Thursday, October 13, 2005

Mike and the "Mechanic"

As most of you probably saw, the White Sox defeated the Angels last night thanks to a controversial call. With 2 outs in the bottom of the ninth, A.J. Pierzynski appeared to have swung and missed at strike three, a low ball apparently caught by Angels catcher Josh Paul. Home plate umpire Doug Eddings makes a flat, outward motion with his right hand, which seemed to indicate swing with no contact. He then, after a pause, brought his right hand up to a fist and pumped it down in the classic out movement. Apparently no verbal call was given at any time. Pierzynski, in a heads up play, runs to first. Paul simply got up, trotted toward the dugout, and rolled the ball towards the mound. With Pierzynski on first, Eddings calls him safe, ruling that the pitch hit the ground, and thus the Angels needed to put Pierzynski out at first base.

The replay, to my mind, shows pretty clearly that Paul caught the ball cleanly. But that's not really relevant. The real question is what should have been done on the field at the moment. Eddings, in a brief postgame press conference attended with two advisers, said his call was his typical third strike "mechanic", but did not clarify whether he called the batter out or not. He also said something else interesting: he said "I was watching the players for their reactions to the play." This is probably exactly the right thing to do, given that he could not see the play himself as he was screened by Paul. But Eddings mistake was to rely on Pierzynski's reaction, because Pierzynski could not see the ball either. Only Josh Paul knew at the time whether the ball was caught, and Eddings should have relied on his reaction, which was consistent with a catch.

In my view, Eddings thought the ball was caught, and made that call with his fist, but panicked when he saw Pierzynski run, and changed his mind. Credit should also be given to the White Sox Paul Konerko, who a few innings earlier struck out on a check swing that looked like a non-swing. Eddings made a quick call on that, without looking for help. Konerko complained bitterly all the way back to the dugout about Eddings making such a quick call, and I think put some doubt in the umpire's mind about whether he got it right. That doubt prompted his confusing reaction to the play in the ninth. That's why you argue with umpires over close calls -- to get them thinking the next time around, and maybe get them to go your way in their indecision.

Ultimate credit, though, should go to Angels skipper "Mike" Scioscia. He objected to the call on the right grounds -- that Eddings switched his call -- but more importantly refused to dwell on that play and criticized his team for their play elsewhere in the game. He knows that it is more important that his team get over this loss and focus on the next game, rather than whine about the bad break. He is focused on his team's mental preparedness and approach, rather than a particular detail. He is, in many ways, dramatically unlike our manager, Frank Robinson.


At 11:18 AM, Blogger Brian said...

Very well reasoned out. Though it still troubles me that an umpire is realying on the reaction of principals in the play vice, say the 1B or 3B umpire

At 11:22 AM, Blogger DM said...

That's a bit troubling, Brian, but in this case I can't say the 3B or 1B umps would have had a better look at it. Maybe 2B would have had the best from behind the pitcher. Eddings should have stuck with his call of out, then called all the umps together and seen if there was any reason to overturn that.

At 4:13 PM, Blogger SuperNoVa said...

DM, you are wrong, oh SO wrong.

(1) As I've argued elsewhere, I've TIVO'ed the two best angles dozens of times and they clearly show Paul trapping the ball on a short hop. I encourage you to go frame by frame and note (a) the speed of the ball; and (b) the jump of the ball about 4 inches upwards into Paul's mitt.

(2) You note that there was apparently no verbal "out" call. My understanding is that the verbal call is binding, not the signal in the first instance. Like the old rule of commercial paper - written numbers ("One thousand eight hundred fifty-two and 38/00") control over arabic numbers ("1,852.38"). Given that neither Josh Paul nor AJ Pierzynski could see the hand signal, they should have been going on the verbal call anyway.

(3) Eddings' hand signal WAS NOT EVEN MADE before Paul was already throwing the ball towards the mound. In the video, you see the ball hitting the ground a split second after the hand gesture.

(4) I'm not sure the right fist was anything more than a strike call. In the bottom of the 8th when Konerko struck out, Eddings made a three-part call for the out. (a) Half-safe sign to indicate no contact, (b) left fist for strike, and then (c) a right fist only when Konerko was tagged. There was no third signal for AJ.

