Another Look at the McClelland/Swisher Play

Sorry for beating this dead horse again, or kicking a dead cat as my sister has started to say. Whatever, I’m metaphorically physically attacking a dead animal right now. I should have mentioned in my “About Me” that I have umpired a middle school baseball league for two summers, so I sort of can provide perspective about umpiring in the same way retired professional athletes provide perspective during a broadcast, but with fewer quotes that can be ridiculed at a later time. Thus, I can partially understand how Tim McClelland made such a poor call on Nick Swisher’s attempted tag-up during Game 4 of the ALCS. We all know that McClelland wasn’t directly watching Swisher when Torii Hunter caught Johnny Damon’s fly ball, but I feel that NO ONE has bothered to explain a possibility why he made such a bad call. So, I will attempt to fix this injustice with 2 major points.

1. McClelland’s Positioning

FOX broadcast of play

Note: As an umpire, I’ve been taught that for tag-up plays I am to line up the runner and fielder such that I can see both when the catch is made and when the runner’s foot leaves the base. I also am supposed to be at a distance away from the base such that I can see the runner’s foot without staring at the ground, therefore causing me to be unable to see the fielder make the catch. Basically exactly what you’d expect.

You can watch the entire 2 1/2 minute video if you want, but I’m only interested in the first 10 seconds. If you time when Damon made contact to when Hunter made the catch, it’s about 3.75 seconds. Now, let’s assume that McClelland hesitated at first before making an attempt to get into a position to accurately watch Swisher’s tag because he had to decide what he had to do for this play (similar to a fielder deciding what he has to do to field a batted ball). This is understandable because a person cannot be expected to know where or if a batted ball is going to be caught the instance it is hit. So, I will assume it took McClelland about half a second to decide where the ball was going to land and if it had a possibility of being caught (Don’t believe me? Use a stopwatch or analog clock to see how fast half a second is) so he should have had about 3.25 seconds to react after deciding that this play had the chance of being a sacrifice fly attempt.  However, it’s tough to estimate this time because we don’t know exactly what he was thinking when Damon first made contact.

2

It is virtually impossible to know where McClelland’s position was at the start of this play because there isn’t any video showing where he started. However, because of the rarity of a pickoff attempt at 3rd base and he was still in motion when Swisher left 3rd, I assume he wasn’t close to the base when the play started. So, I will further assume that he was probably a distance from 3rd base that roughly mirrors the positioning of the 1st base umpire.

The fact that McClelland was moving when Swisher left 3rd base poses a question: Why wasn’t he in position yet?

A. He hesitated longer than I assumed and didn’t move fast enough to compensate.

B. His hesitation was close to my estimate but he was slow in moving to his position.

Look at the picture above again. The center of the oval where I think McClelland started to where he ended up at the time of Swisher leaving 3rd is about 1/4 the distance of the basepaths, or about 22.5 feet. Now, from my quick Google research, I’ve found that the average walking speed is about 3 MPH and the average jogging speed is about 6 MPH. Accounting for McClelland’s age, let’s say that his jogging speed is about 4.5 MPH. Doing the math, he should have taken about…

(4.5 mi/hr) x (1 hr / 3600 sec) x (5280 ft / 1 mi) = 6.6 ft/sec

22.5 feet / (6.6 feet / sec) = 3.41 sec

…to move from where he started to where he ended, which is very close to the 3.25 seconds I estimated earlier. So, I’m willing to bet that our correct answer is closer to B than A. McClelland certainly could have gotten into a better position like what I was taught, but only if he moved at a faster speed. However, from all of us watching many games, I’m sure we can all agree that umpires are not the fleetest of foot and rarely, if ever, even appear to move at a fast jog. Therefore, I think our answer is actually a C that I didn’t think should have even been listed:

