The rule book seemed clear:
If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.
Crew chief and home plate umpire Jerry Layne, however, felt differently, saying afterward that “the passed ball changed the whole rule around to where, in my judgment, it had nothing to do with [what happened next]. Therefore, [the interference] didn’t have any effect on it, in my judgment.” (In other words, that the ball had already passed Wieters when the bat hit him, and the contact was thus incidental to the play and did not necessitate a dead ball ruling.)
“I understand [that] it’s pretty much my judgment,” Layne said. “I got together and found [the rest of the crew] was in agreement. That’s what we went with.”
Fans have argued about this rule, and its interpretation, in the two weeks since that game. Lots of people have expressed lots of certainty, on both sides. At least, until this week, when chief baseball officer Joe Torre appeared on Chris Russo’s show on SiriusXM’s Mad Dog Sports Radio. Russo asked Torre specifically about the application of that rule, at that moment in that game.
“You know, the whole rule interpretation — there’s rules, and then there’s instructions to the umpires,” Torre began. “There’s separate books. And what Jerry’s feeling was, that the interference didn’t take precedent over the fact that the ball was already past [Wieters] when the contact took place.
“However, the rule states — and you probably have read the rule — that when contact is made — in other words, when the bat came around and hit the catcher’s mask — it’s a dead ball,” Torre went on. “It’s a dead ball. And that’s the one thing that should have taken precedence.”
DOINK. BOP. BANG. CRASH. RIM SHOT. HILARIOUS LAUGHTER.
“And again, the manager — Dusty [Baker] in this case — he could have gone, which we remind the managers,” Torre went on. “If you’ve got a question, a rule question — not a judgment question but a rule question — if you don’t like what the umpire’s telling you, ask him for a rules check. And they can do that. They can go to the replay center on the headset and check a rule.”
That’s … but, I mean … yeah.
Russo then wondered whether Baker’s inability to ask for a rules check might have contributed to his losing his job.
“I don’t know,” Torre said. “I mean, Dusty, I thought, had certainly two good years.”
“Yeah, but that was a big play!” Russo said. “If that’s a dead ball, Baez is out and the inning’s over.”
Indeed, who knows what would have happened next, but if Baez was out and the inning was over, the Cubs would not have scored their final two runs of that inning, in a game they won by a run.
“Yeah. Yeah. Again, that’s one of those things,” Torre said. “You know, the interesting part, we’re able to change what is it, 45, 50 percent of the calls that have been challenged, right? And it obviously is 45 or 50 percent more than we used to challenge before replay. But once you put replay in, everybody thinks you’re gonna get every single thing right.”
Which is maybe unfair. But when a missed call leads to two runs in a Game 5 heartbreaker that you lose by a single run … again, that’s apparently just one of those things.