A cloud of unrest hung over the Potomac Wiffleball League prior to the Week 4 games. The Besley Bashers, a rookie franchise already on their second logo, submitted a late night challenge to the Commissioner’s authority in the early hours of Saturday morning.
The issue arose after the Bashers submitted a challenge Friday night, pointing out that in their game Week 3 against the Ha’chi Mountaineers, the umpire had given two warnings to an individual pitcher, Ricardo Nieves, but failed to remove him from the mound. The pitcher, it turned out, was the final pitcher the Mountaineers had, which would have given the Bashers the win via pitcher ejection forfeit. Instead, the game finished, and the Mountaineers won 7-4 in a regulation game.
The game video shows without a doubt that Nieves had been warned in a previous inning, and the second consecutive four ball count should have caused his removal. The umpire wasn’t sure, he asked the players, and even a member of the Bashers dugout said Nieves hadn’t been warned already. Nieves, in a postgame interview, said he “didn’t remember” which is what he told the umpire as well. The umpire had not been recording warnings on the lineup cards, which the league’s written instructions to the umpires ask them to do, and he allowed the game to continue.
The umpire, without a doubt, blew the call, and robbed Besley of a win.
When an umpire makes a judgment call, calling a guy safe who was out, or calling a ball fair instead of foul, there isn’t anything that can be done to review, overturn, or adjust the call. Right or wrong, a judgment call of the umpire is what it is, their judgment, and it can’t be changed.
However, if an umpire makes a mistake in the application of the rules of the game, there is a process for appealing and fixing that mistake. For example, if an umpire gives a team 3 outs instead of 2 in an inning, or if an umpire ends a game using the 10 run rule after only 2 innings, instead of 3, those things are improperly applied rules, which can be fixed.
The process of fixing an issue arising out of an umpires misapplication of the rules is called a protest. For example, if a pitcher gets two warnings in the same game, and the umpire doesn’t make that pitcher leave the mound and be replaced with a different pitcher, that game can be protested.
The problem, as Besley found out, is that the game has to be protested at the time of the rules violation. In fact, you have to notify the umpire on the field before the next pitch is thrown that you are protesting the game. Otherwise, you can’t protest. Once the next pitch has happened, whatever the result that happened is deemed to be accepted, and it can’t be protested after the fact.
Besley didn’t make a protest at the time of the issue. In fact, checking out the game video, they didn’t actually even put up much of a fight at all. [ SEE THE VIDEO ]
Besley made their protest request almost a week later, late Friday night.
Commissioner Gallaway, per an email he sent to the PWL managers reviews two criteria in deciding whether or not a protest will be reviewed. The first, was the issue being protested a “rules” problem, or is at “judgment” call by the umpire. In this case, it was clearly a rules call, so it could clearly be protested.
The second factor is was the protest filed on time. That is, was the protest filed before the next pitch was thrown. After looking at the video, it was clear that no protest was filed. Neither the umpire, opposing manager, or even a casual onlooker could make the case that a protest had been made. Due to this factor, the Commissioner ruled that nothing could be reviewed and the protest couldn’t be considered.
In fact, if you look at the full MLB rule on protests, there is a third factor, which is whether or not it would have affected the outcome of the game. This obviously would have met that test as well, had it been filed on time, as it cost the Bashers a loss when they would have had a win.
The full rules around protests are:
4.19 PROTESTING GAMES. Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire’s decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final. Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.
Rule 4.19 Comment: Whenever a manager protests a game because of alleged misapplication of the rules the protest will not be recognized unless the umpires are notified at the time the play under protest occurs and before the next pitch, play or attempted play. A protest arising on a game-ending play may be filed until 12 noon the following day with the league office.
So, Commissioner Gallaway ruled that the protest wasn’t valid, and couldn’t order the situation to be fixed, which in all likelihood would have been ordering the game to be replayed at a future date.
