Nearly four weeks into the season, Major League Baseball essentially admitted a mistake to a tweaked rule interpretation sparked by the new instant replay system instituted this year. The league announced Friday afternoon that it would revert back to the original interpretation of what constitutes a catch effective immediately, a change to the so-called “transfer rule” applauded inside the Nationals clubhouse.
“It’s good that it’s back to the way it was,” outfielder Nate McLouth said. “It was obviously a mess, which is why it only took three weeks of it happening for them to change. … The umpires were calling it like they were supposed to, but the rule was just dumb. And I’m glad it’s back to the way it was.”
Added first baseman Adam LaRoche: “We thought it was a matter of time.” Said Manager Matt Williams: “It’s back to the way it’s always been done.”
After hearing from executives and players, MLB’s Playing Rules Committee — made up of people such as New York Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson, the league’s Executive Vice President of Baseball Operations Joe Torre, an umpire and other executives — ruled the change was in place for Friday’s games. MLB, the players union and the umpires association all agreed to the alteration.
The committee reverted back to the original interpretation of a catch, which essentially states that possession of the ball and transfer to the throwing hand are separate.
“There is no requirement that the fielder successfully remove the ball from his glove in order for it be ruled a catch,” the committee said in a statement. “If the fielder drops the ball while attempting to remove it to make a throw, the Umpires should rule that the ball had been caught, provided that the fielder had secured it in his glove before attempting the transfer. The Umpires will continue to use their judgment as to whether the fielder had complete control over the ball before the transfer.”
For weeks, players across the league and in the Nationals clubhouse fumed and were confused about the previous stricter interpretation that McLouth said recently was “changing baseball,” right fielder Jayson Werth deemed “unnecessary.” and LaRoche called it “one of the worst rules I’ve ever heard of.” As instant replay was installed this year, MLB clarified how the rule would be applied in the form of a memo distributed to umpires and teams before the season started.
Aside from some Nationals players saying they didn’t know about the new interpretation or were confused about it, many just fundamentally disagreed with the substance of the change. The words “secure possession” in the definition of a catch in the rulebook were the key terms. This is where the interpretation changed because of instant replay.
“What we have instructed clubs and players is that Umpires and/or Replay Officials will consider whether the fielder had secured possession of the ball but dropped it during the act of the catch,” an MLB spokesman said in an e-mail last week explaining the previous interpretation. “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.”
On April 12, McLouth dropped the ball getting it to his throwing hand after a catch in right field. On April 16, Danny Espinosa tried to turn a double play at second base but after snaring the throw from Ian Desmond dropped the ball as he tried to throw to first base. On Wednesday, LaRoche dropped the ball in his throwing hand after snaring a line drive, was charged with an error and that runner eventually scored late in a close game.
“I don’t think it’s cost us a game,” LaRoche said. “I’m sure it’s cost some teams some ballgames, and the difference in some divisions right now. I don’t know to what extent, but I’m sure a lot of guys would like to take those back.”
Players welcomed the return to their original style of play instead of the previous under the strict interpretation that could have lead to injury or hesitation.
“There’s no sense being hard-headed,” McLouth said. “The fact they changed it is great. People can go back to the way that they’ve been doing it forever. Especially for the middle infielders. When they’ve got a runner bearing down on them, they’re trying to turn a double play and they’re trying to get rid of the ball as quick as possible. You don’t want them to hesitate at all, because there’s a chance for injury there. I’m sure that’s where the biggest change is going to occur. Those guys can just let their double play turns rip and not worry about the transfer.”