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July 27, 2011

BP Unfiltered

Meals Money

by Mike Fast

Last night the Braves and Pirates played 19 innings. The game ended on a ground ball by Scott Proctor to Pedro Alvarez at third base. Julio Lugo broke from third base in attempt to score, and the throw from Alvarez to catcher Michael McKenry easily beat Lugo to home plate. McKenry attempted a swipe tag of Lugo's leg as he slid toward the plate. Home plate umpire Jerry Meals called Lugo safe with the winning run for the Braves, at which point Lugo quickly made a second effort to touch the plate. The Pirates and a great portion of baseball fans still awake at that hour were incensed with Meals' call, and the Braves celebrated.

Meals offered the following explanation after the game:

I saw the tag, but he looked like he ole'd him, and I called him safe for that. I looked at the replays and it appeared he might have got him on the shin area. I'm guessing he might have got him, but when I was out there when it happened, I didn't see a tag. I just saw the glove sweep up. I didn't see the glove hit his leg.

If you would like to know my opinions on the matter, you can check my Twitter feed. Here, however, I'd like to pose some questions and examine some of the evidence in more detail. Rather than simply blasting Meals for incompetence, I believe it is helpful to be more precise about the different questions at hand. I do not necessarily have answers for these questions, and the answers I do have, I'll keep to myself for the moment. Rob Neyer addressed some of these questions in his post on the topic this morning. You can probably find 500 other opinions on the matter without too much effort.

1. If the throw easily beat Lugo, should the umpire automatically call him out, even if he believed McKenry's tag didn't touch him? What if the umpire was unsure about the tag; should the timing of the throw figure into his judgment in that case?

2. Is the video evidence clear enough to overturn the umpire's call? If we had video replay on safe/out calls, what should the standard of evidence be? Overturn of a boundary home run call using replay requires "clear and convincing evidence." The National Football League uses a standard of "incontrovertible video evidence" for its replay system.

3. What does Lugo's reaction (or the reaction of other players, such as the pitcher Daniel McCutchen) indicate? Should a hypothetical replay umpire be allowed or instructed to consider evidence such as Lugo's reaction, or should he be restricted to video analysis of the tag itself?

4. Do you think McKenry's tag touched Lugo?

5. How should an umpire evaluator grade Meals on this play? Was the umpire positioned properly so that he had a good view of the play? What standard of video evidence should be required for evaluation, as opposed to replay? Should these grades or evaluations be made public? Should these grades or evaluations affect an umpire's continued employment, and if so, how?

6. Leaving aside the question of whether this particular call was correct, is there a better system of training that would improve or help to standardize umpire calls in cases like this? Would the use of replay help to accomplish that?

Finally, I want to offer a series of still frames from the MLB video of this call. Perhaps if you find animated GIFs or single still shots of plays like this to be deceiving or the videos too hard to follow, you will find these still shots as helpful as I did.

From the center-field angle:

CF frame 1

CF frame 2

CF frame 3

CF frame 4

CF frame 5

CF frame 6

CF frame 7

CF frame 8

CF frame 9

CF frame 10

And from the high third-base view:

3B frame 1

3B frame 2

3B frame 3

3B frame 4

3B frame 5

3B frame 6

3B frame 7

3B frame 8

3B frame 9

3B frame 10

3B frame 11

Mike Fast is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Mike's other articles. You can contact Mike by clicking here

Related Content:  Michael Mckenry

24 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links


We wouldn't have situations like this if Lugo did the right thing and just tried to RUN THE CATCHER OVER!!!!!! ;)

Jul 27, 2011 09:37 AM
rating: 2
Matthew W

"Umpires, for all their faults, are highly professional and especially when everyone's paying attention. They just don't miss 'em on purpose."

I love Rob Neyer, but why do we always assume that this statement is true?

I know alot of people, especially in business, I would consider "Professional", but that professionalism tends to lag without proper motivation. Very few people in life are true self-motivators, and without any MLB mechanism of firing or demoting an umpire(let alone bonuses for good work), why assume that ALL umpires continue to train/focus/workhard at 100% of their ability?

Jul 27, 2011 10:13 AM
rating: 0
Mr. Cthulhu

"Very few people in life are true self-motivators, and without any MLB mechanism of firing or demoting an umpire(let alone bonuses for good work), why assume that ALL umpires continue to train/focus/workhard at 100% of their ability?"

What makes you think they do not have these systems? Umpires are graded are they not? I assume their wages are tied to this?

Jul 27, 2011 13:01 PM
rating: 0

There's a BIG difference between not giving one's all and purposefully screwing up.

Jul 27, 2011 13:04 PM
rating: 0
BP staff member Ken Funck
BP staff

Terrific questions, Mike.

1) No and no; in fact I was THRILLED that Means made his call based on his belief about the tag. Few things grind my gears as much as the automatic out call because the ball beat the runner, regardless of whether a tag is applied in time.

