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Upon further review, new system is praised despite sour reaction to ball transfer rule

By Gerry Fraley The Dallas Morning News (MCT) • Dec 17, 2015 at 6:23 PM

DALLAS — Let the record show Texas Rangers general manager Jon Daniels and manager Ron Washington endorse Major League Baseball’s replay system.

“Considering this is the first rollout, the system is excellent,” Daniels said.

Said Washington: “Overall, it’s good. They’re getting the plays right.”

Washington hesitated before continuing.

“That one play has to be corrected.”

“That one play” is the literal application of the transfer rule, which requires a fielder to show full control of the ball to record an out. That switch and the new, hazy standards concerning plays at the plate are causing the most complaints about replays.

There has been carping about managers stopping games by taking multiple slow walks to an umpire, giving their staffs more time to judge if a challenge should be made, and camera angles.

There were two episodes during the high-profile Boston-New York Yankees series two weeks ago. Major league baseball admitted a mistake in not overturning a safe call for Dean Anna of the Yankees because it did not immediately have the video angle showing a tag while he was off second base. Boston manager John Farrell earned the first replay-caused ejection for arguing the replay was inconclusive on a call that went against his club.

“We’ve had really very little controversy overall,” commissioner Bud Selig said last week at the MLB Diversity Business Summit. “Everything in life will have a little glitch here and there when you do something new.

“Are our guys on top of that? You bet.”

There could be adjustments soon. Foxsports.com reported MLB and Major League Baseball Players Association are discussing clarifications to the transfer and home-plate standards.

The transfer call is the biggest of the glitches. It is reminiscent of 1988, when MLB ordered umpires to be more vigorous in calling balks, and the aborted move to more high strikes in the early 1990s. Bureaucracy has affected the balance of the game.

The Rangers were twice victimized by the transfer rule in the first 13 games, when catcher J.P. Arencibia and shortstop Elvis Andrus each dropped the ball preparing to throw to first to complete a double play. They are not the only team unhappy with the revised interpretation of the rule.

At the start of the past weekend, there had been eight appeals based on a transfer play. In each instance, the fielder was ruled to have dropped the baseball, and the runner was safe.

“It’s confusing,” said Seattle Mariners manager Lloyd McClendon, whose club benefitted from the ruling against Arencibia last week. “I’m as frustrated as the next person. You try to be politically correct with your statements, but I’m really worried about where we’re heading with replay, the effect it’s having on the game and the fans.”

The transfer rule has long been on the book. Joe Torre, MLB’s executive vice president of baseball operations, managed Atlanta in 1982 when the Braves lost a pennant-race game because the ball came out of left fielder Terry Harper’s glove as he hurdled a fence in foul territory after a long running catch. Torre did not argue the call.

The application of the rule has been modified.

Outfielders were given the out if they closed their gloves on the ball and took several steps. A drop after that was seen as in the act of throwing, a different play than the catch.

If the infielder dropped the ball at his feet on a force play, he had sufficient possession for the out. If the ball carried away from the infielder, he did not have sufficient possession for the out. The catch and the relay throw were considered two different plays.

During the off-season, MLB changed it to one continuous play. MLB acted because reviews and surveys determined the catch-no catch call was among the most difficult in the game, therefore ideal for replay.

In a directive sent out to teams and umpires, MLB said “Umpires and/or replay officials must consider whether the fielder had secured possession of the ball but dropped it during the act of the catch. An example of a catch that would not count is if a fielder loses possession of the ball during the transfer before the ball was secured by his throwing hand.”

Replays had ruled, entering the weekend, no-catch on two outfielders — Cleveland’s Elliot Johnson and Josh Hamilton of the Los Angeles Angels — for dropping the ball after taking several steps and pulling it from their glove to make a throw. Johnson had taken so many steps “they could have called him for traveling,” Indians manager Terry Francona told reporters.

Runners are now caught in no-man’s land, waiting on a catch-no catch call. The game is in danger of losing an acrobatic play: the double-play pivot.

That concerns Washington and his peers. Balls will be dropped on the pivot. A runner who is clearly out can be ruled safe only because a middle infielder tried a quick transfer to get a second out. Fielders will be more reluctant to try an aggressive play because the potential penalty — loss of a certain out — outweighs the possible gain.

“What’s happened is what they said,” Washington said. “But you never thought you’d have to sit on the bench and watch this.”

Washington and bench coach Tim Bogar have told infielders to play it the way they always have. If the infielders slow their actions to guarantee the sure out, they risk being crushed by a sliding runner. Replay works in unusual ways.


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