Your Kid’s Not Going Pro

A Youth Sports Blog

When keeping the rules real goes wrong, part two

with 2 comments

Already this youth baseball postseason, we’ve had one controversial, game-winning home run that was overturned on dubious technical grounds, leading to defeat snatched by an umpire from the jaws of victory as the benefiting team sits on its hands instead of doing the right thing and telling Blue to back off. That couldn’t happen again, could it?

It could.

From the Charleston (W. Va.) Daily Mail:

Bridgeport, the District 5 [10- and 11-year-old Little League] champion, thought it had taken a 7-5 lead in the top of the sixth inning on a two-out, two-run home run over the left-center field fence by Elijah Drummond.

It was the boy’s first homer ever … .

Instead, Drummond was called out after the ball went over the fence. A base umpire declared there had been a case of “assisting the runner” and the homer was nullified. …

“Our kids said that when Elijah ran to first, he and (teammate Tanner Furbee) in the coach’s box did a double high-five and then Elijah continued around the bases,” [Bridgeport manager] Robert Marra said. “When he finished rounding the bases, the first base umpire ran in and said because the first base coach hugged the batter, he was going to be out.”

You can guess what happened next:

The game remained at 5-5 through the regulation six innings, and after Bridgeport scored twice in the top of the seventh, South Charleston scored three in the bottom of the inning for an 8-7 victory.

And thus, I am forced again to run the Baseball Bunch’s re-enactment of the George Brett Pine Tar home run from a 1983 Kansas City-New York game, which I will do until youth league game-winning home runs are hit without issues.

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In the first instance of keeping the rules real going wrong, earlier in July young Hunter Cowers was called out on his game-winning home run because in all the excitement, he didn’t touch home plate until his coaches redirected him back there, thus assisting him. His South Lake team, instead of winning, lost in extra innings. However, a national Dixie Youth Baseball director overturned the umpire’s decision and South Lake’s loss, allowing the team to advance in an 11- and 12-year-old state tournament. Basically, in a decision upheld by a judge when winner/not winner Spring Hill sued, the Dixie Youth national director determined that the South Lake team wasn’t given the right of appeal that night and thus was wrongly wronged.

In West Virginia, the Little League national staff a few days after the July 22 home run/not a home run reprimanded the umpire for an incorrect call (Little League Rule 7.09 — it’s 7.09 in the Dixie rulebook, too — says no one can assist a runner, but a high-five is OK because a home run “is a happy moment and nothing should be done and certainly don’t call the runner out”), and a regional Little League official for telling Marra the call was not protestable and that the game must go on, thus making him wrongly wronged.

So Little League set the game back to where it was, in the top of the final inning after the home run? No. It told Marra and Bridgeport, tough shit.

Again, from the Charleston Daily Mail:

“The umpire was wrong twice, but it’s clear, from the tournament rules every manager signs before (all-star play) begins, that a protest of any playing rule must be resolved before another pitch is thrown,” Little League spokesman Chris Downs said from Williamsport (Pa.). “If the game goes on, the protest isn’t valid.”

In a one-page ruling, the Little League tournament committee/charter committee said that although the out call on the homer was erroneous and the decision that Bridgeport couldn’t protest the call was also a mistake, the tournament rules and guidelines “make it clear that any protest of a playing rule must be resolved before another pitch or play. After such a pitch or play, the manager accepts the decision of the umpire and/or local tournament director, that manager loses the right to continue the protest.”

You have to protest and stop play at that moment, except that Marra was told the call was not protestable. So what was he supposed to do, take his team off the field? I talked to Marra, and he said just leaving was not an option, not with parent tempers running hot on both sides, not with police on the field (a few were called to join the few already there because of tensions following the South Charleston manager being thrown out of a previous tournament game), and certainly not when the game was in South Charleston, not in Bridgeport.

Marra sent me all the supporting documents he sent to Little League to make his case, and it sounds a bit paranoid, actually. The case he made in those documents, as well as in a follow-up email to me, is that it wasn’t just a call gone wrong. From his statement to the national Little League office:

The umpire in question (Mr. [Tommy] Lewis) had officiated numerous games throughout the baseball tournament. Many homeruns [sic] were hit during various games with several exact and/or similar “high-five” and celebratory gestures between runners, coaches and player-coaches. No calls of interference, runner assistance or any other related calls or warnings were made. It was only in this semi-final game, after a significant rally and finally lead change by a team challenging the District 3 representative in the baseball tournament being officiated by District 3 umpires did this issue come into play.

