Zobrist and Maddon irked by umpires 'new' interpretation of transfer rule

David Brown

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Having video review available to check plays such as the one that umpire Phil Cuzzi said Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays didn't make Tuesday night should help ensure the right call is made eventually. Instead, the scrutiny of replay apparently has led to umpires making a new interpretation of a rule that might be as old as the game itself.

Cuzzi ruled, and video review confirmed after Rays manager Joe Maddon pleaded his case in vain, that Zobrist dropped a flip at second base while he was trying to turn a double play in the bottom of the third inning against the Kansas City Royals. Not only did the Rays fail to get credit for an out, but Zobrist was charged with error. If the call seemed like ones that had gone to the defense in previous seasons — before expanded video replay came into use — it was, Zobrist said.

"Apparently for 100 years, we’ve been doing it one way and they just changed it. They’ve changed the interpretation of the rule," Zobrist told Big League Stew. "It makes absolutely no sense to me because everybody can look on the replay and see that it’s a catch."

That the Royals failed to cash in after the Zobrist drop does not matter. Maddon says that Major League Baseball needs to "revisit" how umpires are calling the transfer play.

"I know the umpire did the 'April 8th interpretation' properly but I think it’s totally wrong," Maddon said.
"I mean, the rule is wrong. That was definitely an out."

The Rays won 1-0 with a run in the ninth.

Zobrist engaged Cuzzi in an animated conversation about the play for the entire inning while standing at his position, and was not satisfied with the feedback.

"He said the interpretation of the rule is that if you don’t pull it out of your glove and — if you’re trying to throw it somewhere — to throw it toward that base. If you drop it on the ground, it’s not a catch," Zobrist said. "The way Phil explained it to me at second base was, if you catch the ball, run 10 steps, hit the wall with your glove and drop the ball, it’s not a catch."

Funny that Cuzzi should say that, because in the previous inning, Royals outfielder Alex Gordon made similar type of play on a fly ball hit to left by Matt Joyce. Gordon caught the ball just before slamming into the fence in foul territory, fell to the ground and rolled onto his stomach. After briefly writhing in discomfort, Gordon got to his feet and dropped the ball. Obviously a catch — at least before replay.

Maddon went to question third-base umpire Brian Knight but — not knowing what would happen later with Zobrist — did not challenge the Gordon catch with replay.

"My question was, I know he had had the ball in his glove a long period of time, but then he got up and didn’t really control the ball with his bare hand," Maddon said. "I wanted to know why that wasn’t considered a drop.

"[The umpire] said that [Gordon] had held the ball so long on the ground that he felt the ball was under control. I thought it was a catch. I was just messing around with it. I just wanted to hear what he had to say."

Maddon's experimentation aside, the Gordon play was one of the reasons that Zobrist was so upset.

"That’s exactly my point," Zobrist said. "He caught that ball, hit the wall, fell on the ground, got up, and dropped it as he was getting up. Why is that a catch and the other one isn’t?"

Zobrist also pointed to plays in other recent games as a sign of the new world order regarding the transfer rule. They included an apparent catch by Josh Hamilton of the Angels that was overturned by replay review, along with a similar play to Zobrist's that went against Elvis Andrus of the Rangers.

With the Gordon play, reason prevailed. With the Zobrist play, it did not. Maddon says he thinks there's a solution. Zobrist was making a one-handed transfer, catching the ball with his glove and pulling it out with his bare hand. Sometimes, infielders will use two hands to catch and transfer, in order to save time on a double-play attempt.

"I think there’s two separate plays going on," Maddon said. "As we move this forward, there has to be a differentiation between what Zobrist did and the two-handed transfer. What Zobrist did, that’s tantamount to a first baseman receiving a ball from shortstop, and then he gets off the bag, proceeds to throw it and drops it. Then, nothing would be called."

That was the basis of Maddon's argument with umpires, too. It didn't go his way Tuesday but it might once the discussion goes higher. And something needs to be done, Zobrist said.

"I think if that is truly the interpretation of the rule, then we’ve been doing it wrong for 100 years," Zobrist said. "And now we’re going to change it? That doesn’t make sense."

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David Brown edits Big League Stew on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at rdbrown@yahoo-inc.com and follow him on Twitter!

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