Besley’s manager, Colton Turner, wasn’t satisfied though. Commissioner Gallaway pointed out another section of the rules with which the Bashers were unfamiliar (a running theme?) which allows the decision of the Commissioner to be overturned by a 2/3 vote of the league managers. So, the Commissioner asked the Bashers if they wanted to try to overturn his decision with a vote of the managers. They did.
So, for the first time in league history, a Commissioner’s decision was appealed to a vote of the managers in the league to possibly overturn it.
Once before, the Commissioner had referred a rules issue to the Managers to be voted on. It wasn’t a game protest, but rather a review of game changing play in a game that involved the Commissioner’s own team, in a game that did NOT have an umpire present. While there was no official need for the matter to be referred to the managers, the Commissioner decided to recuse himself from making the decision, and had the manager’s vote. In that case, the opinion of the Commissioner was upheld by the managers.
The stage was set for the first opportunity for the managers to overturn a Commissioner’s decision, and also call for the first ever successfully protested game in league history. They didn’t.
After a series of discussion and debate, which culminated in a flurry of emails on Saturday, the managers soundly supported the Commissioner’s ruling that the protest was not able to be considered.
The Bashers needed 14 votes to have the protest be considered, they got 3. The Bashers, Porkchop Sandwiches, and Suns Out Guns Out voted to overturn the Commissioner. Five teams didn’t vote, DC Twits, Gumballers, Natty Brohs, Oedipus and Superman’s Wheelchair. The other 12 teams voted in support of the Commissioner and against the Bashers.
Despite the overwhelming belief that the Bashers didn’t have a case, there was pretty universal feeling that it was a bad break for Besley. Had they filed the protest on time, no doubt the managers would not have overturned a Commissioners decision which would have forced the game situation to be addressed in some manner to make it right.
“This issue came down to following the rules”, Commissioner Gallaway said. “The rules for doing a protest are very clear. The managers were even reminded of those rules before Opening Day, including Besley. We can’t break the rules in favor of the Bashers in order to correct a rules violation that was made upon them. Two wrongs don’t make a right.”
The managers agreed. They also agreed the Bashers got screwed by a bad call.
“It’s not acceptable that the umpire made this mistake. No mistake is acceptable. But, it’s going to happen from time-to-time. In this case there is a process in place to fix it, and unfortunately that process wasn’t followed. I start from a position of wanting everyone to be perfect, and I manage the expectations down from there,” Commissioner Gallaway continued. “I’m not saying that I’m infallible. I’m just incapable of making an error. I wish everyone else was too.”
Commissioner Gallaway has noted that feedback provided by managers and players on umpires is used to provide feedback to the umpire association, and also help select umpires for the postseason and for future seasons. The PWL doesn’t have a disciplinary process or formal review process in place for the umpires contracted through the umpire association.
“Hopefully this situation will serve as a learning experience for all managers, not just the rookie managers. If you believe the rules are not being followed, make sure you protest the game with the umpire immediately. We will ensure the rules are followed, but the rules for fixing it has to be followed too,” Gallaway said.
When asked about the vote, and the first time in 16 seasons that one of his decisions has been challenged by a vote of the managers, Gallaway dismissed the matter.
“The Commissioner of the PWL is kind of like the commander in chief of a country without a military when it comes to authority. I can decide a lot of things, but not much of it matters. Certainly it’s reassuring to me that only 3 managers voted against my decision. I’m up for re-election after this season, so it was a good straw poll on my Commissionership.”
The Bashers, on the short end of this one, came back on Week 4 with a big upset of the DC Twits for their second win of the season. (Well, their second win in the standings anyway.) They won’t face Ha’chi again this season, having lost to them Week 1 in addition to Week 3. And, it’s very possible that this disputed game will be a factor in a tight race in the Western Division which see Ha’chi, the Twits and the Master Batters battling for postseason.
Hopefully the rookies learned two things from this. First, if you think the rules aren’t being followed, stop the game, and fix it immediately. Second, you better have your ducks in a row before you try to overturn a decision of the Commissioner.
With any luck, they’ll get better because of this and be back for more.