By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — If you were fortunate (or unfortunate) enough to be logged on to Twitter late Tuesday night during Game 6 of the World Series, then you know that after the controversial interference call on Trea Turner and the very long delay that followed, the internet seas were angry. Quite angry indeed.
And while the dust has mostly settled on the rage — thanks in large part to Anthony Rendon rendering the discussion moot with a casual four RBIs after the mayhem — it’s worth looking back on a situation that was wholly and completely mismanaged by the umpires on the field, MLB’s replay office in Chelsea, and “Chief Baseball Officer” Joe Torre.
The call itself — an interference ruling on Turner, who made contact with Yuli Gurriel’s glove as the throw from pitcher Brad Peacock arrived at first base — was a controversial one. It had the baseball world running to the rulebook to focus on the running lane that is chalked out on every MLB diamond every single night.
By the letter of law, umpire Sam Holbrook wasn’t wrong in determining that Turner was out. But that doesn’t mean he was right.
Turner ran in a straight line from the right-handed batter’s box to first base. Part of his body was in fair territory when he hit the base, but along the way he never stepped on the infield grass after the 45-foot mark of the base line. When he arrived at the base, he stepped on the middle of the bag with his left foot, meaning the right side of his body strayed into foul territory. Adding to that, Peacock’s throw originated from a spot where the batter’s running lane shouldn’t come into play.
It was significant, too, as it completely changed the dynamic of the inning. Instead of the Nationals having second and third with nobody out, they had just a runner on first with one out.
All of those reasons made the ruling peculiar, if not technically incorrect. And so, the debate raged.
That was … until the game concluded. With MLB likely ecstatic to have not seen such a call determine the ending of the World Series, Torre talked with Fox’s Ken Rosenthal in the dugout and explained that the rule which everybody was debating? That was not the rule that factored in at all. Torre “explained” that instead of being ruled out for interfering with Peacock’s throw, Turner had been ruled out for interfering with Gurriel’s ability to catch that throw.
Take it away, Joe:
“Well, he was called out, Kenny, because he ran — there’s a 45-foot restraining line where you’re supposed to run as a base runner, in between those lines. He ran to first base. That wasn’t the call. The call was the fact that he interfered with Gurriel trying to catch the ball. You notice, the glove came off his hand. That’s when Sam Holbrook called him out for basically interference.”
“Basically interference” is not in MLB’s rulebook, if you were curious.
Torre almost remembered to not say “basically” when he gave a press conference several minutes later.
Joe, back to you!
“Yes, the ruling was that Trea Turner interfered, basically — not basically, he interfered with the first baseman trying to make a play. In fact Gurriel’s glove even came off at that point in time. He did run to the fair side of those 45-foot line, but really the violation was when he kept Gurriel from being able to catch the ball at first base.”
Torre then read the entire rule about exactly where a runner may run while moving toward first base. It was electric. Torre then said the rule he had just read? It did not apply in this case.
“So it wasn’t that situation. It was a throw to first base and that’s why it was ruled basically an interference.”
Ah. “Basically” interference. That dastardly word strikes again.
(Torre’s “explanation” for why the umpiring crew went to headsets, what that conversation with the replay center might have been about, and why the delay took so long was arguably more baffling than anything else. We could also get into the fact that by Turner’s estimation, Torre was “hiding” during the lengthy review process. However, we’re trying to keep things on track here.)
Anyhoo, if you’re paying attention, as the entire baseball world argued about the strict application of the rules with regard to running in fair or foul ground to first base, Torre was saying that such an argument was meaningless. The only reason Turner was called out was because he knocked Gurriel’s glove off.
And so, with that information, you must look at where Turner was and what Turner was doing at the time he knocked Gurriel’s glove off. And in that moment, Turner was … stepping on first base … with his left foot … after hitting a nubber up the third-base line … trying to reach base … in the World Series.
Torre’s only answer when asked what Turner could have or should have done to avoid this call “basically” centered on the idea that if Turner had been running in foul ground, then his angle to the base would have been different and thus, Gurriel “may have had an easier chance catching the ball.”
Here are some photographs of Turner “basically interfering” with Gurriel.
You see the problem here, right?
The first base bag … it’s in fair territory. Resultingly, part of Turner’s body was in fair territory. Had Turner ran only inside the chalk lines (which nobody in Major League Baseball ever runs inside) he still would have needed to get part of his body into fair territory in order to touch first base. That base, once again, is in fair territory.
So, in the act of stepping on first base, a bad throw by Peacock led Gurriel to reach into the moving runner’s body because the throw was headed to foul territory, thus leading to contact. And for that, the runner was called out. If you can manage to step out of the argument and debate about running lane rule that everybody was screaming about, you can see that this is a problem.
Essentially, for running through the first base bag (and stepping on the middle of the bag with his left foot, no less), Turner was treated the same way Alex Rodriguez was for slapping the ball out of Bronson Arroyo’s glove many moons ago.
That’s … not how this works.
Or at least, that’s not how it should work.
(A-Rod, penny for your thoughts:
What a joke. Makes no sense. #WorldSeries
— Alex Rodriguez (@AROD) October 30, 2019
Right on, man.)
Had Torre stuck with the explanation of the chalk lines, then anyone who argued that such a rule is rarely enforced (especially when the throw comes from where Peacock threw the ball) would have to pound sand. Technically, the rule was applied in the strictest sense. But instead, Torre explained that while stepping on the actual base, Turner was interfering with Gurriel’s ability to catch the ball.
In any event, the Nationals won, thus sparing MLB from embarrassment and shame. And heck, the league will probably benefit, as the late-game controversy brought more attention to this series than anything else that’s happened on the field. (A couple of things off the field garnered some eyeballs, too, but, well, that was different.) Ratings for Game 7 will be pretty good — by baseball’s standards, anyway.
But this was a not-so-great situation made incalculably worse by Joe Torre. This might be the moment where it became crystal clear that the sport deserves better from its “Chief Baseball Officer.”