Attention Dale Scott: Hands Up Means Foul Ball

Yesterday, the Dodgers and Padres played for the seventh time on the season. Just like they had done in five of the first six match-ups, the Dodgers ended up victorious. However, unlike the previous games, they got some significant assistance in coming out on top. Here’s the Win Expectancy graph of yesterday’s SD/LA match-up:

Source: FanGraphs

You’ll immediately notice a giant spike in the Dodgers’ Win Expectancy in the ninth inning, as they went from having just a 30.1% chance of winning to a 62.2% chance of winning on one play. This is how that play is described in the play log:

Jesus Guzman hit into a triple play to catcher (Grounder). Yonder Alonso out at third. Chase Headley out at second.

And this is what that play actually looked like:

Jesus Guzman tried to bunt, but the pitch from Javy Guerra was way up and in. If it hadn’t hit Guzman’s bat, it would have nailed him in the chest, but the ball did manage to hit the bat as Guzman tried to spin out of the way. The ball then went nearly straight down, landed in foul territory, and eventually rolled out in front of the plate into fair territory. A.J. Ellis wisely picked up the ball, threw to third base, and the Dodgers went around the horn for an inning-ending triple play.

But, it’s a triple play that never should have happened, as Dale Scott clearly gave the universal signal for foul ball. If it’s not clear enough in real time, let’s try some still images.

Here, the ball is in foul territory, rolling towards fair territory, and Scott has his arms raised. That’s the signal umpires make on a foul ball or when time has been given, and is generally understood to mean that a play is dead. However, Ellis can’t see him, since he’s in front of Scott, so he rightfully plays on. Yonder Alonso, standing at second base, clearly can see Scott though, and doesn’t take off for third base. Perhaps he should have started running just to be sure, but just in case there was any doubt about whether Scott was calling the ball fair or foul, Scott then did this:

Scott not only held up his arms to the side, but he waves them again in a manner that couldn’t really be interpreted any other way besides “foul ball”. There’s just no way that Alonso and Headley could have reasonably expected the call to then be changed once Ellis picked up the ball and threw it to third, which is essentially what happened. Scott didn’t call the ball fair until after it was too late for San Diego’s runners to react, and the play ended the top of the ninth inning, allowing the Dodgers to escape with the score still tied.

This play should have been overturned on the spot. This was essentially baseball’s equivalent to the NFL’s inadvertent whistle rule, where a play is considered to be dead even though the referee shouldn’t have called the play dead and essentially admits to making a mistake. The players have no choice but to respond to the whistle as a signal of a dead ball, and anything that happens after the whistle is compromised by the fact that the player’s actions were changed as a result of it being blown. In this instance, there is no doubt that the Padres actions were changed as a result of Scott raising his hands and making a foul ball signal. Twice!

Maybe the Dodgers would have gotten out of the jam anyway. Maybe they would have rallied and mounted a furious comeback in the bottom of the ninth inning even if San Diego had taken the lead. Maybe that one game won’t end up mattering in the grand scheme of things. But, with the new playoff system in place, it’s more likely than ever that the outcome of one game could have a dramatic impact on playoff match-ups, and Major League Baseball owes it to the teams and the fans to make sure that games aren’t decided on incidences such as this.

I’d imagine MLB will take a “what’s done is done” approach to the situation, but I think something this egregious calls for more significant action – the ninth inning, starting from Guzman’s at-bat, should be replayed. The schedule even works out perfectly to fix this.

The Dodgers and Padres both get four days off for the All-Star break this year, and don’t resume playing until July 13th in Los Angeles. The teams could simply replay the ninth inning of yesterday’s game before that game begins, and they wouldn’t have to worry about pitcher rest or fairness in travel. Both teams would have just come off their longest break of the season and would not be put in an unfair position by having to play an extra couple of innings to start the second half of the year.

Yes, they’ll have to admit that one of their umpires made a mistake and potentially altered the outcome of a completed game, but that should be fairly obvious to anyone who watches the replay. By taking this kind of step, MLB can avoid an awful situation should the Dodgers be in a spot where one game would change the playoff standings. It was bad enough when Jim Joyce’s blown call cost Armando Gallaraga a perfect game, but at least that one didn’t affect the outcome of the game. In this instance, a mistake by Dale Scott could have repercussions on the standings, and MLB should do what they can to rectify the situation.

We live in an age where we have the technology and the capability to fix these kinds of mistakes. The “human element” shouldn’t dictate who wins and loses, or which teams get to play in October. We can clearly see that Scott’s hand signals altered the outcome of yesterday’s play, and as a result, the outcome of the game. Major League Baseball should step in and order that the game be picked up from where the mistake was made so that we can know for sure that the right team won yesterday’s game.

Update: As pointed out in the comments at The Book Blog, rule 7.06a seems relevant here, and it states the following:

“When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given.”

That signal was given (regardless of whether or not Scott said anything), so according to the rule book, the play was over at that point. This isn’t asking for a bad call to be reversed – this is just asking for the call that was actually made to stand.

Print This Post

Dave is the Managing Editor of FanGraphs.

Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted

Fangraphs should do their part by removing all data from that play on. Petition Baseball Reference and others to do the same.