Baseball replay: When a catch isn’t a catch, and then it is again

Major League umpires use the expanded replay system that was implemented for the 2014 season.

Major League umpires use the expanded replay system that was implemented for the 2014 season.

We’re less than a month into the era of expanded instant replay in Major League Baseball and the rules are being changed already. The changes have some people happy and some bewildered that a few games were decided by the loophole in the rules that caused a stir early this season. The rule in question was the “completed catch and transfer” rule which stated that when a fielder caught a ball he must transfer the ball to his throwing hand and clearly maintain possession. If he drops the ball, it’s not a catch. Of course, that wasn’t the rule for more than 100 years, but in this first season with expanded replay, MLB said it was so. A few games were impacted by this rule when an outfielder caught the baseball and clearly had the ball in the webbing of their glove, but when they proceeded to remove the ball to throw to a base, they dropped it. Umpires conferred (after the opposing manager challenged the play) and the out calls were overturned. But players, managers, and fans were rightfully unhappy with this development. A catch is a catch is a catch, right? I mean, when you go out and throw the baseball around with your father or your brother or your sister or your best buddy, you know the rules, right? A “catch” is when you secure the baseball in your glove, period. End of sentence, end of transaction. Playing “catch” is playing catch. Throw ball, catch ball, throw ball, catch ball, repeat…and on and on. But MLB got this one woefully wrong, mostly because they failed to anticipate the obvious injustice of the play. In one game involving the Tigers and Orioles earlier this season, Detroit shortstop Andrew Romine clearly caught the ball and stepped on second base for a force out, then, while attempting to retrieve the ball from his mitt, dropped the ball. Even though Romine had clearly caught the throw, stepped on the base, and taken a few steps before losing possession of the ball, the out call was changed to safe. This after armchair umpires were consulted at “The New York Mother Ship” via headphones behind home plate. That wasn’t the intent of this rule at all, and the backlash was predictable (as Tigers’ broadcasters pointed out on air Friday night, Brad Ausmus discussed the play with MLB executive Joe Torre at length). This year replay was expanded to include safe/out calls, fair/foul calls, catches/non-catches, and tag plays. As was previously allowed, umpires can still also review home run calls. But the change in the catch rule (it’s important enough that it’s Rule 2.0 in the rule book) was the most egregious error on the part of MLB in expanding replay. Argue all you want over how successful expanded replay has been so far in 2014, just don’t argue too much. Ironically, the “baseball argument” seems to be headed the way of the dinosaur. Almost every argument has been eliminated because managers can simply trot out and use a challenge in situations where they used to turn red as a beet and bark at the umps until they got the thumb. How much do you like replay? Has it changed the way you enjoy the game? Do you miss manager/umpire arguments? Tell me in the comments section below or visit our Facebook page to weigh in on this.

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About Dan Holmes

The editor of Detroit Athletic Co. blog, is the author of Ty Cobb: A Biography. He was formerly the Web Producer for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY, and worked for Major League Baseball as a producer. He contributed to Sock it to 'Em Tigers: The Incredible Story of the 1968 Detroit Tigers, and Deadball Stars of the American League. Follow him on Twitter at @twebman or visit his personal blog at danholmes.com.