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Fate This One Up To Chalk

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Houston Astros v Oakland Athletics
“What white chalky stuff were YOU sniffing?”
Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

The way it unfolded, you would have sworn it was an ALDS clinching game, what with Justin Verlander pitching and a “1 in a million” bizarre play reminiscent of the Jeter flip, Tejada stopping around 3B, Byrnes knocked too silly to reach out and touch home plate, Long and Melhuse frozen by comeback fastballs...

William Shakespeare wrote “Fair is foul and foul is fair,” but only Laz Diaz agrees. Umpires blessed with vision believe a ball is either fair or foul and the trick is to figure out which one. And that was the job facing first Alan Porter (1B ump) and then the umpire in New York (apparently in the witness protection program and not capable of being identified).

Here are one fan’s thoughts on the ball Marcus Semien hit that Josh Reddick dived and missed as it landed just ... _____?

- I don’t blame Porter for ruling it foul. Watching it live, the ball appeared to land just to the right of the foul line and was only possibly fair because neither the ball nor the foul line is of zero width. So it was possible for the left side of the ball to nip the right side of the line, but with no chalk visibly flying (to the naked eye in real time) and with the view obscured by the collapsing body of Reddick flying by, I think had I been the 1B umpire I too would have ruled it “just foul”.

- I think Bob Melvin could have approached it in a slightly more shrewd manner. Instead of immediately asking for replay he should have asked the 4 umpires to converge and discuss, asking for what we call a “Nippy Jones”.

Nippy Jones was, famously, the Braves batter whose hit by pitch in the 1957 World Series was initially ruled to have missed striking his foot. It was an important call, with the Yankees leading the Braves 5-4 in the bottom of the 10th, but when umpire Augie Donatelli was shown the ball and saw that it had a smudge of shoe polish on it, he changed his mind and awarded Jones 1B. The Braves went on to win the game on Eddie Matthews’ walk-off HR.

Melvin could have asked the umpires to convene down the RF line and change the call on the field based on the circumstantial evidence provided by sprinklings of chalk that had been carried into foul territory, presumably by the ball hitting the outer outskirts of the RF foul line.

Had the call on the field been changed, A.J. Hinch still could have challenged but it would have been the A’s who benefited from a “call stands” ruling. Given that there was actual physical evidence to justify changing the call, there was reason to think the 4 umpires might have agreed it was a fair ball even if in New York they would look only at the ball landing and how inconclusive it was as to whether or not the ball hit the chalk.

- Speaking of the umpire in New York, while I do not blame Porter for his call I have to wonder why those of us watching CSNBA saw chalk fly up but the news didn’t make it to the east coast. The only reason I can conjure up is the rebuttal that chalk could have been inspired to fly around by Reddick diving across the foul line, but if chalk flying up and landing elsewhere isn’t “clear and convincing evidence” I don’t know what is. Yes, my fingerprints were found on the knife, but they could have been put on a fork that was then pressed onto the knife, your honor. {written from prison}

- I have to wonder if the fine folks in New York are, instinctively, “call averse” to scenarios that require them to play prophet and place runners where they would have landed in an alternative universe where the play was not stopped. In this case, it’s a bit unclear how it would have played out in real time as one could envision defense-friendly caroms that limited the A’s to one run or, just as easily, an inside-the-park 3-run HR as Semien outran Jake Marisnick retrieving the ball.

Most likely it would have been a two-run triple and I think the A’s would have been fine with a conservative compromise of a two-run double, but you wonder if in New York it was just easier to rule it foul. Something certainly overturned the logic of seeing chalk fly and giving it “the old Nippy Jones”.

Let’s just hope this isn’t a preview of an elimination game, because it sure felt like one. This A’s fan’s most objective opinion on the matter? It looked foul to my naked eye, but forensics win out over eyewitnesses every time. I think it was a fair ball and the game should have been tied. But it was far from obvious, and it cost the A’s a tie not a win. And at least it inspired 843 words on a matter of millimeters.