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Historical Hot Stove
by Bruce Markusen
Previous Columns

Cooperstown Confidential- Regular Season Edition - 04/10/2003

Those Darn Rules

As a follow-up to last week’s column on bad calls by umpires on Opening Day, Baseball Primer’s Craig Burley provides some insightful analysis on the much-debated play involving the Yankees’ Derek Jeter and Toronto’s Ken Huckaby. According to Burley, who is a student of baseball rules, third base umpire Paul Emmel made the right call in signaling Jeter out, since Jeter came off the bag of his own volition and not because of the force of the collision with the Blue Jays’ catcher. “Huckaby did not push Jeter off,” says Burley. “Watch the video and you will see Jeter rolling off the bag only after Huckaby gets up off of him.” Since the umpire did not call time, the play was still live, making Jeter susceptible to being tagged out. “The Huckaby/Jeter thing is weird,” Burley adds. “Jeter slides under Huckaby, who then crashes on top of him, separating his shoulder. Now Huckaby is pinning Jeter on the ground, Jeter’s hands are (as I recall, I looked carefully) on the bag and he’s screaming in pain. Huckaby tries to get off him, he finally manages to get off him, Jeter then rolls off the bag, and Huckaby tags him. It was a strange play.”

Burley says that Major League baseball should clarify the rules in such situations, so that it becomes easier for the umpire to call time out immediately as a way of protecting an injured play. “Personally, I'd really like to see the rules changed so that it's unambiguous—that once all the runners have reached a base to which they are entitled and no runner is attempting to advance, the umpire is obligated to call ‘Time,’ if a player is injured—that is, make the exemption in Rule 5.10(h) for 5.10(c) (1) much clearer than it is. Under the rules as written, Emmel should have called ‘Time’ as soon as Jeter rolled off third, since he had touched third and was entitled to it. But 5.10(c) (1) is usually interpreted as only applying to situations where a player becomes entitled to a base by an umpire’s call [such as a balk or catcher’s interference].”

Let’s disregard for a moment whether an umpire should grant timeout to an injured player, and when that timeout should be granted. And let’s assume that Jeter was forced off the base by the contact with Huckaby, and didn’t remove his hand of his own choosing. Shouldn’t the umpire have called Jeter safe on that premise? Well, as Burley, points out, there is no provision in the written rules that says a fielder can’t bump a runner off the bag. “There is no such rule,” says Burley. “I understand that it is commonly believed that there is, but there is not. It’s not a rule and so there is only a general practice, [but] there is no clarity. A hard slap-tag that pushes a runner off the bag (when he had just touched it) can easily be called an out.”

This is a classic example of a situation that is not covered by the Official Baseball Rules, the published rule book that is distributed each year for use in running major and minor league games. Rather, it is an example of “practical enforcement”—a rule that is applied in general practice—in true-to-life game situations even though it is not specifically spelled out by the rules. (Now it’s also possible that such a rule is covered under the more thorough rules manual that is given to each major league umpire; this manual, which covers the rules in far more detail than the Official Baseball Rules, is not made available to the general public.) Such a ruling, which would allow the runner to remain safe after being pushed or bumped off the bag by the fielder’s body, has been applied in a practical sense for as long as I've been watching baseball (which is since the early 1970s). And that’s really the common sense approach. Otherwise, fielders would be trying to push runners off the base at every opportunity, making baseball the equivalent of bumper cars or block-and-tackle football.

Now wait a minute, some of you might be screaming, didn’t the umpire call Ron Gant out in the 1991 World Series after being forced off the bag by lumbering first baseman Kent Hrbek? For those who might not remember the situation, it was the top of the third inning of Game Two, when Atlanta’s Lonnie Smith reached on an error by Twins third baseman Scott Leius. With two men out, Smith advanced to third on Gant’s single. After lacing his single to left, Gant made an unusually large turn at first base. The aggressive baserunning was noted by Twins pitcher Kevin Tapani, who caught the relay throw from Dan Gladden and decided to make an attempt at Gant. Gant slipped in ahead of Tapani’s toss, but then found himself separated from the first base bag when Kent Hrbek bumped him aside. Hrbek then applied the tag to a bewildered Gant, who became the third out of the inning.

