open his glove with intent to make a throw which is umpire judgment.
  18.  From this corner the tag rule in the Bellinger/Bart play was properly interpreted by Conroy and the Replay Official. 

In the following video, Brandon Martorano, a prospect in the Giants organization, demonstrates the tag at the plate technique. You may agree or disagree with tis demonstration. This is an organizational decision.

Rich Marazzi

Rules consultant/analyst:  Angels, D’backs, Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Yankees, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.  

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