Catch and throw. The essential elements of the game of baseball. Same as it ever was for 130 years. Some catches are hard and some are easy, but the act of catching the baseball has been very similar forever. Glove technology changed the dynamic but catching a baseball is really the same now as it was in Ty Cobb’s day.
Until 2014, that is. For a strange rule change, or at least a league-wide change in the reading of the rule as written, has essentially re-defined what a caught ball looks like.
In my mind, likely informed by years of playing and umpiring and watching baseball, the catch and the transfer were two distinctly different things. Catch the ball then shift it to your other hand to make a throw. A beginning, a middle, and an end. Simple enough.
But no longer! Now the middle is part of the beginning, which is really just one long continuous act, it seems. If a fielder drops the transfer, it’s no catch. Which…no.
Here Elliot Johnson of Cleveland crashes into the right field wall to make a great catch in the first inning of yesterday’s game versus the Padres. As he passes the ball to his throwing hand, he drops it. Meaning the runner is safe as this is no longer considered a catch. Meaning I am irritated.
And just a few days before, Josh Hamilton fielding a much more routine ball, Josh Hamiltons the living sh*t out of this play, lazily dropping the ball as he moves from glove to hand. Ruling on the field? Safe. After review? Safe. This is no longer a catch, despite my protestations at the time.
Just after the Johnson play, Katie Witham of Fox Sports Ohio relayed quotes from an unnamed player, claiming umpires told him all spring that if the transfer is dropped, it’s no catch. So there is no real excuse for most of the bewilderment (as Dave Brown of Yahoo! outlines here.)
The official rulebook reads the same as it ever did, only adding to the mystery (rule 2.00, page 13):
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.
Well that isn’t ambiguous at all now is it? So there is one question left to ask: why? What is the real catalyst for this re-imagining of our basic understanding of what makes a catch and what constitutes a drop?
While we await word from the league office, remember to adjust your sensibilities to the 2014 mode. There is no longer a beginning, middle, and end to a catch. There is only change for its own sake. Baseball is a flat circle. To catch is to transfer and to transfer is to live forever. Welcome to the future, it’s the worst.
The official word I just received from a Major League Baseball spokesperson/flack – the league itself instructed teams 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.” When asked whether it was the umpires or the league that initiated this new reading of the rule, the answer came as follows:
In the process of expanding instant replay, we were asked to provide guidance on how some rules would be applied. After fielding questions, Major League Baseball clarified some examples of how a catch during a transfer is called. We have issued this guidance to Umpires and Clubs alike.”
So there you have it. The new replay system required a clear line drawn in the sand and the league drew it. See you in hell, tradition!