The umpires, as a whole, have been the brunt of a LOT of criticism this post season. From Joe Mauer’s ball down the line, to the Youka being “off” the bag against the Angels, to the ball that hit Chase Utley in the box, the division series was pretty brutal from an officiating stand point. I’ve heard it all in terms of the solution to the problem; from robots to complete instant replay. But then, on Saturday night in the midst of an extra-inning classic, we saw something else.
Jerry Layne made the correct call on a play at second base. On a routine double play ball, Maicer Izturis flipped to shortstop Erick Aybar, who appeared to throw to first for your run-of-the-mill 4-6-3 double play. Just before I could let a few F-bombs fly and smack my hand on the couch, Layne signaled that Aybar was off the bag. When I saw the replay it wasn’t even close; Aybar was at least six inches away from the bag and never even made an attempt at swiping it with his foot. Layne clearly made the right call and Scioscia jogged out to engage in the obligatory argument. I can’t blame him, it was an important play and he had no way of knowing the call was correct. However, the broadcasters and numerous journalists who saw the replay I can blame.
Buck and McCarver, who I can’t stand to begin with, immediately began talking about the “neighborhood” rule, implying that because Aybar was close to the bag, the runner should have been called out. I heard analysts on various networks say that they were glad the play didn’t factor into the result of the game. It just didn’t make sense to me how the same people can criticize umpires so belligerently when they miss a call at first that is so close you need “x-mo” (or whatever Fox wants to call it) to legitimately tell.
Layne should be lauded for not only the call, but having the fortitude to make it when many “baseball” people say Aybar was “close enough”. The neighborhood rule isn’t a catch all for physical errors around the second base bag. If a shortstop swipes the bag while he comes across for the throw and drags his foot off a split second before the ball hits his glove, I’m okay with calling the runner out. However, if the shortstop straddles the bag with both feet at least six inches away as Aybar did, the call should be made exactly how Layne made it.