You make the call: Triple play, or dead ball?

Before winning in the last of the 9th today in Los Angeles, the Dodgers turned a crazy triple play in the top half. After squaring to bunt, Jesús Guzmán recoiled from a meat-seeking missile, only to have it hit his bat, bounce behind the plate, and then dribble into fair territory.

Reeling from his close encounter — the pitch would have drilled him square in the chest had it not hit the bat — Guzmán turned and jogged completely out of the dirt area and never did run to first, and the Dodgers turned the rare 2-5-6-3 triple play at a stately pace suited to a Sunday afternoon in the park.

A controversy ensued over whether the plate umpire, Dale Scott, had initially signaled dead ball, and San Diego manager Bud Black was ejected.

The video shows Scott, as soon as the ball hits the bat, retreating from the plate and raising both arms above shoulder level in a way that suggests “dead ball.” After a moment, Scott points toward the field to indicate “live ball,” but that gesture clearly came after catcher A.J. Ellis had picked it up and thrown to third.

I think Scott blew it. It’s not clear whether Guzmán was even aware of the apparent initial call — his back was to the plate during some part of the play — but the runners clearly were affected: Each one went back to his base, and each one as he was called out physically echoed the ump’s initial gesture.

I don’t think there are any grounds for appeal, as it was strictly a judgment call. I can’t find anything in the rules that speaks to an umpire changing his call during the course of a single play. But here’s a link to the MLB rules, if you want to investigate for yourself.


You make the call: Triple play, or dead ball? — 28 Comments

  1. Dead ball.

    Once the ump has signalled play is dead, it’s dead. Even if the call was wrong.

    If there isn’t a rule like that, there should be.

    • Reminds me of Satchel Paige’s tall tale of Josh Gibson hitting a home run that went so high and far that no one saw it land. The next day, in another city, with Gibson at bat, a ball drops out of the sky and lands in an outfielder’s glove. “Yer out!”, says the ump. “Yesterday, in Pittsburgh!”

    • To clarify my point a bit, the key point was that the ump signalled the play was dead. It’s different than a live ball play. For example, if the ump calls a runner out, but then changes the call if he sees the fielder bobbled the ball, that is defensible becauses the ball is still alive and the reversal comes almost immediately.

      But, when the ump throws his hands in the air, it’s like an NFL referee blowing his whistle. Everyone stops. You can’t then change your mind and say the play is still alive.

    • I don’t think that there is such a rule, Doug, just an understanding.

      The ball wasn’t really dead and we don’t have a sound bite of what he said. Looks like he was confused as to whether Guzman was hit or not. The rest of the play was fine, the ball went fair and was in-play. And the protest was as per the book (Mr Scully is a touched confused here, the umps are required to consult under s9.02).

      It was all about the initial confusion and the fact that once the play started, none of the bozos put their foot on the bag before the ball got to them. It’s the old, play the whistle thing…

      • My point is the players did “play the whistle”. When the ump throws his hands in the air, that’s the equivalent of the referee blowing his whistle. Don’t think you can blame the Padre runners for stopping when they saw that sign.

        But, I agree, the umpire was confused. Immediately after throwing his hands in the air, he then makes a pointing gesture to indicate fair ball, as if he were trying to reverse his call. Probably because he suddently realized there was no reason to call the play dead. But, it’s too late – even though dead ball was the wrong call, that was the call he made, and he should stick with it.

        • Agreed.

          My point is that when the ball went to 3rd and the umpire there called an out, the runners on 2nd and 1st, who were both within a step of their bags, would have done well to step on their respective bags, then throw their hands up in protest. That would have, at least, avoided the dumb outs.

          All moot, really.

          • How would that have avoided the dumb outs? As long as the Dodgers went third to second to first, it was three force outs. The runners couldn’t just hold their bases, they HAD to advance…

            I agree with the consensus that the play should have been overturned if it was confirmed Dale Scott initially called it a dead ball. Fielders can deke the runners, but the umps really shouldn’t go there…

          • @ES

            Yup, I blew it. It was a force play so no avoidance possible. Sorry about that.

