It took about a month for MLB to figure out what constituted a catch under the expanded guidelines of instant replay this season. But executives, players and umpires have gotten together to stop a strict interpretation of the “transfer rule” that had made previously simple plays unnecessarily complex.
As reported by Fox Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, umpires will go back to the way they had ruled catches in previous seasons. The new — or old — rules regarding catches go into effect beginning with Friday’s games. If a fielder has control of a ball in his glove, it’s a catch — just like it’s been throughout the history of baseball until the first month of the 2014 season. The catch is no longer negated if the fielder drops the ball while transferring it from his glove to throwing hand, which had been the case over the past four weeks as umpires called the new rule as it was written.
Here is the revised rule, as released by MLB on Friday morning via Twitter:
What had been causing problems for umpires — and occasionally presenting a loophole for managers to exploit — was Rule 2.00 [Catch] from the official MLB rulebook that stated, “In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional. If the fielder has made the catch and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the catch, the ball shall be adjudged to have been caught.”
MLB clouded the issue by issuing a clarification shortly thereafter that included the following sentence: “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.”
That led to plays like we saw in Cleveland on April 9, when Elliott Johnson caught a ball in right field, but took two steps with the ball in his glove, ran into the wall, then dropped the ball as he attempted to throw it. No catch, ruled the umpires.
Now, that’s a catch again. Order has been restored to baseball.
Personally, I thought MLB would have to live with this misguided rule through the remainder of the season. Could baseball change the rule when its interpretation has influenced the outcome of several games that have already been played? Is doing so fair to the clubs that lost outs — and arguably lost ballgames — because of how the transfer rule was called?
Interpretation of this rule and calling into question what was or wasn’t a catch was affecting how the game was being played. It could also have led to chicanery in the future. As FanGraphs’ Dave Cameron pointed out, we were likely to eventually see a fielder deliberately drop a ball after making a catch. Then an outfielder could throw out confused runners retreating back to a base, believing that an out had been made. That’s what the infield fly rule is supposed to prevent, yet it was being allowed on plays in the outfield.
Fortunately, baseball is taking the longer view here and fixing a mistake that had become glaringly apparent. Upon further review, the right call was made. Isn’t that what the point of this whole process was supposed to be?