Anybody who is still up at this hour is definitely familiar with the play that ended the Pirates-Braves game that began on July 26th. Just in case you’ve forgotten, here’s a video.

Pretty wild stuff. As the Pirates announcer said, “The throw beat him by a mile!!” But wait, Mike McKenry actually had to tag Julio Lugo. The consensus seems to be it was an obvious call. Obviously, says everyone, or most everyone at least, McKenry tagged him!

Just watch the video again, and try to find the tag on the replays.

“The throw beat him by a mile!” “And he’s saying that he wasn’t tagged?!”

Here is the picture most generally accepted (by myself included) to be proof of the tag, originally posted by @TravHaney.

Maybe I’m just insane. Maybe I’m just looking for something that isn’t there (or maybe I’m trying not to find something that is there). But that is, at best, a tangent-point tag. Can we definitively say, even from that picture, where glove ends and where shadow begins? It’s not like blowing the picture up really helps any, does it? Maybe I need my eyes checked.

Julio Lugo was probably out at home, but because the ball beat him by so much, we seem convinced that the tag was there. Is this fair? Actually, possibly it is. It doesn’t matter by the rules, but I’m damn sure, despite the fact that McKenry’s tag would be just as questionable if Lugo was called out, there wouldn’t be this kind of investigation going on and I would be asleep.

This is just a bunch of rambling, but the point is that watching it in real time, from multiple angles, and even in slow motion, it’s very, very, very difficult for me to point out where the tag actually occurred. This isn’t the Joyce-Galarraga play, where the video and pictorial evidence was so obvious. This is a case where, in my opinion, the confirmation bias of seeing baseball beat runner by so much — “The throw beat him by a mile!!” — manifested itself in a similar reaction.

I’m just not so sure it’s as obvious as everybody says it is.

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42 Responses to ““Obvious””

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  1. Luke M says:

    No it’s obvious. He was clearly out. That was probably the worst officiating decision in the history of sports, no hyperbole.

    And I’m a Braves fan.

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    • Los says:

      Context neutral…I agree 100%.

      But I live in Pittsburgh.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Carefully watch the slow-mo replay (1:40-1:55):


      He may have made the tag, he may have missed. It’s very close, and we can’t tell. The umpire had a much closer view, so I’m gonna defer to him.

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      • DD says:

        The umpire was on Lugo’s side of the play, not able to see the tag as it hit Lugo’s leg – see comment below for confirmation of the tag. Because he wasn’t in position to see the tag, and that was his reasoning for not calling him out, he ABSOLUTELY should have deferred to the 3B and 1B umps for confirmation. There is no reason a 19 inning game should end on a call that close where the ump doesn’t have the absolute best angle to make a definitive call.

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        • Shawn says:

          This is the dumbest comment on the matter. You want the guy staring right at the play from three feet, to defer to someone ninety feet away, who has their line of sight obscured by either Lugo or by KcKenry? Not to mention that their jobs are to watch the runner advancing to third and the batter-runner runni^H^H flopping his way to first.

          I agree that if Meals called Lugo out there would be little to no argument from anyone. I also think that McKenry whiffed on the tag and Lugo was safe. And for anyone using this as ammunition in a pro-replay argument – there is nothing conclusive enough in any video angle to overturn the umpire’s call. Sixteen hours later and we’re arguing shadow vs. dirt smudge pixels? You think they’re going to be able to overturn the call in 30 seconds based on that?

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        • Yirmiyahu says:

          Look at the picture in the above post and tell me the ump didn’t have the best view of the tag.


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  2. Theo says:

    It’s the nineteenth (NINETEENTH!) inning of a game between two play-off contenders, for whom every win matters. I appreciate the ump wanted to get home and sleep and all, but giving the runner the benefit of the doubt that he evaded the tag when the throw beat him by a mile and his initial slide didn’t even get him to the plate… It’s unconscionable.

