Interpreting The Nyjer Morgan/John Buck Play | Disciples of Uecker

Disciples of Uecker

We'd like to go to the Playoffs, that would be cool.

Although it didn’t end up counting for much in a 7-2 Brewers victory Monday night, this play in which John Buck dislodges Nyjer Morgan from first base, resulting in an out call, generated some controversy. With a runner on second base and two outs, Morgan singled to center. Either Morgan though the throw was going home or he wanted to get in a rundown in order to allow Jonathan Lucroy, who got a poor break from second, to score. With Marlins 1B Gaby Sanchez in to take the cut and the Marlins pitcher backing up the plate, nobody was covering first base, forcing C John Buck to rush to first to make the play on the retreating Morgan. For an animation of this play, follow the “read more” link (as the .gif file is large and may take time for those on slower connections to load)

(.gif courtesy of Carson Cistulli)

What you don’t see here is Buck tagging Morgan off the bag, resulting in the third out of the inning. Watch the video linked in the first sentence for more, including replays and different angles.

Makes sense, right? After all, just check rule 7.08 (c):

7.08: Any runner is out when –
(c) He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base. EXCEPTION: A batter-runner cannot be tagged out after overrunning or oversliding first base if he returns immediately to the base;
APPROVED RULING: (1) If the impact of a runner breaks a base loose from its position, no play can be made on that runner at that base if he had reached the base safely.
APPROVED RULING: (2) If a base is dislodged from its position during a play, any following runner on the same play shall be considered as touching or occupying the base if, in the umpire’s judgment, he touches or occupies the point marked by the dislodged bag.

Nothing in that rule discusses this situation, a player dislodged from a base he already reached (as you can tell by the umpire’s “safe” call) by an opponent’s momentum and then tagged out. But baseball isn’t a “contact sport,” and the game certainly wasn’t designed so that fielders could push runners off the bag and tag them out. The question, however, is if there’s anything in the actual rulebook against what Buck did to Morgan, which was clearly incidental but also, at least in my mind, clearly against the spirit of the game.

My first instinct was to check the obstruction rules, but obstruction cannot be called in this case. From rule 2.0:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.

Buck was quite clearly either in possession of the ball or in the act of fielding the ball during the entirety of this play, so that’s right out. And, looking through Rule 7.00, the rule on runners linked above, I just don’t see anything which prevents this kind of play. Maybe I’m wrong, and please tell me if I am in the comments section.

This seems kind of remarkable, as one would imagine that some sort of similar play would’ve happened in baseball’s rather long history, even potentially with intentional contact to dislodge the runner from the base. In my mind, this just isn’t something that should be allowed, and in any real baseball sense, Morgan safely made it back to first. My suggestion would be to add another “approved ruling” to rule 7.08 (c). This approved ruling would state that any runner dislodged from the base by a fielder, regardless of if he has the ball or not, has the right to return to that base (note: I also don’t see this in rule 7.05, but that may be worth double checking).

Regardless, it’s clear to me that what happened in Monday’s game shouldn’t be part of baseball. John Buck did not make a “baseball play” to retire Nyjer Morgan (although it should be noted that his hustle and awareness to reach first base with nobody covering was impressive). I think my solution rectifies the situation, but as I read the rules, I actually don’t find anywhere in the rulebook that specifically states Monday’s ruling was wrong.

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Tell us what do you think.

  1. Mark says: June 7, 2011

    This doesn’t really matter in crafting a rule about these situations, but for what it’s worth, it seems quite clear that Buck’s momentum isn’t what dislodges Morgan from the base. He moves from sliding to leaning into Morgan and physically shoving him, and that’s what took Morgan off the base. If he would have just stopped when his momentum did, Morgan would never have been taken off of first.

    Again, your rule change would cover it whether it was momentum or intentional, but shift from sliding to shoving, and the intentionality of that, is what makes it a dirty play instead of just a weird accident.

  2. Todd says: June 7, 2011

    I am not about to get in to the particulars of the rule book. Rather, you had asked about a similar play having occurred in baseball’s long history. How quickly we have forgotten a play at first base that happened years ago on baseball’s biggest stage, the World Series. In Game 2 of the 1991 World Series, Kent Hrbek dislodged Ron Gant from 1st base after Gant had rounded the base too wide after hitting a single. For all the details, search for “1991 World Series” on Wikipedia. Many people still consider this among the worst baseball calls of all time.

  3. Steve says: June 7, 2011

    If this was an out, then what is keeping a big first base man from shoving a returning runner off the plate after the pitcher tosses the ball to first.

  4. Jack Moore says: June 7, 2011

    Todd -

    Unfortunately, I was 1 year old when this happened. But good call.

  5. Chris says: June 8, 2011

    I think the rule that says Nyjer should have been called safe is simply that a runner is entitled to a base until he is legally put out. If you read entitled as meaning he can not be forced off by the defense.

  6. Michael Huggins says: May 9, 2013

    Aside from this specific play, the idea of the rule addition can only do good. Especially in simple language. “A defensive player can not force a runner off the base once reached safely.”I personally have done this to get outs and it has also been done to me. I’ve seen it done all the way through Little League, Babe Ruth Leagues, Highschool ball, NCAA Ball and MLB. This play is taken advantage of because there is no clear cut rule and players know that they can sometimes get away with it.


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