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Monday night in Game 2 of an American League Division Series, Ichiro Suzuki dazzled baseball fans around with the world with his acrobatic slide to score the game's first run. But should the umpire have called him out? What do the rules say?
Hey, at least it's not the Infield Fly rule.
Monday night in Game 2 of an American League Division Series, Ichiro Suzuki did something Ichiro Suzukis apparently do, sneaking around the catcher not once, but twice to score the Yankees' first run.
This morning, I saw a bunch of things like this:
@robneyer Friend said Ichiro was three feet outside the base line, which apparently breaks an MLB rule. Your take?— Benjamin Waldrum (@bwaldrum) October 9, 2012
Now, this isn't about Ichiro being safe; he obviously touched the plate before Wieters tagged him (which never happened at all). This is about Ichiro not being out. This is about Rule 7.08, which begins
Any runner is out when --
After which there is an extensive list of things that will cause a runner to be out. And the very first thing is this:
(a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely;
In The Umpire's Handbook, co-authors Joe Brinkman and Charlie Euchner put that a bit more prosaically: "Other base runners should also be called out for running more than three feet outside the baselines -- unless trying to avoid interfering with the fielder's play. This usually happens when the runner is trying to elude a tag."
I believe we can skip past a bunch of letters, going all the way to (k) for the next relevant clause (and comment):
(k) In running or sliding for home base, he fails to touch home base and makes no attempt to return to the base, when a fielder holds the ball in his hand, while touching home base, and appeals to the umpire for the decision.
Rule 7.08(k) Comment: This rule applies only where runner is on his way to the bench and the catcher would be required to chase him. It does not apply to the ordinary play where the runner misses the plate and then immediately makes an effort to touch the plate before being tagged. In that case, runner must be tagged.
So 7.08 (k) clearly doesn't apply, because Ichiro did of course make an immediate attempt to touch the plate.
Okay, on the off-chance you still have not seen the play, you probably should do that ...
Please let me know if I've missed a relevant codicil, but it seems the only relevant question is whether or not Ichiro went more than three feet outside his established base path.
Well, that depends. But if you assume he was actually running directly down the actual base line until Wieters, it seems pretty clear that he exceeded three feet. By how much, though?
First, consider our perspective. Because we're watching from behind rather than above, the distance from back to front might be greater than it seems. I'm having a hard time nailing down the exact distance, but I believe it's roughly 25 inches from the southern point of the home plate to the southern edge of the batter's boxes, and another ~86 inches from the southern edge of the batter's boxes to the southern edge of the catcher's box.
25 + 86 = 111 inches ... and Ichiro's momentum actually carries him beyond the rear of the catcher's box. But just for simplicity's sake, let's say Ichiro strayed from his established base path by nine feet. It doesn't look like nine feet from our angle, but according to the official dimensions, it was at least nine feet.
He should have been called out. He obviously should have been called out.
According to the letter of the law, as we know it.
But umpires don't always adhere to the letter of the law, and I believe that runners are routinely given a great deal of leeway at the plate. I don't know why they are, but they are. Maybe just because it's a lot more fun that way. Ichiro!
There's the rulebook as it's written, and there's the unwritten rulebook as established by precedent. In this case, precedent was definitely on Ichiro's side. Which is probably why Buck Showalter didn't bother to argue.