CHICAGO — Behind the show, once Dave Martinez had ripped a base out of the ground and kicked it for good measure, was a truly angry manager, one who believes that Rule 5.09a(11) needs a much closer look.
This came Wednesday night at Wrigley Field, with a judgment call by home plate umpire Chris Conroy. Trea Turner, the Washington Nationals’ shortstop, swung through a fastball and took off running to first on a dropped third strike. Replay showed that he took a straight path to first base, even scuffing the white chalk line as he did. But once Chicago Cubs catcher Willson Contreras’s throw sailed to right field, Conroy signaled that Turner was out for batter interference in the seventh inning of an eventual 4-3 win for the Nationals.
Turner turned his palms toward the sky, tensed his shoulders and asked: “What?” First base umpire Pat Hoberg told him he was out. Then Martinez rushed out to argue, to mimic Turner’s steps to the bag, to throw that bag and kick it, well after he was ejected for yelling bad words at Conroy. It was all very similar to a play that retired Turner in a critical spot of Game 6 of the 2019 World Series. (Martinez was tossed that night, too.) It was in, fact, the third time Turner has been on the wrong end of an umpire’s judgment with batter interference. Nationals pitcher Erick Fedde was also called out for it against the St. Louis Cardinals earlier this season.
Martinez has decided he’s seen enough. The source of his rage is Rule 5.09a(11), which is in the rule book section titled “Making an out,” a comprehensive list of ways a hitter can wind up in the dugout. It reads: “In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.”
But let’s let Martinez, Turner and Max Scherzer take it from here.
“Honestly, I am beside myself now with this whole out-of-the-baseline thing. I think it’s awful,” Martinez said, settling into a long rant: “There’s two parts to the rule, I get it. The second part of the rule is the judgment call. For me, it’s a bad judgment, plain and simple. If you want them to run on the other side of the baseline, put the base over there, plain and simple. I argue that all the time. But if he’s running straight down the line, and the catcher makes a bad throw, what do you do? What do you do?
“He didn’t even run hard, and he made it to first base, and he’s going to come out and call him out? I’m over it. Really, I’m over it. I’m tired of it. I’m going to argue 1,000 times when that happens, I really am. I’m sick of it. You guys saw it. It’s a brutal call. And I’m done hiding it … And it wasn’t just today. I’ve seen it go on and on and on. They need to do something about it.”
When Turner sat down for his postgame video call, he rubbed his hands together and smiled. When asked if he was excited about something, he responded with a grin: “Maybe. I don’t know. We’ll see.” Then he followed his manager’s lead.
“I don’t know even know where to start,” Turner said. “I’ve been approved for many curse words, but I’m going to try to save our PR guy. It’s bad. It’s just bad. I know they’re trying out there, and this and that, and they’re trying to do their job, but it’s terrible. It’s bad, and I think this was worse than Game 6.”
Contreras’s throw came from the right of home plate, going toward the first base dugout. It flew between Turner and first baseman P.J. Higgins, whose glove hit Turner’s right leg as the shortstop coasted past the base. Turner, then, isn’t sure where he is supposed to go. How does that get fixed?
“Yeah, it’s easy, replay opinion plays,” said Turner, knowing that judgment calls have never been reviewable. “If it’s an opinion play for an umpire, be able to replay it.”
Have the three calls changed how he runs down the line?
“No,” Turner responded, cutting off the question. “Why would I bother? Running in a straight line to the base, I don’t know why I’d bother doing anything different. It comes down to a bad throw. The guy makes a bad throw, then you’re out, and if he doesn’t then you’re either safe or out. So he might as well pick it up and throw it in the stands and then the umpire gets to call you out. That’s the only difference in the rule. Or I guess I don’t even know if it’s a rule.”
It is, of course. And Scherzer, the Nationals’ ace, happens to be a players’ union representative on MLB’s rules committee.
“I mean here we go again, a base runner running right down the line and we’re going to call him out,” Scherzer said. “We keep seeing this happen over and over and over, and something’s got to give here. You cant tell me that somehow the batter should be out because he’s running right toward the base. I get if he’s running on the grass . . . yeah, that’s pretty easy . . . but when you’re running right down the line, you can’t be rewarding the defense in that situation. MLB has got to look at this.”