C. Nothing. The play just happened too fast, so he was in his best possible position.

2. McClelland’s Vision

No, I’m not recommending that he needs glasses (even after wrongly calling Cano safe at 3rd in the same game. I could discuss that play as well, but I think it would be harder to convince you to believe what I felt his thought process was). Tim McCarver emphatically stated how McClelland wasn’t directly looking at Swisher, which caused his error in judgment. But what I can’t believe is that McCarver, nor Joe Buck, nor anyone else made any mention of peripheral vision in relation to this play. For my analysis, I found that this organization states that normal peripheral vision is about 180 degrees. Examine the following two pictures:

25

As you can understand, a person’s peripheral vision should decrease as he/she gets older, so I accounted for this by showing McClelland’s as being less than 180 degrees in the picture on the left. I know that I subjectively picked where the two lines are, but they are not intended to be exact nor do I even know what McClelland’s vision is like (neither should you), so I will assume that he saw at least part of Swisher before he left 3rd. Now, I’ve already shown that it was probable that the play in real time occurred too fast for McClelland to get into a good position to make an accurate call, so that was probably why he didn’t line up Swisher with Hunter when the catch was made. The picture on the right shows Swisher leaning forward (as he should when attempting to leave a stationary position) before he took off from the base. Once he started leaning, I think McClelland with his peripheral vision assumed that Swisher was off the base, and thus thought that Swisher had left too early when the catch was made.

My explanations might not be correct, and I still do believe that this was a bad call by McClelland that he should have made. I know that there is also a slight theory that this was a make up call for Dale Scott missing that Swisher was out on a pickoff at 2nd base just a few minutes before. But, again we don’t know where McClelland’s positioning was on this play either, and I think that from 3rd base there was no way McClelland could have seen whether Swisher was safe or out at 2nd, and thus couldn’t have decided to call Swisher out at 3rd to make up for Scott’s own bad call. Although this commentary is much too late to really change anything, I do hope that you remember that with my first point, although the umpires can make bad calls, they usually are trying the best that they possibly can.

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4 Responses to “Another Look at the McClelland/Swisher Play”

  1. Beau Says:

    Excellent article. I too thought that McLellan saw Swisher lean towards home and thought it was his tag. It was a bad call, but not egregious. Of course, if that was Joe Mauer on third and it was the tying run, then of course it would be egregious :)

  2. Bryz Says:

    Does this mean that Phil Cuzzi’s call against Mauer in the ALDS was egregious?

    Unless he blinked and kept his eyes shut from right before the ball hit the glove to when it bounced into foul territory, I have no explanation for that call.

    To be honest, this was quite fun writing this up. Sure, I had to do a bunch of research before I could post the final product (and even then I had extensive editing to do the next day once I realized how poorly constructed my sentences were) but I think it would be cool to see if I could pinpoint which bad calls were blatantly bad (Cuzzi) or just a case of bad luck (McClelland).

  3. Josh Says:

    Fantastic article. I know umping is extremely difficult… I umped men’s softball one summer and wanted to kill myself. However, if you get yourself in position, it makes your life so much easier (which McLellan clearly did not do). What’s been baffling about these playoff games is that many of the poor calls included an ump “in position.” How Cuzzi missed Mauer’s double was beyond me. How Youk’s tag is missed is beyond me. I’m really not a proponent for instant replay in baseball, but now I am starting to question whether a coach should get a few red flags, just like football.

    • Bryz Says:

      I might expand on this later, but when you think about it, it’s actually pretty amazing to think of how many sports have some sort of instant replay in use right now. Football, hockey, tennis, baseball, basketball… However, football is the only one that reviews more than just a single thing, like the other sports that I listed. Hockey: Goal/no goal; tennis: In or out of bounds; Baseball: Home run/no home run; Basketball: Last second shot counts/doesn’t count.

      Baseball has the most discussions about expanding instant replay, but it also has about as many variables as football does. Hockey and basketball could certainly expand as well, but if there aren’t any complaints, I don’t see why they would.

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