No more Neighbourhood plays?

Wednesday’s games in the MLB postseason left both the American and National League Championship Series finely poised.

The Los Angeles Dodgers’ survived their first ‘must-win’ game, denying – temporarily perhaps – the St. Louis Cardinals a berth in the World Series with a 6-4 victory. The series will now head back to St. Louis for Game Six on Friday night.

Whilst the Cardinals remain favourites leading the series 3-2, a win for the Dodgers in Game Six will not only level the series, it will also bring back all the bad memories the Cardinals have of letting a 3-1 NLCS lead slip last year against the San Francisco Giants.

In the ALCS, the Boston Red Sox and Detroit Tigers will play Game Five on Thursday night with all to play for. The Tigers took Game Four 7-3 to make the series all square at two apiece.

Detroit jumped on Red Sox starter Jake Peavy, scoring five runs in the second inning. Boston had a chance to escape a bases-loaded situation having conceded only one run, but Dustin Pedroia and Stephen Drew were unable to turn an inning-ending double-play and despite a late rally, they were never able to recover.

Watching that inning again on Thursday evening, the main thing that stood out was that the Red Sox were lucky to get even one out on the potential double-play. Second base umpire Dan Iassogna called Austin Jackson out on a force play even though Drew hadn’t touched the bag, nor got particularly close to doing so.

It has long been the case that umpires have given fielders some leeway at second base when base runners are charging in trying to break up a double-play. The pivot man on the play, in this case the shortstop Drew, is vulnerable to being caught unguarded by what amounts to a sliding tackle.

So long as the fielder is ‘in the neighbourhood’ of the base, he will be given the out. It’s the baseball equivalent of a referee whistling for a foul when a defender slides in and doesn’t actually make heavy contact with the attacker. The fouled player shouldn’t have to leave his leg in the way and get it broken to prove that it was a mis-timed dangerous tackle, and a pivot man on a double-play shouldn’t have to suffer such an injury either.

However, what will happen next season when instant replay is introduced?

Maybe there will be a gentleman’s agreement that managers will not challenge such a play, knowing that allowing it as a general rule helps protect the players.

No,  I don’t see that lasting too long either when an important game is on the line and, in any case, the incident in last night’s game shows there’s a significant grey area involved. Whether someone tags a bag or not is clear enough. Whether a fielder is ‘in the neighbourhood’ of the base is much more subjective. Certainly Tigers manager Jim Leyland would have been well within his rights to challenge the call in this case yet one person’s definition of close will differ from another, largely based on which team you are attached to.

What’s more likely to happen is that players simply will have to adjust and make sure they touch the base, taking the ‘neighbourhood play’ out of the equation. I’ve stated before that introducing instant replay doesn’t just involve adding a new officiating tool, it will also change the way the game is played.

In this case, the result also could be an increase in injuries to infielders and if that happens they’ll potentially be a clamour for a rule change or two. One possibility would be for umpires to take a hard line on calling interference on a baserunner going into second base if the pivot man would in any way be likely to be touched in attempting to turn the double-play. Traditionalists will like that as much as they like the idea of collisions at home plate being outlawed.

It could have a series of consequences, or maybe everyone will quickly adjust and it doesn’t become an issue. It’s difficult to tell, yet it’s clear that instant replay will change baseball. Whether that’s for better or worse remains to be seen and like every other issue in baseball, opinions will be divided.

Baseball, like all sports, will continue to evolve and the game in MLB will be different as a result of instant replay.

 

 

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3 Responses to No more Neighbourhood plays?

  1. Ron October 17, 2013 at 9:27 pm #

    It’s a simple thing. The managers don’t want it called. They are willing to give up the out on offense to ensure they get the same call on defense. Ask yourself why the managers never argue this? They argue tag plays at second, trapped balls in the outfield, fair/foul calls 400 feet from, the strike zone from the dugout (which is impossible to do), and just about anything else.

    But they never argue about this type of call. And the simple reason is they want the same call themselves. If the go out and argue, and get it overturned, or called the next time, it will go the same way against them. Really simple explanation.

    • Matt Smith October 17, 2013 at 9:44 pm #

      Hi Ron. I agree with that to an extent, but my point is that once instant replay comes in it will no longer be so simple. Currently a manager *could* come out and argue it but the umpire won’t overturn the call and you’re exactly right that managers want their own players to be protected on the same call for them.

      The big change will be that Instant replay will give TV evidence and a right for the manger to have it reviewed. If it’s a vital game and your team’s potential game-winning rally gets dashed on the double play, is a manger going to stay in the dugout and say nothing? It may be that they will. It will be interesting to find out.

      • Ron October 17, 2013 at 10:30 pm #

        I deny the existence of replay.

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