Protests Just a Part of the Game

published May 20, 2010

Appeal filed in docket number 051810, In Re Delcarmen, in Bronx District, Junior Circuit, in which Appellant Girardi seeks reversal of ruling by Judge Campos, alleging improper interpretation of Rule 8.03.

In baseball, the umpire’s decision is final, except when it isn’t.

Most of the time, when a manager feels his team has been wronged, all he can do is argue, yell, stomp, kick dirt, turn his cap around so he gets right in the umpire’s face, get himself thrown out, and occasionally toss bats and water coolers onto the field.

When the argument involves a matter of rules, however, the sputtering skipper has the option to go all Alan Dershowitz on the umps, notifying them before the next pitch or play of his intent to take up the matter with a higher authority at a later date.  Questions involving judgment – of fair or foul, safe or out, or the wisdom of the umpire’s mother in ever giving birth – are not subject to appeal.

Tuesday night in New York, Josh Beckett was struggling through another disappointing start against the Yankees – his third of the year – when Red Sox manager Terry Francona replaced him with Manny Delcarmen.  Beckett’s lower back had suffered a strain that would land him on the disabled list on Wednesday, but Yankees manager Joe Girardi felt Beckett was coming out because of ineffectiveness, not injury.  He argued that Delcarmen should not be allowed the extra warm-up pitches granted to a pitcher who enters the game due to a “sudden emergency” (Rule 8.03); when the umps disagreed, Girardi announced that the Yanks would play the game under protest.

According to the Official Rules of Baseball on, protests are heard by the League President, a position that has not existed for eleven years.  If a protest is upheld – by the Commissioner now — the game is replayed from the point of the protest with the erroneous ruling corrected.   Bud Selig has never upheld a protest.

It’s a rare season that fails to produce several protested games, though the protests are immediately dropped if the protesting team wins the game.   Most of them are silly, like Girardi’s – little more than a way for the manager to pout in legalese.

The last successful protest involved a rain-shortened game between St. Louis and Pittsburgh in 1986.  The Cardinals led the Pirates, 4-1, in the top of the sixth inning when the game was called.  The umpire in chief, John Kibler, called the game after two rain delays that lasted seventeen and twenty-one minutes, with two pitches thrown in between.  The Pirates protested, because the rules require the umpires to wait at least 75 minutes before calling a game after a first delay and 45 minutes for any subsequent delay.  National League president Chub Feeney ordered the game completed; St. Louis won anyway, 4-2.

The most eventful protested game of somewhat recent vintage was the infamous “pine tar” game.  George Brett hit a two-run homer for Kansas City in the top of the ninth.  Yankees manager Billy Martin argued that his bat had pine tar too far up the barrel; home plate umpire Tim McClelland agreed, and called Brett out.  The Royals protested the game and AL President Lee MacPhail upheld the protest, saying that having pine tar more than 18 inches from the handle was no advantage to the hitter, and the umpires should enforce the rule by asking a hitter to clean the bat, not by calling him out for using it.

When the game resumed a month later, Martin ordered pitcher George Frazier to make appeal plays at each base, claiming that Brett had missed the base while running out his home run.  The umpires gave the safe sign, and Martin went out to argue, pointing out that these umpires had not worked the original game and could not know if Brett had touched the bases or not.  But crew chief Dave Phillips pulled a letter from his pocket with a notarized statement from the four umpires, attesting that both runners had indeed touched ‘em all.  Four batters later, the Royals had their 5-4 win.

Even this game was less of a farce than another ordered replay, of the second game of a doubleheader between Brooklyn and Philadelphia in 1947.  Pennsylvania law dictated that Sunday games had to end no later than 6:59 PM.  The score was tied 4-4 at the end of six innings as the seven o’clock hour approached.  The Dodgers got a run in the top of the seventh, causing the Phillies to try to stall so that the game would be called and the score revert to the previous inning’s tie.  The Dodgers tried to make outs, ordering base runners to trot to the next base in steal “attempts,” while the Phillies tried just as hard not to retire them.  Pee Wee Reese threw his bat at a pitch to turn an attempted ball into a strike.  Stan Rojek went out of the batter’s box to hit one ball of an intentional walk, and the umpire refused to call him out.  Finally, the Dodgers made a third out when a runner trotting home threw himself against the ball held by the Phillies’ catcher.

With just a minute or two left on the clock, Philadelphia leadoff hitter Harry Walker claimed he couldn’t find his bat.  He took his place eventually, and after three pitches time ran out and the game became an official six-inning tie.

The umpires reported the facts of the game to league president Ford Frick, who reversed the result and ordered the game to be played to a conclusion from the point at which it was stopped.   The Dodgers wound up winning, 7-5.

That was justice.  As for Girardi’s complaint, methinks he doth protest too much.

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