Saturday, April 26, 2014

Bring back the old transfer rule – immediately!

By Steve Kallas (posted by Rick Morris)

EDITOR’S NOTE: MLB has since clarified the rules on this matter.  Steve’s column does an excellent job of explaining why that was necessary.

Good grief!  What has baseball done to baseball?  Once upon a time, with less than two outs, a runner on first and a ground ball to third (for example), the fielder threw to the second baseman covering and, once he caught the ball, the runner was ruled out.  Once in a while, when the second baseman caught the ball and then lost it while bringing it to his right hand to throw to first, the runner would still be out because the out was made when the ball was caught.  Of course, if the second baseman did not catch the ball cleanly, the runner would correctly be called safe.

The rule was not that the ball had to be caught and then successfully transferred to the bare hand to get the force at second.

Until now.

It’s beyond stupid.  Thursday night, Yankees-Red Sox, top of the second, Brett Gardner on first.  Brian Roberts hits a ground ball to Brock Holt at third.  Holt fields the ball and throws it to Dustin Pedroia at second.  Pedroia catches the ball cleanly while stepping on the base – an out in the last, oh, I don’t know, forever?

But on this play, Pedroia, obviously thinking about trying to get a double play, loses the ball after catching it, clearly while trying to transfer the ball from his glove hand to his throwing hand.  Gardner is called safe at second and would eventually score a key run early in the game (which eventually ended in an easy 14-5 Yankee win).


Well, apparently, the “rationale” is to take the judgment out of the umpires’ hands.  To get the out, you just don’t have to catch the ball while standing on second.  You now have to catch the ball and, if you decide to try for the double play, you have to then have a “clean” transfer to your throwing hand.  If you bobble or drop it on the transfer, there is no out.

Hard to believe, no?

Once you’ve changed the definition of an out (that is, from catching the ball cleanly while standing on the base to catching the ball cleanly while standing on the base and then transferring it cleanly), you’ve changed the game of baseball.

Presumably now (hopefully this change will be eliminated today or tomorrow, not at the end of the regular season or not until next season), the answer to this hypothetical also changes.  Runner on third, less than two out, ground ball to short.  The shortstop checks the runner and throws to first.

But the runner takes off for home.  The first baseman catches the ball cleanly with his foot on first base but then tries to transfer the ball to his throwing hand to throw out the runner at home.  He bobbles or drops the ball on the transfer.

It says here that, under this new rule (or different interpretation, depending on your point of view), the runner at first has to be called safe.

Just another absurdity in today’s game.

And maybe, sometime soon, we will see a challenge on this type of play:  runner on first, less than two out, ground ball to third.  The third baseman throws to second, it’s an incredibly close play.  The second baseman catches it cleanly and makes the transfer cleanly and throws to first.

Won’t a creative, intelligent manager (Joe Maddon, for example), at some point, come out and argue that, in the split second between the time the second baseman caught the ball and the time he transferred it to his throwing hand, the runner was safe, rather than out.  That is, the out is not now made when the second baseman catches the ball, but, rather, when he completes the transfer.  So, at least arguably, the runner could be safe in that split second.

Certainly not out of the realm of possibility.

As sometimes happens, what a mess baseball has made out of trying to fix something that wasn’t broken.  Hard to believe.


The answer is maybe.  If Pedroia decided not to throw to first (i.e., not transfer) then Gardner would have definitely been called out.  But because he decided to make the attempt (i.e., the transfer), he lost a sure out, one that was already made at second.

So, if this rule remains, middle infielders might have to think (as opposed to just making the play).  That is, if I catch the ball cleanly and, on the transfer, bobble or drop it, not only don’t I get two outs on the play, I don’t even get one out.

That’s a tough pill to swallow (and to make matters worse, Pedroia gets an error after what looked like an obvious out at second (and, yes, this is being written by a lifelong Yankee fan)).


While it’s always hard for the powers-that-be in baseball to admit that they’ve made a big mistake, they should come out and change the rule back to the way it was immediately.  Umpires can judge the transfer pretty easily (as they have in the past) and, if they make a mistake, the manager of the team who “loses” on the call can challenge it.

If anything, “instant” replay (whatever you think of it) will help umpires with the “old” (last year and before) transfer rule.

Just return the rule to what it used to be.

Immediately, if not sooner.


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