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  3. Daniel says:

    Except I found the Joyce call more difficult in real time (not that obvious where Galaraga’s foot came down). In real time, this is a pretty easy call. And it was completely blown. Why the MLB hasn’t instituted an NFL-style challenge system is beyond me. One day a horrible call will cost a team a playoff game/series and there will be no way to fix it.

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  4. hawkinscm says:

    Agreed. When I saw the video at first I thought it was for sure. Then during the replay, I thought there was a chance the swipe tag missed. This is why we should not have swipe tags. One of the good things about umpires is that more recently, they’ve decided to check for contact rather than worrying about when the throw got there. A questionable call for sure, but Joe Sheehan, Jeff Passan, et al. are acting like the game of baseball was just destroyed.

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  5. Apsedaler says:

    McKenry tags him twice, once on his knee and once on his arm. I think that Julio Lugo’s reaction, not even bothering to look at the umpire is proof that he was tagged. That said, I wouldn’t put my hand on the fire for it.

    PD: Nice dive by Scott Proctor…..10ft away from home plate.

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    • reillocity says:

      McKenry might also have gotten the left shin-knee too.

      If McKenry had made a cleaner drop tag and recognized that Proctor had fallen, it would have been an easy double play and the game would have gone to the 20th.

      The problem I have with the call is that an umpire should be 99.999% certain that a tag is missed to call a runner safe on those grounds (same goes for every such tag play in any inning or score situation). That said, there’s no way in hell that that is anywhere close to being the worse call in history since the game simply would have continued (as opposed to a call that prevented a game from ending).

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      • Yirmiyahu says:

        Uh, why? You’re saying that if the ump is 95% sure that a player is out, he should call him safe? That’s ridiculous.

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        • reillocity says:

          Not exactly. I’m suggesting that if an umpire is 95% sure that a tag was missed well in front of a base or the plate, he should call the runner out and give the benefit of the doubt to the tagger.

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  6. bballer319 says:

    In addition to it appearing that the tag took place, we have a) Lugo’s obvious reaction immediately after “being tagged b) the fact he felt the need to step on home a good while after the “tag” because he never touched in the first place c) that the ump called him safe before he even touched home plate. Obvious call is obvious.

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  7. BK says:

    I think we’re missing the biggest point here: For a NotGraphs article, this is much too logical and reasonable. I came here expecting some outrageous piece that did analysis on pixels above replacement on the blown up picture or something. Instead, what do I get? A coherent statement about the nature of the play? Bah.

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  8. Chris says:

    The only other call that I’ve seen this badly blown was another Braves game.

    It was April 18th of last year, Braves vs Rockies in Atlanta. Glaus was thrown out at first by a mile, Helton clearly stayed on the bag for the catch that would end the game, some how the 1B umpire called him safe at 1B, and Heyward got the walk off hit to win the game for the Braves.

    Umpires need to have consequences for their actions, relegation might be in order for game ending (or game deciding) blown calls. But the umpire’s union wont ever agree to it. The same group that opposes sending the best umps to the post season and World Series because they want to take turns.

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  9. hawk says:

    We can argue whether or not the glove hit the leg, but the Lugo was not tagged on the arm and he (probably accidentally) stepped on home plate when he got up and backed away from the play, which is when the ump called him safe.

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  10. bluejaysstatsgeek says:

    I’ve watched this several times and I’m inclined to agree with the ump in this case. Like hawk, I see no tag on the arm. I am not convinced that the swipe-tag got him on the leg either. Normally, there is some interruption in the path of the glove when the glove contacts the runner. I didn’t see that at all in this play.

    BTW, in the NL, the Pirates are my favourite team.

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  11. DD says:

    guys who are agreeing with the ump – look at the video above again, at the 34 second or so mark. The tip of the glove, as it passes in front of McHenry’s leg, clearly comes in contact with Lugo’s leg – the end of the glove clearly folds back for a split second. He is out.

