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Baseball: A Complex Game

By David Yorke


About the Author

David Yorke is the CEO of Umpires Media, based in Toronto, Ontario. After a failed attempt at becoming a baseball player, he became a baseball umpire and a committed baseball aficionado. David is a graduate of the Professional Academy of Baseball Umpiring, and a 40 year career cinematographer, as well as a veteran of motion picture and television production. In addition to being an avid sportsman and mountain cyclist, he hopes to add commercial jet pilot to his list of fulfilled dreams.

Now that the World Series is behind us, and with all the attendant rules’ issues, I’d say that the officials did an admirable job… in the toughest of conditions: Hi Def video replay, with millions of fans watching it all, and at every conceivable angle. Of course we can all point to the Mookie Betts controversial call of fan interference on Jose Altuve’s long ball. Perhaps MLB would be well served by having overhead cameras showing whether a ball is in the stands, or in the field of play. While I couldn’t be sure where that demarcation line was… if the ball was in the stands, and the fan didn’t “hit” or interfere with the catch, it is clearly a home run. If the ball was in the field and there is any interference, “fan interference” is called. Both the fan and player are allowed to catch the ball, however, the fan is not entitled to touch the fielder in the field of play, or in the stands.

Baseball: A Complex Game Image

Surely from the first time that first ball was thrown to you in your backyard — we assume you caught it — you gained a gradual understanding of how the game worked. How many of us ever learned to actively interpret the rule book? And how many of us can say that we’ve mastered all those rules?

For instance, take the phrase “tie goes to the runner.” Sure, you’ve heard it before. Many baseball players accept it as fact in times of dispute. But I’ll bet you didn’t know that there’s no mention of ties in the official rule book. That’s right — there are no ties and there is no rule that says the tie goes to the runner. It’s more of an informal rule of thumb that’s become accepted as fact by many, but which isn’t recognized as an official rule. If the runner doesn’t beat the ball or arrives simultaneously (assuming we don’t have instant replay), it’s an out!

I’ve been umpiring for over twenty years now, and I’ve seen how many followers of the game are baffled by on-field rule interpretations. Sure, baseball umpires are trained extensively on how to interpret game rules. But what about the fans, or for that matter, the coaches and players?

Hall of Fame Manager Leo “the Lip” Durocher once said, "I made a game effort to argue but two things were against me: the umpires and the rules."

Baseball: A Complex Game Image

The good news is, you don’t need to be an umpire to get all the rules right. Technology can help!

For instance, if your phone can take slow motion video (a lot of them can these days), try taking a few slow-mo videos of runners crossing first base. This will help you see exactly what gets there first, the player or the ball. It’s sort of like your own personal version of instant replay.

Next time you see a play which you don’t quite understand, take a note on your phone. Lots of them even have dictation options now, so you won’t even need to type. Note the result of the play, who was on base and what was happening, then refer back to it later. No pen or paper required here — just use your phone (which you probably have with you all the time, anyway!).

Mobile apps are also perfect for quick and easy rules references. With the right app, you can search through the baseball rule book, right from your phone. So if you’re wondering about that “tie goes to the runner” business, type it in and see what comes up. What would have taken hours before this kind of technology existed now takes seconds.

The rules of baseball are indeed difficult to master. Whether it’s the difference between obstruction and interference, or the case of “tie goes to the runner,” there’s a lot to take in. But remember: You don’t have to do it alone. Technology like Whistle provides you with greater convenience, not only by removing barriers to entry that’ll help get more people into officiating, but in this case, allow you to communicate with other officials you’re working with. Less experienced officials can seek out the answers for any difficult-to-master rules by finding mentors along the way when assigned to the same game. Therefore, don’t be afraid to ask questions to your counterparts pre-game, as you’ll continue to advance and get assigned better games as organizers build confidence in you. Set high standards for yourself, and more importantly live up to your own standards.

The first enemy for an umpire is surprise, so stay aware on all the mechanics of baseball and I’d be remiss if I didn’t offer our Umpires Media solution…an app for that!

Check us out at www.umpiresmedia.com/rules. I know you’ll be satisfied with the results.

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  • Christopher

    Fun read!

  • Charlie


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