    • I agree- it’s like an umpire calling a strike and then changing it to a ball. Once the call was made that effectively stopped play that should have been it. It’s one thing to override a call after the play is finished after consulting with other umpires. It’s another thing entirely to signal a play dead and then try to override yourself.

  2. Just watched the video and I’d have to agree that the ump blew it. Even during the play Vin Scully was confused saying “No play, no play. The plate umpire I thought was pointing that the ball was dead”. Of course, MLB will do what it always does, bury it’s head in the sand and pretend that it never happened.

    BTW, was it just me or did Vin sound amazing! Hard to believe that he’s 84 years old, he sounded just like he did during his prime.

  3. Reminds of the Doug Eddings phantom out call that was he claimed was just a strike call. I actually played poker with him in Vegas once, it was during spring training so he went up to Vegas for the weekend. He was incredibly drunk and throwing his money around and hitting on every female with a pulse.

  4. I watched this play live and also agree that it was a terrible call. Terrible break for the Padres, who were in a position to take the lead there in the 9th inning.

    And @4 Ed – I totally agree with you re: Vin Scully. He’s a pleasure to listen to.

  5. I was watching MLB Network and saw this happen… I’m astonished that the umpire didn’t admit he made a mistake. He put his hands down and then back up, indicating a foul ball (regardless of whether the ball was actually fair). Never seen a triple play quite like that before.

  6. Maybe he was confused because everybody was wearing #42.

    It looked like he was raising his arms to get out of the catcher’s way, but yes, it is his responsibility to communicate clearly with his arms. No way that a triple play should occur because an umpire is confused.

    We cannot entirely blame the ump, though. Bang Bang! Anybody would have needed a moment to recognize that the ball hit the bat and not the batter.

    What I am not clear about is the rule as to whether the ball should be foul because it started in foul territory. Which, again, the umpire reasonably might not have seen, being blocked by the catcher and having his eyes on a batter who might have just been beaned in the face.

    • Voomo — On the last point, no — until the ball passes 1st or 3rd base, it doesn’t matter if it starts in foul ground or touches foul ground at any point — all that matters is where it is when it’s touched.

      • @15
        Thanks for the clarification.

        This is an instance in which MLB umps really need to be able to call a “DO-OVER.” We all grew up playing with do-overs. Do-overs are an integral part of the game, and they need not be dismissed just because it is “professional” and it “counts.”

        I was a beer-league softball umpire in Boulder, Colorado for several years. The only league for 100 miles that allowed beer in the dugout (cans, not bottles, and not on the field, please).

        You strike out you buy a 12-pack next game.
        You strike out looking and its a case.

        Anyway, I was the only ump.
        I ran the whole show, including the scoreboard.
        And there was a triple-play opportunity that happened several times where I had to call a do-over.

        1st and 2nd, weak pop-up to deep SS.
        Is it an infield-fly?
        Well, I needed just a moment to determine that.
        But the pop-up wasn’t very high, and by the time I shouted “INFIELD FLY” from my position behind home plate (running forward from my position), well, everybody from both dugouts is shouting at both the runners and the fielders and nobody but the catcher is able to hear me.

        Ball drops.
        Chaos ensues.

        It’s a do-over, folks.
        No, I’m not allowing a triple (or double) play because nobody was able to hear me. There’s one of me back here, I’m doing my best, my best is pretty darned good, and it was nobody’s fault. Do-over. Yes, it is a compromise. And you know you have arrived at a good compromise when nobody is happy. Now stop arguing with me, the clock is running (softball shouldn’t have a clock, but it did).

        • Don’t think do-over is what’s needed, here. It’s simply a case of needing a rule like in the NFL where the play is dead when an official blows his whistle, even if done indavertently.

          If there were such a rule, it wouldn’t be a case of reversing or over-ruling a call. It would simply be “Sorry. I signalled that the play was dead, and that’s the end of it.” In some ways, anologous to a bad ball/strike or safe/out call – the call stands, even when the umpire knows he blew it.