And why not file a lawsuit to get an injunction while waiting for Little League? Marra emailed: “We never went through with the injunction.  … [W]e did not trust the DA from District 3 [South Charleston’s home district] to suspend the tournament until Williamsport ruled on the protest.”

A little paranoid, aren’t we? Then again, given how nutty some people get over youth sports, particularly during a tournament, just because Marra is paranoid does not automatically rule out the possibility people were out to get him.

Marra has been about the only person directly involved talking about this situation, with Lewis and South Charleston’s coaches largely staying away from the media, Charleston Daily Mail sports editor Jack Bogacyzk said during an email exchange I had with him. It’s too bad. I would like to talk to the South Charleston coaches, in particular about what they did when the ump called young Elijah out. Did they tell the ump to back off? Did they tell the ump to make that call? Did they just sit on their hands? According to Marra, all he could see South Charleston doing during the whole contretemps was… nothing. (By the way, South Charleston coaches, feel free to comment below if you’d like to respond.)

And like in the Florida case, herein lies the problem. I understand there’s such a thing as a rule book, and as others have argued, if you don’t follow it to the letter, what good is it? When AL President Lee MacPhail in 1983 overruled the umpires and let George Brett’s infamous Pine Tar homer stand, saying the excessive goop on his bat didn’t violate the “spirit of the rules,” opposing manager Billy Martin of the New York Yankees griped that the rule book was “only good for when you go deer hunting and run out of toilet paper.”

However, there is a time for youth coaches to not be those annoying bastards who, when playing a board game, constantly nags over the rules and finds every loophole for themselves and closes every one for you. In the West Virginia and Florida cases, the adult managers should have told the umps to go pound sand (especially in the West Virginia case, because the ump was flat-out wrong). Yes, some parents would have screamed about the sanctity of the rulebook. Their kids would have been disappointed. But in neither case was anyone trying to pull something. They were tweens getting excited in the moment. The valuable lesson for the kids involved is that while there is a rule book, there is also a time when fairness dictates you just let things go.

Maybe that’s the kind of debate that got people so worked up about Judge Sonia Sontomayor’s “empathy.” Are there such things as activist and strict constructionist umpiring?

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A happy home-run moment that also would have roused the consternation of anal rulebook types.

Written by rkcookjr

July 30, 2009 at 6:42 am

2 Responses

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  1. I was at a LL All Star game last night. A kid hit a home run to put his team up by 10 runs — a Dad called down to have the lead runner called out for not touching home…

    Yeah, it’s much better to lose by 8 and rob a kid of a little joy than to STFU and tell your kid that sometimes you’re the bug.


    July 31, 2009 at 12:07 am

  2. I was coaching an 11 year old team in the top of the last inning of a tournament elimination game when an apparent go ahead home run by the other team was nullified because a runner who was on base failed to touch home plate.

    My other coach and I saw it, so we appealed. The ump that night was a bird dog, riding 4 can Red Bull high, so he had eyes in the back of his head. He saw it. So did the opposing coach, because they ran the runner back out from the dugout to touch homeplate..but too late.

    That homer would have given them the lead, but it ended the game. We caught a lot of yelling and screaming from their coaches and parents, and there were plenty of tears among the players.

    But there was no question the appeal was the right thing to do. First, we protected our players, who would have lost faith in us if they ever found out we saw that but didn’t appeal. Second, if something like that happened earlier in the game, or if it was a missed base somewhere on the infield during some other play, we would have appealed and nobody would have faulted us. Touching all the bases is in the rules. Appeals for that happen all the time. Third, being a parent of a player is immaterial. If we were coaching a high school or college game, we would have done the same thing.

    The only thing that brought this to the level of crisis and emotion was it was late in a game where the momentum had swung to the other team. They were about to steal one from our boys, but they made a small mistake and we managed to grab it back just in time.

    It was alert coaching on our part. And it turns out coaches are just as much a part of the team as the rest of the players. The kids have their roles to play during games, and so do the coaches.


    August 4, 2009 at 7:33 pm

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