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Reliance On The Live Call: Wake Up, MLB

"Tag him! In 5 minutes some dude in New York might rule there is no force at home!!!"
"Tag him! In 5 minutes some dude in New York might rule there is no force at home!!!"
Kelley L Cox-USA TODAY Sports

In case you missed it, in last night's A's-Blue Jays game the Blue Jays had the bases loaded and one out when Anthony Gose hit a ground ball to first baseman Nate Freiman. Upon fielding the ball Freiman tagged the runner at first base, Munenori Kawasaki, but first base umpire Vic Carapazza ruled "No tag!" Freiman then threw home and catcher Stephen Vogt, having seen Carapazza's "no tag" signal, stepped on home plate for a force out (even though he could easily have tagged the runner, Edwin Encarnacion, before he reached home plate). However, upon replay review it was ruled that Freiman had in fact tagged Kawasaki -- meaning there was no force play at home plate, and so the Blue Jays were awarded a run.

Last night's play, in which a missed tag call on the bases deked Stephen Vogt into thinking there was a force play at the plate, was a bizarre version of a much more ordinary concept that is bound to surface again soon: What happens when fielders or runners, relying on an umpire's live call, act in ways they would not have acted had they known the call would be overturned by replay review?

Here is a far more mundane example. With a runner at first base a sinking line drive is hit to left field. The left fielder dives to catch it and the umpire puts his palms out: "Trap! No catch!" However the left fielder knows he caught it and the runner sees it the same way -- but also sees the umpire's call.

The left fielder has nothing to lose to jog in and tag the runner who is presumably now perched on second base. If replay overturns the call and rules it was a catch, is it now a double play? Should the runner, if he believes the play will be challenged and overturned, go back to first base even though this means he will be forced at second base if the call stands?

It makes no sense. If baseball is going to use replay, replay should be designed such that it never overturns actions that took place in direct reliance of the umpire's live call. Otherwise it puts fielders and runners in the unfair position of having to predict -- in real time, no less -- whether or not the live call they are reacting to will in fact be upheld after the play is over.

If replay is going to be used, it should be for singular events such as "On a bouncer to deep short, did the throw beat the runner to first base?" and "Did the base stealer get his foot on the bag before the tag was applied?" Whether or not the call affects future actions or decisions of the fielders or runners absolutely should be a determinant in whether or not a play is reviewable. Far more than whether the play takes place in front of, or behind, an umpire.

At least MLB came to its senses around the "transfer rule" and corrected the rule quickly. Hopefully the issues raised in last night's A's-Blue Jays game, even though they did not ultimately affect the outcome because the A's won anyway, will spur MLB to look at how fielders and runners have to rely on live calls, and MLB will take quick steps to narrow replay reviews to singular events. Not ones where a live call leads to related decisions and actions that rely on that call.