Baltimore Orioles: Playing under protest

The Baltimore Orioles found themselves in a situation Friday night where manager Buck Showalter informed the umpires that the team was officially playing under protest. This is something that’s while totally legal in accordance with MLB rules and regulations, rarely happens so much anymore. And on the off chance that a team plays under protest, the protest is usually not upheld.

You know the situation of which I speak; the rundown play on the third base line Friday night. Without detailing the situation itself once again since I presume everyone knows what happened, the umpiring crew found their decision at odds with the rule book. According to the MLB rule book, the definition of a protested game is as follows:

Managers can protest a game when they allege that the umpires have misapplied the rules. The umpires must be notified of the protest at the time the play in question occurs and before the next pitch or attempted play begins. If the play in question ended the game, a protest can be filed with the league office until noon the following day. No protests are permitted on judgment calls by the umpires.

Major League Baseball’s executive vice president of baseball operations later determines whether the protested decision violated the rules, though the game will not be replayed unless it is also determined that the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning.

On Friday, Rule 5.09 should have come into play, which details almost the exact scenario that unfolded on the field. In short, when the trail runner stepped on third, he had run past the lead runner per the rules. So he should have been out.

But that’s not how the umpires saw things, and to their credit this was admitted after the game through crew chief Jerry Meals. Following that incident, the next New York hitter recorded the third out of the inning, which ended the threat. In sum, if the Orioles had lost that game it would not have been due to the misinterpretation or oversight of the rule.

That in and of itself means that the protest probably wouldn’t have been upheld. While certainly a violation, it wouldn’t have been a violation that “adversely would have impacted the Orioles’ chances of winning the game.” Point being, you can’t play a game under protest and then think it’s ultimately going to be replayed. And there’s a lot of confusion about that, incidentally.

The fact is that there’s a lot of confusion about playing under protest overall, which probably stems from the fact that it doesn’t happen too often. As is stated above, the manager of the offended team has to formally tell the umpire that he’s playing under protest. The umpire then literally draws an imaginary letter P in the air, which indicates to the official scorer that the game is being played under protest. After the game the offended manager can either let the matter drop, or file the formal protest paperwork with the league, at which point it’s judged by the league office.

If the league decides that in fact there was a misinterpretation of the rules in some manner which led to a team’s chances of winning being lessened, the game is ordered replayed from that point onward. And if not, the result stands. As you can imagine, there are many times when managers play under protest but they end up winning the game – in which case they don’t file the paperwork with the league and the matter drops.

Let’s say that the subsequent New York hitter in Friday’s game had come into score and NY had won the game 4-3. Then I think you would have a very legitimate case in front of the league office whereby the umpires botching the rules would have made it more difficult for the Birds to win. You very well could have had a situation where the result was thrown out and the game would have been resumed in the top of the seventh with a 3-3 tie. The umpires’ apology backs this up.

More confusing perhaps is the question of what is and is not “protestable.” You can never play under protest after a judgement call. So fair/foul, out/safe, and obviously balls and strikes cannot result in the game being played under protest. Those are considered judgement calls by the umpires. And make not mistake that the umpire may be wrong in any given circumstance on the call. But it’s still a judgement call on his part.

The situation the other night saw a rule incorrectly applied – or more realistically not applied. If it’s a case where a rule is misinterpreted, incorrectly used (or not used), etc, that is a situation where a team can play under protest. So it’s a very fine line to walk in a sense. First the rule has to have been botched. Then it has to be proven that the team’s chances of winning were adversely affected. So you can see why this comes off as such a novel concept, because it’s not used often and when it does it isn’t usually successful.

However I’m glad that baseball has this method in the rule books. The umpires aren’t perfect, and the fact is that there are a lot of rules to know. So why not put a safety measure into the rules which allow for a team to have it’s case heard when they feel something’s been done incorrectly? The goal is to get the call correct. This further allows the league to do that.

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