2) No -- if I were in the booth, I wouldn't have overturned it. None of the views were fully convincing that the tag had been applied. When I wrote about this last summer (http://bit.ly/9D0MSJ), the standard I used was "irrefutable video evidence", and that's the standard I would support. And here's what I wrote back then about tag plays: "It was more difficult, however, to be sure that any players called safe were actually out—replay could show conclusively that a tag was missed or was late, but it was harder to use a two-dimensional replay to be sure exactly when a tag was applied." This play, to me, falls squarely in that category. Means had a live, 3-D (albeit full-speed) view of the play from a few feet away. For this kind of play, he likely had a better view than any single 2-D camera does.

3) Great question, and one I hadn't considered before. Lugo sure seems to act like he was out, and in fact I think a video reviewer could take that into consideration -- but personally in this case I again don't think his reaction was compelling enough for me to overturn the call.

4) I dunno. As they say, what I think isn't important, what matters is what I can prove.

5) I wouldn't grade Meals down as an evaluator -- he was in good position, and in fact I would praise him for not making the automatic "ball beat him there" out call. The same standard for call reversal should be used for evaluation. I wouldn't make the evaluations public, but in my world a large number of missed calls -- especially those when the umpire was out of position, or those that I would describe as "lazy calls" -- should affect pay and, in extreme circumstances, cause termination.

6) No good answer for this, since I don't know much about current umpire training. But I'd have to think video of both correct and incorrect calls would be valuable in training.

Jul 27, 2011 10:16 AM

In the video replay I could swear he tagged him. In the still shots, particularly the second set, I still think he tagged him, but I guess I'm not 100% sure. It is possible that the glove was slightly above the leg, swept through and never actually applied the tag. I have no idea if the play would have been upheld or not if there was replay officiating. I have been surprised numerous times, in both directions, by replay decisions in the NFL. I do believe the catcher had an opportunity to make a more clear tag, removing the ambiguity.

Jul 27, 2011 10:18 AM
rating: 0
Greg Pizzo

There is nothing conclusive here that shows that the tag was actually applied. Meals was in excellent position (you can't always say that about umpires) and made the call as you saw it. I can't fault him at all. Lugo is safe.

Jul 27, 2011 10:27 AM
rating: 0

Am I the only person who is totally unconvinced by any of the video/photographic evidence and completely satisfied by Meals's explanation?

I spent over 400 games on the field less than 50 feet away from the plate and during that time saw literally dozens of calls on the bases that were so bad that they seemed crooked. This one doesn't come anywhere close to that standard.

Jerry Meals handled this exactly the right way: The same way Jim Joyce did. What rankles players and club personnel is not the occasional umpiring mistakes, but the embarrassing and self-serving attempts to project an air of infallibility. Contrast the comments of Meals and Joyce with the cover-your-ass routine some other officials have chosen in the past and you'll know the difference.

Jim Joyce was one of the top 5 most respected umpires amongst the players and coaches for his honesty before the Galarraga incident and Jimmy's reaction only ENHANCED his stature for the open manner in which he handled it. Whatever the consensus was on Jerry Meals before last night, I'm guessing he too will get an extra measure of respect moving forward.

Let these episodes be a lesson for all arbiters: Simply own up to the possibility that you might've made a mistake and the controversy fades. There are actually umpires who do this; I was occasionally asked by a few if I'd seen the replay yet and whether they blew the call. Those guys ALWAYS got the benefit of the doubt due to their humility and lack of insecurity.

As for the call last night, it DID look like McKenry made an "ole" tag on the live play. While the replays suggest Lugo could've been out, there simply isn't the necessary three-dimensional depth to say with certainty. Meals handled it correctly in the moment and--more importantly--after having a chance to review.

Jul 27, 2011 10:35 AM
rating: 3
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

Great thoughts, guys. Thanks for sharing.

I also had a couple friends on a discussion board suggest that since the Posey injury, catchers have been encouraged to use more swipe tags on plays at the plate. That's an interesting facet of this that I had not considered.

Jul 27, 2011 11:10 AM

For an example of this, see the replay of Utley sliding into home for his inside the park homer. The ball beats Utley to the plate, but because Whiteside is not blocking the plate Utley is able to get around Whiteside's tag. I'm guessing Whiteside was instructed to position himself as he did.

Jul 27, 2011 12:50 PM
rating: 0

Didn't see it live. Looks like the wrist angle might shift slightly in the frames when the tag would have been applied, indicating there was some contact. Conclusive, no.

In answer to question #3, if a video replay system is enacted, I believe all direct and indirect evidence should be admissable for review. Whatever it takes to get the right call. But players don't always make the right conclusions, either. In fact they're more likely to make the wrong one than the umpire.