Gant immediately protested the call, saying that Hrbek had intentionally pushed him off the base. “I felt the whole force of him pulling me off the bag,” Gant explained to The Sporting News, while pointing out that Hrbek carried twice the poundage that he did on his own mid-sized frame. “He was definitely trying to pull me off the bag. When I was on the base, I was kind of falling back and he just grabbed me. I still don’t understand the call. How can you pull a player off the base?” Most of the Braves’ fans watching on television wanted the answer to that same question. USA Today Baseball Weekly. “His momentum was carrying toward the first base dugout. When he did that, he began to switch feet. He tried to pick up one foot and bring the other one down… In my judgment, [Gant’s] momentum carried him over the top of Hrbek.” In essence, Coble was saying that he would have called Gant safe if he felt that Hrbek’s body had forced him off the bag, but he called him out because he felt that the natural momentum of Gant’s twisting body had resulted in his separation from the base.

So what are we to make of all this? In general, it seems that umpires will allow a fielder the hard slap-tag, but not a body-to-body collision that forces a runner off the base. That appears to be the general application, but these situations would become much clearer if baseball’s Playing Rules Committee would include a specific provision in its published rules, so that everybody knows the deal.

Card Corner

When the Cleveland Indians traded third baseman Graig Nettles and catcher Jerry Moses to the New York Yankees for a package of four players on November 27, 1972, the Topps Card Company was left with a familiar quandary: how to portray the players on their new 1973 cards? As Topps often did, it resorted to the art of airbrushing, which involves drawing in new colors and logos onto existing photographs. In the case of Graig Nettles’ 1973 Topps card, we might call it a case of airbrushing gone mad. After selecting a 1972 action shot of Nettles (playing in a game at either Milwaukee’s County Stadium or Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium), the Topps artist decided to brush in the colors of the Yankees’ road uniform, which is gray. Instead, the artist came up with a kind of bluish hue, giving the card somewhat of a surreal look. The blue on the helmet and the socks is also the wrong shade of blue—a light blue, instead of the traditional Navy blue used by the Yankees (a blue so dark that it looks black, especially from a distance). Showing further unawareness of the design of the Yankees’ road uniform, the artist decided to play a game of mix-and-match, drawing the famed interlocking “NY” logo onto the front of the jersey. Of course, the interlocking “NY” is only worn on the home uniform, and not the road jersey, which features the words “New York” spelled out in block print. So what we have is a rather intriguing amalgam of a uniform, one that has never been worn by the Yankees anywhere or anytime in their history. Yet, it’s actually somewhat attractive and might give the Yankees some ideas for future changes. The interlocking “NY” looks better than “New York;” perhaps the Yankees should carry the “NY” both on the road and at home… As for the 1972 trade that resulted in this surrealistic card, the Yankees won out in a big way, as general manager Gabe Paul produced one of his classic 1970s specials. Nettles replaced the light-hitting Celerino Sanchez as the Yankees’ regular third baseman, giving the Bombers solid all-around production at the hot corner for the next decade. In the meantime, the four players that the Yankees surrendered for Nettles produced mostly disappointment for the Indians. Top prospect Charlie Spikes clubbed 45 home runs in his first two seasons in Cleveland before fading into something less than mediocrity. Another prospect, the swift-footed Rusty Torres, didn’t hit at all in two years with the Indians, resulting in a trade to California. Veteran catcher-first baseman John Ellis played decently in Cleveland for two seasons, but eventually continued his journeyman ways in Texas. And veteran infielder Jerry Kenney lasted only five games with the Indians before watching his major league career come to an end… The trade did produce one bit of downside for the Yankees. After one lackluster season as Thurman Munson’s backup, Jerry Moses was sent packing in a three-way trade that brought Walt “No-Neck” Williams to the Bronx. Actually, that wasn’t so bad, since it gave me a chance to see No-Neck in action for two seasons. And if you’ve never seen a man without a neck try to play second base, you’ve clearly missed out on something.

Listen Up, Bubba

With apologies to former NFL star (and mainstay of those wonderful Police Academy films) Bubba Smith and former television star Nash Bridges (“Don’t even think about it, Bubba!”), the Yankees’ spring training acquisition of Bubba Trammell forced me to do some thinking. How many players named “Bubba” have played in the major leagues? Including Trammell, who is the only active Bubba, there have been seven, including one of the key members of the “Whiz Kids.” So let’s present the Bubba Seven:

Bubba Carpenter: A minor leaguer for most of his career, Carpenter finally made the major leagues as a backup outfielder with the Rockies in 2000. After being released that season, Carpenter spent time in the Mexican League before playing independent ball in the minor leagues.