          • Well yeah, and if they did that, it would have to be a do-over. Because they would be calling a dead ball on a live ball. The batter wouldn’t be awarded first, and no outs would be recorded. The most that could be called is a foul-strike.

            Here’s the word from MLB:

            MLB senior vice president Peter Woodfork released the following statement on Monday afternoon after investigating the play:

            “After review and discussion with the umpire, we have determined that the call itself of a fair ball was correct. However, while making the call, there was an incorrect mechanic, which appeared to confuse San Diego’s base runners. At no time did the umpire verbally kill the play on the field. After reviewing the entire situation following the game, the umpire realizes his hands were in an exaggerated upward appearance similar to a call that would indicate a dead ball. While we all agree that it was a fair ball that did not hit the batter, the umpire recognizes that the proper mechanic was not executed as he tried to avoid the catcher.”

          • If they reversed a correct ruling after the Pine Tar incident and made the teams play it out later in the year, they can reverse this one.

            MLB should call a do-over and make them re-play the 9th inning, 1sd & 2nd, nobody out. They created the infield fly rule to avoid shenanigans. They can create the umpire-couldn’t-see-what-happened-when-the-guy-bunted-the-ball-that-should-have-hit-him-in-the-face rule.

            It doesn’t matter who is to blame, no way should a triple play happen like that, especially in the 9th inning of a tie game between division rivals.

          • Voomo.

            I took your point to be that there should be a mechanism to redo a play within the game, as in “that pitch never happened, let’s do it again”. But, I guess you mean they should replay the game after an appeal (a la the George Brett pine tar game), which I agree with.

            Thanks for the MLB statement. Talk about CYA – blame the runners for misinterpreting the signal.

            Avoiding the catcher was not the reason Scott threw his arms in the air, and it’s silly for him to say so. As the still on the FanGraphs site (see Ed’s comment @17) clearly shows, Scott is a good 4 or 5 feet away from the catcher when he raises his arms high in the air a second time, even as the catcher has ball in hand and arm cocked to throw to third.

          • The world needs an umpire-couldn’t-see-what-happened-when-the-guy-bunted-the-ball-that-should-have-hit-him-in-the-face rule!

            thanks to Voomo @21 for this…

            I’ll be chuckling about it for days. and i will stop at that, since the merits are covered well by John’s post and the ensuing discussion.

      • “If they reversed a correct ruling after the Pine Tar incident and made the teams play it out later in the year, they can reverse this one.”

        There is a vital difference: the Royals protested the pine tar game. The Padres failed to do so here .

        It’s not a trivial distinction. The protest rule is a great one. It is the only mechanism under which anyone other than the men in uniform (players, managers, umpires) get a say in what happens (or has happened) on the field.

        In this case, I think the umpire erred – but I am certain the San Diego manager erred.

        • Tie game, 9th inning, complete joke of a triple play… and Bud Black didn’t protest the game?

          Let’s see?
          Lineup card? Check.
          Bag of sunflower seeds? Check.
          Making managerial decisions? Duhhhhhhhhhhh.

          What DID he say to the umpires?
          Was it just the standard insults to get himself ejected?
          How does it NOT occur to him to protest formally? Inconceivable.

  7. I’ve umpired some Little League games – not many, but enough to know that you can’t raise your hands to call a foul and then change your signal and point fair. If you do do that, then you meant to point foul and pointed the wrong way (even in Little League, you can’t change your call unless both managers disagree with you – I’m sure its much different than that in MLB, though). I can’t tell from that video or the Fangraphs analysis if the ball was fair or foul when Ellis picks up the ball, but if the ump signals that the ball is dead, then the ball is dead.

  8. Yep: Ump blew it; manager blew it by not protesting.

    And how cool would it be if they had protested and we did get a replayed-inning? Coulda been fun — and possibly even good PR for mlb/umpires for taking steps to make things right. Dang it Bud Black, why didnt you protest?

    But somebody’s got to give credit to A.J. Ellis and rest of Dodgers for playing it out, too. Well done.

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