    But seriously, this is not the worst call in the history of sports. Relax. The one above that essentially decided a World Series was clearly worse.

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  12. Seitz says:

    I’m inclined to agree with the ump based on the video. However, I have a hard time believing the ump could really tell whether the player was tagged or not. In that case, under the circumstances, I’d probably call the runner out based on the evidence available. When the ball beats the runner by that much, and the slide doesn’t reach home plate, I’d have to be absolutely 100% sure that the catcher missed the tag before I called the runner safe.

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      I agree with this. The video is inconclusive enough that I’d defer to the ump. But I wonder how sure the ump was about his call.

      Also, the way Lugo acts is interesting. It looks like he knows he’s out, then sort of accidentally backs into the plate, then acts very surprised by the ump’s call. Did he feel a tag?

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  13. Julio Lugo says:

    I was actually tagged out. I just didn’t want to say anything…

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  14. Temo says:

    I don’t see a tag.

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  15. Paul says:

    As much as I would have liked the Braves to lose, I’m not positive McKenry made the tag after watching the replay. Sure, he probably did – but I don’t see enough evidence to overturn the umpire’s call.

    Accept that the umpires are human & enjoy having a baseball conversation today that doesn’t involve trade rumors that probably won’t come to fruition. :)

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  16. reillocity says:

    Please humor me by pasting Joe West onto the JPG of the tag play.

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  17. matt w says:

    Disclaimer: I’m a Pirates fan.

    As a commenter at SBNation observes, if you look at baseballprospectus’s stills from the replay, there seems to be a dirt spot on Lugo’s uniform in the shape of McKenry’s mitt after McKenry tags him that wasn’t there before:


    Compare the fourth through sixth pictures.

    (You could argue that if we need Zapruder-style dissection, then the tag wasn’t obvious. I disagree; he was obviously out, and what we’re doing is removing all reasonable doubt that his glove might somehow have waved by Lugo’s leg, even though it appeared to touch it.)

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    • Yirmiyahu says:

      Where’s the dirt spot? I don’t see it.

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      • juan pierre's mustache says:

        CSI: MLB coming soon

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      • matt w says:

        On or around his right knee — you can see a large brown smudge, in the fifth picture, pretty much in the exact spot on his leg where McKenry’s glove is in the fourth picture (the one Jack shows). It’s possible that it’s a picture artifact, but if it’s dirt, it looks like it came from McKenry’s glove.

        Really, I think that what’s decisive in Jack’s picture is that the glove is partly behind Lugo’s leg and partly in front of it. By the Intermediate Value Theorem, it’s partly on it. I just don’t see how McKenry’s glove assumes that shape unless it’s touching Lugo’s leg.

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        • Yirmiyahu says:

          But your supposed dirt smudge disappears and isn’t in frames 6-10. I think it’s a shadow, or part of the glove, or weird pixelization.

          I agree that that slideshow makes a pretty good argument for a tag. But considering we’re all staring at frame-by-frame slideshows and various slow-mo shots, and still arguing about it, I’m going to go with the ump who had his eyeballs right there and didn’t have to look through pixelized lenses.

          For what its worth, there is 0% chance replay would solve this problem. There’s not clear and convincing evidence that the call on the field was wrong.

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  18. Tommy Lasordas Pasta says:

    This is why he should have blocked the plate, and made a firm tag… If he’s blocking the plate, with the ball, no way Lugo gets within 5 feet of the plate.

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  19. Omar says:

    If he had called him out, there would have been absolutely no argument from anyone, including Lugo. That’s all you need to know about this ridiculous call.

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    • Manual says:

      There would have been no argument because the fact that the ball beat the runner by so much makes everyone who watches it predisposed to assuming the runner would be out.

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  20. brett says:

    I’d like to see cameras installed in every umpire’s retinas, so we can see what they see and not jump to outrageous conclusions about how badly blown calls are.

    I’ve watched the slow motion replay several times and this call just wasn’t that obvious. Good column.

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