Major League Baseball’s video review policy has been controversial since manager challenges became standard in 2014, but on this Memorial Day, a dispute over a Khris Davis home run showed how it can save a ridiculous situation from spiraling out of control. It began when the San Francisco Giants appealed whether Davis touched home plate after his tater trot and ended several minutes later with a ruling he did — but not after Milwaukee was forced to challenge the call. Despite Davis’s borderline carelessness, the poor judgment of a rookie umpire and a backup catcher made a mockery of holiday baseball in Milwaukee.
Here’s a look at the incident in miniature:
As the photo of Brandon Belt at first and Andrew Susac at home shows, the Giants were unusually preoccupied with Davis’s trip around the bases. (Susac, for his part, seems ready to take a microscope to the passing phenomenon.) Touching home plate does not warrant a safe or out call under normal circumstances. As Adam McCalvy noted on MLB.com, the Giants’ appeal could have ended with Davis being ruled out at home for missing the plate and being awarded a triple instead of a home run.
After a conference between Giants manager Bruce Bochy and the umpire, Tim Lincecum lobbed a ball in to appeal before throwing his next pitch. (Lincecum would have recorded an assist with Susac notching a putout.) Unfortunately for San Francisco, Davis very much touched home plate with his heel, which made it a home run in any universe, alternate or otherwise.
Susac and rookie umpire Will Little have to take responsibility for this episode.
For starters, Little had to instruct Susac and the Giants how to appeal the missed touch of home, after which Linceum threw the ball in for the tag. (Susac pumps his fist after Little makes the out call.) Then Brewers manager Craig Counsell has to come out to challenge while the delay clock keeps ticking. His hand forced, Counsell’s challenge ends up lasting another three minutes and 15 seconds. The ruling from MLB headquarters was (not surprisingly) safe.
Rules are certainly rules, but the “neighborhood” plays at second base have been a part of the game for decades to protect against players going spikes-first into second to break up a double play. When MLB video review began, baseball awkwardly tried to outlaw the neighborhood play at second before realizing it must remain in place.
Reality check for baseball executives and player reps: Players can record outs without touching second base but need to do a two-foot stomp on home plate to be credited for a home run? It’s tough to find a bigger absurdity in the game. As for seeing such a thing happen on a home run, no one in the Giants or Brewers organizations could recall seeing such an appeal. (Counsell admitted it was too close for comfort.)
Hitting the ball out of the park is typically the most exciting thing in the game. Wasting over five minutes of fans’ time is the most surefire way to suck the excitement out of a home team’s park on a holiday afternoon. Can you completely blame Susac for trying? Perhaps not, but it was a backup catcher and an umpire in his first full season who ended up making a mockery of the game this Memorial Day afternoon.
Rules are still rules, but you’ve got to know when to pick your poison. The Giants and Will Little picked the wrong one in Milwaukee.