Emory Nicholas “Bubba” Church: Although his big league career lasted only six seasons, he’s probably the best-known Bubba because of his association with the Phillies’ 1950 pennant-winning team. Church reached career highs in wins (15), complete games (15) and innings pitched (247) that season, while helping the “Whiz Kids” advance to the World Series.

Leslie Roe “Bubba” Floyd: His career consisted of only three games in 1944 for the Detroit Tigers, but the shortstop did collect four hits in nine at-bats before disappearing from the major league landscape.

Charles “Bubba” Harris: He won six of nine career decisions while pitching exclusively in relief for the Philadelphia A’s and Cleveland Indians from 1948 to 1951.

Wycliffe Nathaniel “Bubba” Morton: His real name is the most elegant of all the Bubbas, but he had a relatively nondescript career for seven seasons in the 1960s. Playing primarily as a backup outfielder with the Tigers, Braves, and Angels, Morton batted a career-high .313 for California in 1967.

John Melvin “Bubba” Phillips: Of all the Bubbas, his career lasted the longest—10 seasons as a third baseman-outfielder for the Tigers, White Sox, and Indians. He enjoyed his most productive year during the hitter’s season of 1961, when he reached career highs with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs.

Thomas Bubba Trammell: He’s really the authentic Bubba amongst the Bubba Seven, because he’s the only one who has Bubba as part of his real name; it’s actually his middle name. Trammell might also become the best of the Bubbas, depending on how much playing time he can muster on a Yankee team stacked with outfielders and DHs. He’s already played on more teams than any of the other Bubbas, having put in time with the Tigers, Devil Rays, Mets, Padres, and Yankees.

Fergie Jenkins And Women’s Baseball

Frequent visitors to Cooperstown over the past year, organizers of the Women’s Baseball League (WBL) are hosting an instructional baseball clinic for both girls and boys, ages 5 and up, on Saturday, May 10th, 2003, in Mississauga, Ontario. Hall of Famer Fergie Jenkins, a native of Canada, will be in attendance to provide motivation for the youngsters. All proceeds from the clinic will go towards sending Team Canada, a women’s baseball team organized by the WBL, to Japan for the Women’s World Series. For more information on the clinic, please visit the Women’s Baseball League site at: http://www.baseballglory.com/fergie.htm

Re-Living The Swingin’ A’s—Thirty Years Ago

The 1973 Oakland A’s looked nothing like their 1972 World Championship team when they opened up the new season against the Minnesota Twins. Billy North became the first designated hitter in the history of the A’s and batted leadoff. Dal Maxvill batted second and played shortstop in lieu of Campy Campaneris, who had been suspended for the first five games of the season after his ugly bat-tossing incident during the League Championship Series. Gene Tenace played first base, not catcher. The recently acquired Ray Fosse made his debut behind the plate. Billy Conigliaro emerged as the Opening Day center fielder, ahead of incumbent Angel Mangual.

While several players from last year’s A’s had been dispatched to other teams, two members of the ’72 A’s remained in the organization, only not at the major league level. Pitcher Dave Hamilton and infielder Allan Lewis, both playing at Triple-A Tucson, were flown in to attend Opening Day ceremonies and receive their World Series rings. The Tucson pitching staff, by the way, featured a flock of former A’s: Hamilton, Chuck Dobson, Lew Krausse, “Jumbo” Jim Nash, and Tony Pierce.

The new-look A’s played nothing like world champs in their first game. Catfish Hunter allowed nine hits in a disappointing three-inning stint. Fosse, Dick Green, and Sal Bando committed costly fielding errors. The Oakland offense managed only a three-spot of runs in the fourth inning against complete-game winner Bert Blyleven. The A’s played better in their second game, thanks to a complete-game start by Blue Moon Odom and a home run by Gene Tenace. The Twins won the game, however, when they scored four of their five runs against Odom in the fifth inning.

The Twins completed the three-game sweep on Sunday, winning an afternoon game, 4-2. Minnesota reached Ken Holtzman for two runs in the first, a run in the third and another run in the fifth. Errors by Sal Bando and Ted Kubiak made two of the runs unearned. Although the season was only three games old, the A’s had managed to look like a complacent team that was already resting on its championship laurels. The suspension of Campy Campaneris for the first five games of the season wasn’t helping matters either. “I feel miserable,” Campaneris told Baseball Digest in describing his exclusion from early season games. “I sit around and can’t help. It drive me crazy.”

