THE BILL CHUCK FILES: TAKE ME OUT TO THE (Mc)BALL GAME
By Baseball Newstalgist, Bill Chuck
October 21, 2009
After last night’s game, baseball commissioner Bud Selig is considering charging fans for two games – once for the game on the field and then a second time for the game the umpires are watching because clearly that’s something entirely different.
In fact, it may not even be baseball. I say that because I know in baseball when a fielder has the ball and he tags a runner, or runners off base, he, or they, is, or are, out. But in crew chief, and third base umpire, Tim McClelland’s game, “McBall” the rule is flexible, arbitrary, or simply undecided.
Let’s for argument’s sake say there is such a thing as McBall. Let’s create an imaginary sequence of events in which the Yankees have runners on second and third, with one out in the 5th. Let’s imagine Melky Cabrera hits a bouncer to an Angels pitcher, perhaps Darren Oliver. Oliver then throws to the plate and, we’ll call him, Angel catcher Mike Napoli gets the ball. And let’s say, just for the fun of it, that Jorge Posada is the runner on third and for giggles, we’ll call the runner on second Robinson Cano. So Napoli gets the ball chases Posada back to third as Cano advances from third. As they reach the bag, Posada runs past allowing Cano possession of the base, but Robinson inexplicably remains a foot away from third. Remember this is all an imaginary McBall sequence. So Napoli, Posada and Cano are all surrounding third base, in this version of McBall apparently nobody touches the bases. Napoli tags Posada, then Cano (who then touches the base. Why? It’s McBall!) and all eyes turn to Tim McClelland who is about to make the call. He decides Posada is out and Cano is safe. “Brilliant!” shouts the crowd. “Let’s re-invade Iraq!” they scream in delight. And that’s how you play McBall.
Sadly, that’s not how you play baseball and, since we were playing by McClelland’s rules last night, instead of a double play which the Angels deserved, only Posada was ruled out. By the way, Posada was in this situation because he too was playing McBall. Posada is not known for his speed. But to his credit Jorge does have 17 stolen bases in 15 big league seasons. Last night he stole his third base in 25 postseason series and presumably was so enamored with himself standing at second that he could only advance to third on Robby Cano’s double. That’s McBall for you!
“Even-Steven” is another part of McBall. Sometimes umps are out of position, which is not always their fault. This is a fast moving game with big guys. So kudos to second base umpire Dale Scott who was in perfect to call Nick Swisher out on pickoff play at second as Erick Aybar slapped the tag on him before he reached the base. But this is McBall and Swisher was ruled safe, something I suspect that even Nick would admit was wrong (despite the fact that he looks and acts like an actor who as a child appeared in the “Little Rascals” and as he grew older joined the “Dead End Kids”). Moments later, Swisher was on third and the innovative McClelland without taking his eyes off Torii Hunter catching a ball on third, ruled Swisher out for leaving the bag too soon on the sac fly and the Yankees lost a run. This is the McBall Even-Steven rule perfectly executed between Scott and McClelland.
Postgame we learned the McBall McCuse, “The first one, with Swisher leaving too soon, in my heart I thought he left too soon,” McClelland said. “On the play with Cano and Posada, I was waiting for two players to be on the base. When he tagged Cano, I thought Cano was on the base.” When Posada touched the base and continued and Napoli tagged him out, McClelland said, “I thought Posada was out. After looking at replays, I’m not sure I believe the replay of the first one. The second one it showed that Cano was off the bag when he was tagged. So, obviously there were two missed calls.” I believe he meant “McMissed” calls.
Billy Witz in this morning’s New York Times shares, “In my heart,” Mark Teixeira said to a Yankees official as he returned to his locker. “That’s funny. That’s a good one.”
That’s part of the joy of McBall, laughs are abundant. Just ask the Twins, the Rockies, the Red Sox, they were all victims of the umps playing McBall this postseason.
Growing up at Playground 10, we had some particularly contentious Jihad-like games against Playground 9. Occasionally we would have “officials” overseeing the games. These would be teammates from one of the teams who weren’t playing, but the majority of times we self-officiated. Now, I know these games weren’t for the big money that these athletes are playing for, it was for something larger: honor. For the most part the games ended successfully: nobody was injured and nobody was arrested. Perhaps the MLB should consider self-officiating as an alternative to the embarrassment of McBall this postseason.
In the spirit of McBall, I must wonder how McClellan would have called the play of August 15, 1926, at Ebbets Field, when Brooklyn Dodger rookie Babe Herman tried to stretch a double off the right field wall into a triple with one out and the bases loaded. The runner on third Hank DeBerry scored. The runner on second, pitcher Dazzy Vance responded to the hit in the same way that Posada did last night tentatively watching the ball between second and third and then upon rounding third headed back to the bag fearing he would be thrown out at the plate. Meanwhile, Chick Fewster, the runner on first, who had basically caught up with Vance, now retreated back to second base. Then came Babe Herman in the great McBall tradition running at full speed, paying attention only to the ball rattling around right field. Herman, passed Fewster at second (Herman was automatically out for that) and then slid into third as Vance was returning to the bag. Like Napoli last night, the opposing third baseman started tagging the two Dodgers who were now on the bag as Fewster advanced from second and stood just a few feet away. Finally the third sacker started chasing Fewster who not only ran back towards second but continued on towards the outfield where he was tagged out for the second out of the play and the third out of the inning. Babe Herman had doubled into a double play.
But then again in last night’s McBallgame, perhaps everyone would have been safe.
Bill Chuck is a regular contributor to NESN and NESN.com and is available at Bill@billy-ball.com or by calling 617-566-2784.