Jul 27, 2011 11:35 AM
rating: 0

4. Yes

Jul 27, 2011 12:38 PM
rating: 0
Drew Miller

If anything Meals should be commended for his judgment and positioning on the home plate call.

Now, about his strike zone...

Jul 27, 2011 12:38 PM
rating: 0
Drew Miller

1. No--but I understand why such calls are made. They happen at 2B all the time, when a runner goes in spikes-first.

2. Absolutely not.

3. Lugo indicates that he is out. But his reaction should have ABSOLUTELY NO BEARING on the call or the replay. Otherwise we're reducing close calls to acting jobs. I can't convey this strongly enough.

4. Yes--though only because I believe Lugo felt it.

5. Leave the grades private. There's enough pressure on umps as it is. Also, Meals should be commended for having superior positioning.

6. Leave everything as it. It adds flavor to the game.

Jul 27, 2011 12:44 PM
rating: 0

3. Actually I think that his reaction only shows that he thinks that he is out. This may have been because the ball beat him by a mile and because he made contact with the catcher (not necessarily with the catcher's glove). So what he might have assumed was glove on body contact may have been merely body on body contact.

I saw this happen in a run down play involving the A's where the runner was contacted by the non-glove hand of a fielder who only assumed he was out (because he was running away from the fielder), and so he started walking off the field. He was called out for taking a step towards the dugout not because he'd actually been tagged out.

So, at least in this case, the runner's reaction should not be considered definitive proof of the truth.

Jul 27, 2011 13:00 PM
rating: 2

I wouldn't be a major league umpire for all the tea in China. Maybe all the MONEY in China. But not the tea.

Jul 27, 2011 13:13 PM
rating: 0

My gut reaction was that he missed him too. And then I felt ill. Which means I wanted Lugo called out because the catcher messed it up so badly. But McKenry's glove never deforms in any way and that is pretty damning.

Jul 27, 2011 13:38 PM
rating: 0

1. Timing of throw is irrelevant

2. Video evidence was clearly NOT incontrovertible

3. Lugo's reaction suggests that he thought he would be called out -- not that he WAS, but that he assumed he would be called out.

4. I think the tag probably grazed him.

5. How many questions can you fit in one question?! It seems he was in the correct position, that's just a tough call to make due to the type of tag & slide. I would not publish internal umpire ratings.

6. Better training system? Probably not. Better rules? Maybe.

The whole situation could have been avoided if the Pirates catcher hadn't set up inside the baseline and tried a swipe tag. Either set up more squarely or make an effort to apply a tag that doesn't assume the runner will slide in to your hand.

Jul 27, 2011 14:45 PM
rating: 0

Lugo also made contact with the catcher. So he may just assume he's out, even if untagged. If you run into someone and beaut that bad, what would you expect.

I think he was safe. Bad play by the catcher, he could put two hands in Lugos chest.

Jul 27, 2011 21:43 PM
rating: 0

Could you not get much closer to a definitive answer if you looked at the pictures in pairs taken at the same instant. For example, the third last photo from the high third base view looks like there is some contact. If there isn't, it would be because of the way in which the glove and Lugo's leg are aligned with the camera. Should it not be possible to check that by looking at the corresponding picture from central field, given the different angles involved. (assuming that the central field view isn't blocked).

Jul 28, 2011 03:29 AM
rating: 0
BP staff member Mike Fast
BP staff

This is a good idea. I think without some complicated software, though, that it's not easily possible because the camera frames from different cameras are not synchronized in time.

Jul 29, 2011 09:02 AM

IMO, Meals made the right call, from the best position that he could have been in.

Just wondering - If catchers are being instructed to position differently than they have been trained to, it is reasonable to assume that some of them are faster - or slower - in learning the adjustment in real game action. Will we be seeing more plays like this at the plate until the "new thinking" takes hold?

Jul 28, 2011 10:49 AM
rating: 0

"Incontrovertible evidence" is a terrible standard. It is what makes the NFL review system untenable, officials standing around looking for 100% certainty when the correct call is right in front of their face.

What is incontrovertible? 100%? 99%? 99.9%? 98 1/4%? Less? How about if close calls are reviewed by video and you let the officials make the best possible ruling based on 1) what they saw on the field and 2) what the video replay shows, and just leave it at that? Far better than posing a ridiculously high standard that is in place more to allow officials to save face than to actually allow the best possible chance at a correct ruling.

Put in practice, don't you think Meals would have changed his mind given a second look? And how exactly would that be bad for the game?

Jul 28, 2011 10:50 AM
rating: 1

I couldn't put my responses any better than Ken Funck did; I agree with every word he said. And drawbb is also completely on the mark. There will always be some calls that no umpire and no technology can completely confirm. In those situations, we can do no better than accept what the umpire thinks in his best judgment has happened, and approve of his honesty in an uncomfortable spot.

Jul 29, 2011 08:02 AM
rating: 1
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