Not so coincidentally, the A’s had lost all three games without the services of perhaps their most unappreciated star. When Campaneris played, the A’s didn’t usually lose three games in a row to any club, much less a rebuilding team like the Twins.

The temporary loss of Campaneris had affected the A’s in the season-opening series against the Twins. Writers and scouts had also begun to question offseason deals that had permanently sent away Mike Epstein, Matty Alou, and Dave Duncan. In exchange for three productive regulars, the A’s had acquired a middle reliever (Horacio Pina), a platoon DH (Rich McKinney), and a catcher in decline (Ray Fosse). Critics claimed that the A’s had too many pitchers and needed a better designated hitter with more power.

After the 0-3 start, the A’s boarded a plane to Chicago’s O’Hare Airport. On the bus ride to the hotel, Dick Williams noticed loud noises coming from the back of the bus, where Billy North was needling Blue Moon Odom. “Are you guys 3-0, or 0-3?” Williams snapped sarcastically, according to an article that appeared in Sports Illustrated.

Odom provided a ready answer. “We’re 0-3.”

“Well, you better start busting your rears,” Williams shot back, not at Odom in particular, but at the entire team of A’s.

Williams’ outburst was eerily reminiscent of the stern lecture he had given the A’s on the team bus three years earlier. In 1971, the A’s had responded to Williams’ words by winning five straight games and 12 of 13. How would they respond this time?

Oakland routed Chicago, 12-2, knocking White Sox ace Wilbur Wood from the game. Joe Rudi snapped out of a 0-for-13 slump to hit a home run. Although several players tried to downplay the connection between the win and Williams’ anger at them, it seemed the manager’s temper had once again motivated the team, albeit for the short term. The A’s dropped their next game, falling to 1-4. Fortunately, Campy Campaneris would return to the lineup, his five-game suspension having come to a welcome end. Still, the A’s were defeated in their next game, dropping their first-week record to an uncharacteristic 1-5.

Baseball Reliquary Update

If you registered and paid for membership in the Baseball Reliquary by April 1, you still have until April 30 to submit your postmarked ballot as part of this year’s vote for the Shrine of the Eternals. Each member can vote for up to a maximum of nine candidates, from among the list of 50 eligibles. For more information on the Shrine and the voting procedures, visit www.baseballreliquary.org.

Hall of Fame Handbook

A moderator at NetShrine (www.netshrine.com) posed the following question last week: Should Don Larsen’s perfect game in the World Series merit him consideration for the Hall of Fame? Based on Rule No. 6 of the Hall’s official election rules, the answer does not bode well for Larsen. Here’s how the rule reads: “No automatic elections based on performances such as a bating average of .400 or more for one year, pitching a perfect game, or similar outstanding achievement shall be permitted.” Instead, the determination of whether someone is a Hall of Famer should be based on the entirety of the individual’s career—including both his regular season and postseason performance. In Larsen’s case, he reached double figures in victories only twice, finished with a lifetime record below .500 (at 81-91, and posted ERAs below 3.50 only six times out of his 14 seasons in the major leagues… Yet, Larsen is represented in Cooperstown as part of the exhibits in the Hall’s Museum. His perfect game in the 1956 World Series is commemorated as part of the general history of baseball, located on the Museum’s second floor. And Larsen, like all others who have played major league baseball, has a file of newspaper and magazine clippings that is contained in the Hall of Fame’s Library.

Pastime Passings

Bill Merrill (Died on March 29 in Arlington, Texas; age 79): A veteran of World War II, Merrill worked as a broadcaster for the Texas Rangers from 1974 to 1981, performing both play-by-play and color commentary for the club. One of Merrill’s career highlights occurred on September 22, 1977, when he broadcast Bert Blyleven’s 6-0 no-hitter against the California Angels.

Bruce Markusen is the author of A Baseball Dynasty: Charlie Finley’s Swingin’ A’s (ISBN number 1-878282-23-9), which is available at www.amazon.com and at many major bookstores, including Borders Books. Markusen, who has also written The Orlando Cepeda Story and Roberto Clemente: The Great One appears regularly on MLB Radio (MLB.com) each Friday from 12 noon to 1:00 pm Eastern time.


by Bruce Markusen

 

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