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Special Update: Red Sox Protest Denied!

MLB has rejected the Red Sox protest of the July 15 game against the Yankees.

ICYMI: Review of the play

To briefly review the situation (in case you missed it, see yesterday’s post, “Red Sox-Yankees Rivalry Plays Out Again”):

In the top of the 11th inning the Yankees had Matt Holliday at first base and no outs when  Jacoby Ellsbury chopped a ball to first baseman Mitch Moreland, who threw to shortstop Xander Bogaerts for a force at second base. Holliday stopped between first and second and broke back toward first base, sliding feet-first into the bag as Boston attempted to complete a double play.

Bogaerts’ throw clipped Ellsbury in the left leg as he crossed the base. Because of Holliday’s location, Moreland appeared to be screened from catching the ball. Ellsbury was ruled safe by first base umpire Gabe Morales which prompted Red Sox manager John Farrell to ask crew chief Gary Cederstrom if there had been interference.

Farrell argued that Holliday interfered with the play and a double play should have been called. Cederstrom supported the interference call.

The subsequent review in NYC took four minutes and 59 seconds. The interference part of the play was not reviewable but the interpretation of rule 6.01 (a) (5) was and the Command Center claimed there was no rule misinterpretation.

6.01 (a) (5). It reads, “It is interference by a batter or a runner when any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner.”

The Comment to the rule reads, “If the batter or runner continues to advance after he has been put out, he shall not by that act alone be considered as confusing, hindering or impeding the fielders.” The fact that it took almost five minutes for the Command Center to agree on the interpretation of the rule, tells me there must have been some heavy discussion.

In explaining, why he returned to first, Holliday said he thought Moreland tagged the base to retire Ellsbury before throwing to second and the force was removed.

The half-inning ended without further incident as Chase Headley and Didi Gregorius both lined out against Red Sox reliever Robby Scott.

Watch the play here [external link].

MLB Protest Response

MLB used the Comment to rule 6.01(a) (5) to say that Holliday continued to advance and therefore is not automatically out for being in the way of a throw. They concluded that the word “advance” means both directions. Therefore, it was a judgment call as to whether Holliday intentionally interfered, which is not protestable. They further stated that even if they had ruled that it was a misinterpretation of a rule (which they ruled it is NOT), the protest would also have been denied because it did not adversely affect the Red Sox chances of winning the game.

My Opinion

I reviewed the situation with a former major league umpire who has an excellent reputation regarding rule interpretations. We are both on the same page: I agree that the rule in question did not impact the outcome of the game. You can argue that it affected the batting order etc., but that argument normally doesn’t fly. And because it did not adversely affect the outcome of the game for the losing team, the protest should not be upheld.

In my opinion, however, MLB’s interpretation of Holliday’s “advance” to first base is a flagrant misinterpretation of the rule. I agree that you cannot protest judgment but in this case I believe the umpires misinterpreted an interference rule and unfortunately were supported by MLB.

There is no doubt that a runner can return to first base, or any base, if he thinks the force was removed. This happens often and it usually results in a rundown. However, MLB is not presenting the whole picture in justifying their decision. In the Holliday situation, he interfered with a play being made on another runner (Ellsbury) when he returned. And this, in my opinion, is a clear violation of 6.01 (a) (5) which creates a double play penalty because of the actions of the runner (Holliday) who was retired. Intent should not be a factor here.

The Comment to the rule reads in relation to a runner who continues to advance after being putout, “…he shall not by that act alone be considered as confusing, hindering or impeding the fielders.” True, returning to the previous base is legal. But interfering in the process of returning to the base is not legal. And I think this is where the umpires and MLB dropped the ball.

Why is MLB ignoring the fact that there was another runner involved–in this case the batter-runner (Ellsbury) who was being played on?

By handing down this interpretation, any runner advancing from first to second on the 3-6-3 can return to first and hinder the play on the batter-runner and say that he thought the force was removed behind him. This can set a dangerous precedent and put the umpires into the position of ruling runners out for the running the bases in reverse for the purpose of confusing the defensive team.

This interpretation can lead to first basemen being “taken out” like middle infielders during the execution of a double play. Sounds crazy but based on this decision don’t think some runner/s won’t try it. It can create a new way that runners can run the bases.

Although, I agree that Holliday thought Ellsbury was retired at first, his intent should not factor in this play. Notice that the word intentional is absent from rule 6.05 (a) (5). This tacitly says that interference can be called whether or not intent was judged. There are several rules in the Official Baseball Rules where the word “intentional” is mandated. Rule 6.05 (a) (5) is not one of them.

Even if the umpires judged that Holliday had no intent to interfere, in my opinion it’s a moot point because the bottom line is he interfered with a play being made on another runner.

Conclusion

Simply stated, a runner can retreat to a base as long as he doesn’t interfere with a play being made on another runner.

If Holliday never impeded Moreland on his return to first base, there would be no discussion. But he clearly impeded Moreland who was attempting to make a play on another runner.

In my opinion, a basic fundamental of the interference rule was ignored by the highest court in baseball.

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