Time to revisit the ground-rule double

Rick Yeatts

Baseball is nothing if not inconsistent, and nobody knows that better than Coco Crisp, who was forced to return to third base in the 3rd inning of Wednesday night's game in Arlington after rounding the bag and heading for home on a Craig Gentry double. He would have scored easily, likely crossing the plate before the ball even reached the infield.

The problem? The double bounced once on the warning track in the left field power alley and jumped the fence, bouncing straight into the Oakland bullpen. Crisp, surpassed in speed on Oakland's 25-man roster only by Gentry, read the ball extremely well and hit the bag at third about a second after the ball landed beyond the fence.

Home-plate umpire Laz Diaz gave Crisp the stop sign that normally comes from Mike Gallego, pointing him to back to third base. Coco grimaced and waited there patiently until Josh Donaldson brought him home on a single through the left side.

The ground-rule double call was both correct and fair, as had the wall been a few feet higher, or had the ball taken a different hop or otherwise not wound up bouncing over the fence, Gentry still would have wound up on second base. The number of cases where balls that one-hop the wall for ground-rule doubles should result in anything but the batter standing on second base is negligible.

In this case, the rule is entirely objective with no room for interpretation - that is, for the batter-runner. For baserunners who attempt to score from first on the play, as Crisp would have unchallenged, the rule is a detriment to its actual intent: to most fairly award bases as if the ball had never left the playing field.

What was entirely unfair - though technically correct - was the ruling to keep Crisp at third base despite his obvious ability to score on the play. In a season that has seen Major League Baseball give itself the ability to review most any and every play on video replay to ensure that umpires get calls right, refusing to modify a clearly outdated and poorly applied rule makes no sense at all.

The play was completely inconsequential, even though it prevented the Athletics from scoring their first run of the evening. Oakland ended up winning 12-1, but it's easy to imagine a scenario where such a call decides the outcome of a game decided by a margin smaller than 11 runs, much less a game in September or October that affects an entire season.

The change would be easy to make. Umpires should award bases dependent on where runners were when the play was called dead, and if the correct call isn't apparent, do what they did 191 times in the first month of expanded replay: review it. Judgment calls made on the field could be subject to a challenge like any other.

It would take no effort, no resources, and would likely face zero opposition - what rational argument can be made in favor of restricting runners to advancing two bases, just because the batter is awarded a double?

As controversial and often innefective as Bud Selig's tenure as MLB commissioner has been, this seems like a home-run opportunity to make a simple and minor rules change that few, if any, would object to.

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