(5) In the post-game press conference, Eddings said he was watching Paul for his reaction. My interpretation was that he was watching Paul for his reaction to tag Pierzynski to make the "Out" call. If he had "changed" his call, he would not have looked at Josh Paul the entire time - he would have turned his attention elsewhere and then been "surprised" by Pierzynski's run to first. The replay shows him watching Paul like a hawk to see whether he makes the tag/throw. The right-fist signal (which he makes for strike one and two) is the ONLY thing that people could rely on to say he "called" AJ out. The body language and everything else suggested he was waiting for a tag.

At 4:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

1917! 1917! 1917!

At 4:21 PM, Blogger DM said...

Commercial paper? What's next, the Law Merchant, Statute of Anne, Justinian Code?

I think at this point my favorite Howard Cosell quote is appropriate about White Sox fans:

"Clearly a franchise un-accustomed .. to winning."

You protest too much. Please apply the WWYD rule -- "What would the Yankees do?" The appropriate response of a winner is: The ball hit the ground. If it didn't, we deserved to win anyway. End of story.

At 4:46 PM, Blogger SuperNoVa said...

You know I'd never take the Statute of Anne in vain, DM.

Great WWYD concept, which of course, would have been the first things coming out of McCarver and Buck's mouth.

At 9:06 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

One of the biggest problems in baseball, IMO, is that umps only rarely reverse their calls (unlike other sports where they are more accustomed to admit some fault and reverse). Eddings was obviously hesitant in his initial call if failed to yell "no contact" or "out." But what is worse is that after confering with the 1B and 3B umps, they didn't reverse the call to get it right. The problem is that Eddings didn't think he was wrong and still doesn't, because to admit error as a baseball ump is the suicide. At the point they confered, the issue wasn't whether the ball hit the dirt or not, it was whether Eddings called Pierz. out. The 3B ump should have said, "I saw the play, I saw Eddings call him out, therefore he is out." And get Eddings out of the predicament.

Eddings claim that the out call is part of his mechanic is total crap. H. Reynolds and Kruk analyzed this claim yesterday. Eddings clearly made the same "out"-fist mechanic earlier in the game when Molina struck out and Pierz. tagged him. The point being, he used the hand slash to show Molina swung and missed and waited until he was tagged before using the fist indicator.

Lastly, I was shocked by some sports-pundits (incl. Wilbon) who think that instant reply should be used on certain occasions in baseball. They cite this as an example of when it would be used. But I ask, what would instant replay have changed if used here? Eddings is still unwilling to accept the fact the he f-ed up, and he's probably viewed the tape a hundred times.

I think the only positive thing that will come out of this is revisiting of the ump manual or whatever to clarify/standardize the process of making these calls. I hope, however, that baseball commits to creating a culture where umps would rather confer and reverse bad calls than ignoring the situation and getting them wrong.

At 9:19 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

In you first point, you assume that the ball jumped upwards because it hit the ground. This assertion is wrong. A catcher's mitt is shaped with with a more structured rim or lip. It is clear to me that Paul's mitt was between the dirt and the ball and that the lip caused the ball to bounce up into the pocket. The purpose of all pockets is to provide a uniform place for ball retrieval. The same happens on almost all plays and all different sizes of gloves (aside from the random snow-cone).

At 2:58 PM, Blogger SuperNoVa said...

Mr. Shadowy Anonymous Figure,

I wasn't relying just on the CF camera angle. From the 1B line/behind the batter view, watch both the ball and its shadow. They meet at the ground two frames before the ball disappears into Paul's glove. That angle shows where the ball and dirt meet, even if it doesn't show the change of direction into the glove on the short hop. Putting the two views together, I think its clear and convincing evidence of a hop.

I still haven't seen any leather below the ball on any replays. And that makes sense, because you could see the ENTIRETY of the ball when it changed directions. If it bounced inside the catcher's glove, I'd expect some of the ball to be partially obscured by other portions of the mitt.

Note that Josh Paul, to my knowledge, has never said that he heard an "Out" call.

By the way, DM, I saw the Yuda chat comments (I was tracking back links to Black Betsy). All I have to say is:
(1) The Zapruder film wasn't as convincing evidence as my TiVo replay.
(2) I did have a post describing why I first said "Minnesota Delenda Est." It's kind of strange to have up now - Minnesota destroyed itself this year - but I ain't changing it this late in the season.


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