MLB umpires have forgotten how baserunning works

Jack Baer
·Writer
·4 min read

Trashing MLB umpires is a baseball tradition going back a century, sometimes for good reason and sometimes not. Umpiring is a difficult, thankless job where fans expect you to be perfect in a game of 100-mph projectiles, split-second reactions and a 188-page rulebook.

And yet, it might be time to sit down and have an important talk, because MLB appears to have a massive problem on its hands: MLB umpires have forgotten how baserunning works.

The latest example of the bizarre malady came on Saturday when Philadelphia Phillies outfielder Matt Joyce hit what looked like a double-play ball against the New York Mets. Shortstop Francisco Lindor, who had been shifted over, fielded the ball, missed a tag on baserunner Andrew McCutchen, then threw out Joyce at first.

The umpires responded by calling one man out: McCutchen.

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Incredibly, McCutchen was called out by second-base umpire Jose Navas, under the rule that a runner is out if he deviates from a base path (defined as a straight line to the base when a tag attempt occurs). From the moment Lindor had the ball to the moment he abandoned the tag, McCutchen ran in a straight line.

The call on the field was reviewed, but only to determine if Joyce was out at first base, which he was. The SNY broadcast booth summarized it best:

"So the guy who was safe, they called out and the guy who was out, they called safe. I mean, just a disastrous sequence for this umpiring crew."

Making the whole situation even more embarrassing for MLB was nearly the exact opposite thing happening earlier this week when the Milwaukee Brewers played the Miami Marlins.

With runners on the corners and two outs, Brewers pitcher Zack Godley induced an easy groundball down the first-line, fielded the ball and tossed it to first to get Isan Diaz. An easy out ... until first base umpire Marty Foster ruled that Godley had interfered with Diaz's basepath and called Diaz safe.

You can judge for yourself, but it seems pretty clear that Godley never even touched the dirt.

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That seems wrong, but sure, let's conclude that even the grass along the first base line is the runner's territory. Hey, wait a minute, this concept sounds familiar ...

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OK, fine, so we have no idea where a runner's path along the first base line starts and ends. How about home plate?

Surely we can trust umpires to say whether or not a runner did something as simple as touch home plate, right?

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Complaining about umpires is one of baseball's longest traditions, but 2021 so far seems to be encountering even more mind-boggling calls than usual. Strike zones have seemed to be a problem as well, with zones expanding to a confounding degree at times. Making the whole thing even more frustrating is that some of these calls are being blown with the benefit of replay. Some calls aren't reviewable, but that Alec Bohm play above was, as were a number of plays this year that should have been overturned.

It's hard to see what MLB could do to fix this beyond telling its umpires to be better and maybe expanding the bounds of what can be reviewed, but even that latter option could be opening a Pandora's box.

In the meantime, we can at least relax with the knowledge that umpires won't do something really galling, like, say, give a team a walk-off win because a hitter stuck his elbow into the strike zone, right? Right?

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Yikes.

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