How Does a Runner Miss 1B and Be Ruled Safe?
In the first game of the August 7, 2021, doubleheader between the Red Sox and Blue Jays, the following play created a unique situation.
In the top of the sixth, the Sox had Bobby Dalbec on 2B and Jonathan Arauz on 1B with one out when Alex Verdugo hit a ground ball to Santiago Espinal. The Jays’ third baseman threw to second baseman Marcus Semien to retire Arauz. Semien’s throw to 1B pulled Lourdes Gurriel off the base. Hustling down the 1B line, Verdugo failed to touch 1B when he leaped over Gurriel, who was blocking the base. Gurriel recovered himself and inadvertently stepped on the base while in control of the ball before Verdugo safely returned to the base.
Umpire Doug Eddings called Verdugo safe. Blue Jays’s manager Charlie Montoyo challenged the safe call, but the Replay Official confirmed the call on the field. He determined that Gurriel was not touching 1B when the ball contacted the interior of his glove. He also acknowledged that Verdugo had both feet on the other side of 1B and initially missed the bag. However, Gurriel failed to properly appeal the missed base before Verdugo returned to the base.
- The Replay Official acknowledged that Verdugo had failed to touch the base, but because the Blue Jays (first baseman, Gurriel) never made a proper appeal, the “safe” call on the field was properly confirmed.
- Rule 5.09 (c) (3) reads, “Any runner shall be called out on appeal when he overruns or over slides 1B and fails to return to the base immediately, and he or the base is tagged prior to the runner returning to 1B.”
- In the above play, if Verdugo returned immediately to the base, a tag would have been required to put him out. The word “immediately” is subjective. If the batter-runner is a good distance beyond the missed base and slow to return, in my opinion, the first baseman would be able to make a verbal appeal to the umpire with ball in hand or glove and step on the base or tag the base so he can make a subsequent play on a runner, if possible.
- When a runner runs beyond a missed base and beats the throw, he is vulnerable to being called out on appeal. The onus, however, is on the defensive team to recognize the failure of the runner to touch the base and make a valid appeal by properly communicating the appeal to the umpire. An inadvertent touch of the base which Gurriel did, is not a proper appeal and the umpire has no authority to call the runner out unless the play is appealed.
- When a batter-runner, or any runner has both feet on the ground beyond the back edge of the missed base or beyond the edge of the base in the direction in which he is advancing and has not been legally put out, the umpire is not empowered to call the runner out, but the umpire should not make the safe call as Eddings did.
- The proper mechanic for the umpire when the batter-runner beats the play at 1B but fails to touch the base is to make no call because the batter-runner has not yet touched 1B. This is covered in Section 37 “Appeal Plays” in the 2021 Major League Baseball Umpire Manual.
- If Eddings made no call, this would have alerted both Verdugo and Gurriel that they both had further responsibilities. Chances are a member of the Blue Jays would have directed Gurriel to tag Verdugo or make an appeal. On the other hand, most likely Red Sox 1B coach Ramon Vazquez would have hastened Verdugo to the base.
- Because the Replay Official is tasked with applying his discretion regarding the placement of a runner/s as it relates to an incorrect signal or call by an umpire, in my opinion Montoyo should have argued that Gurriel failed to make a valid appeal on Verdugo based on the improper mechanics of Eddings when he sent the wrong message by making the “safe” call. But chances are Montoyo’s complaint would have been DOA if it got to the Replay Official because of the inadvertent, invalid appeal. But it would have been worth a try.
- It should be noted that the Replay Official has the exclusive authority to place runners. If a runner or a defensive player is unaffected by an umpire’s incorrect signal or call, the call on the field will determine the placement of the runner/s. Although I disagree with Eddings’ safe signal, I do not think it affected the actions of Gurriel.
- Gurriel blocked the base which probably prevented Verdugo from touching it. But because Gurriel was in the process of fielding the throw, he had the right to block the base. This certainly is unfair to the batter-runner whose only recourse to touch the base would be to barrel over the first baseman which would be dangerous. Perhaps MLB should revisit this aspect of the obstruction rule.
- A runner can be ruled safe at a base even if he misses the base if the defensive team does not make a proper appeal before the runner returns to the base safely.
- In such plays as the Verdugo/Gurriel play, first basemen should be prepared to make a proper appeal even if the umpire incorrectly makes a safe sign.
- The defensive team should carefully observe the actions of the batter-runner in case a runner is improperly called safe by the umpire, or there is no call by the umpire. A proper appeal would retire the runner either on the field or at the Replay Center.
- As one of the broadcasters noted the umpires should have had a microphone to explain to the fans what is going on. He said, “This is where baseball has fallen down in its responsibility to the fans. The umpires should be explaining exactly what they looked at and should tell the entire ballpark.”
Rules consultant: Cardinals, D’backs, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Bally Sports, ESPN, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.