After 3 1/2 weeks of controversial calls that left nearly everyone in baseball confused over what constituted a catch and what didn’t, Major League Baseball abruptly changed its interpretation of the so-called “transfer rule” on Friday, and members of the Nationals couldn’t be happier about it.
“The longer it went on, and the more occasions you saw where it happened, people were starting to roll their eyes, like: ‘Here we go again,’” outfielder Nate McLouth said. “The umpires were calling it like they were supposed to, but the rule was just dumb. I’m glad it’s back to the way it was.”
Prior to Opening Day, MLB sent a memo to all clubs stating that umpires would be using a stricter interpretation of Rule 2.00, stressing that a catch would not be deemed complete until a fielder pulled the ball out of his glove and had begun the act of throwing it to another player.
Little did anyone realize at the time how many times the situation would arise in the season’s first month, with at least a dozen instances where plays that had been ruled catches for the last century suddenly were ruled errors.
The Nationals were burned by the rule three times: McLouth lost the ball after making a routine catch in right field on April 12, Second baseman Danny Espinosa dropped it trying to turn a double play on April 17 and first baseman Adam LaRoche was charged with an error after appearing to catch a line drive and turning to throw to second base Wednesday night.
In a statement released Friday afternoon, MLB said upon consultation with the players’ association and members of the league’s playing rules committee, the transfer play now will be interpreted as it always had been prior to this season.
“There is no requirement that the fielder successfully remove the ball from his glove in order for it be ruled a catch,” the statement read. “If the fielder drops the ball while attempting to remove it to make a throw, the Umpires should rule that the ball had been caught, provided that the fielder had secured it in his glove before attempting the transfer.”
MLB can’t retroactively change the scoring of those plays, so all three players still are charged with errors. But the Nationals at least are grateful none of the transfer plays that occurred to them changed the outcome of a game.
“I don’t think it’s cost us a game,” LaRoche said. “I’m sure it’s cost some teams some ballgames, and the difference in some divisions right now. I don’t know to what extent, but I’m sure a lot of guys would like to take those back.”
Given the deliberate pace MLB typically makes decisions like this, players and team officials appreciated how quickly the league moved to address this issue.
“They’re all working hard at it,” manager Matt Williams said. “This is certainly new for everybody this year, including all the guys in New York making all the decisions. They’re longtime baseball guys. But it’s also new for them. They played the game a certain way, and now there is change. They’re evaluating. They continue to evaluate. And they decided to make a change. I take it as if they feel it’s a positive step for the game. And I do as well.”