They say thatthere can be no new plays in baseball. Yet it's quite possible that JackieRobinson produced a new one on Wednesday. No baseball man this inquiringreporter questioned had seen it before and not all agreed on what should bedone about it.
Jackie broke up asure double play by permitting himself to be hit by a batted ball. It happenedin the Dodger opener against the Pirates. The bases were full and Robbie wastaking a lead off second when Roy Campanella grounded to short. Robbie let theball hit him. So he was declared out, Campy was credited with an automatic hitand the bases remained full. But there was no double play.
"It wassmart," said Leo Durocher when he was asked about the stratagem a daylater. "But if that play happened the way I heard it happened, he wouldn'thave got away with it against me. I'd have shot out of the dugout screaming.And I'd have insisted that the umpires call it a double play anyway. They'dhafta call it that way."
"What ruledid he violate? If it's deliberate interference, the umpire can call out thebatter as well as the runner. It's a judgment play. The ump has to use hisjudgment just like when a base-runner tries to take out the middle man atsecond in a double play. The runner isn't tagged but the umpire calls him outfor leaving the baseline. It's a matter of judgment. Don't you agree?"
It so happenedthat his listener didn't agree at all. But before he had a chance to ask theDandy Little Manager what specific rule supported his argument, the impetuousFrank Frisch added to the confusion. The Old Flash is still a manager atheart.
"Sure it hasto be called a double play," insisted Frisch with such emphasis that alistener quailed before his wrath. "It stands to reason that a runner can'tbe permitted to interfere with a double play. The umpires have to call bothouts anyway."
Advice then wassought from several umpires, a breed of mankind which normally shunscontroversy. The men in blue preferred to remain unidentified and only on thatbasis would they speak. Here's a composite quote:
"We agreewith Leo," they began, "that deliberate interference with a double-playball is wrong. But there isn't a thing we can do about it. He can scream andrant all he likes but no umpire has a right to presume that a double play wouldhave been made. Maybe the shortstop would have thrown the ball into rightfield. How do we know? And we hope the rules are never changed to cover theissue Robinson raised. Then it would be a matter of judgment, and an umpire'slife is tough enough without having that complication added to it."
Warren Giles, thepresident of the National League and the final court of appeals for hiscircuit, was not so bashful as his umpires. He didn't object to going onrecord.
"There'snothing in the rules against the play in question," said Warren in hisusual forthright fashion. "After I read in the papers about Robinson'smaneuver, I checked back through the book and found nothing to prevent it. Leocan squawk all he wants but I'm afraid it will be to no avail."
Oddly enough, thestratagem was conceived by Pee Wee Reese, the captain of the Brooks. He talkedit over with Junior Gilliam and they agreed to try it if the situation arose.But Jackie beat them to it.
Whenever a ballplayer mangles an easy double play and gets only one out instead of two, heisn't charged with an error because the official scorer is instructed that heis "never to presume a double play would have been made." That has toapply to umpires, too. Durocher's bleat has solid foundations in the field ofcommon justice but none in the rule book.
But suppose Leois correct. The only culprit—if culprit he be—would be the runner. He could becalled out for being hit by a batted ball or he could be called out forinterference. But not both. Baseball limits one out to each customer.Furthermore, the ball is dead once the runner has been hit by a batted ball.Can that second out be called when the game is in a state of suspendedanimation?
Admittedly thisisn't a play that will be seen often. Yet it has assumed intriguingaspects.
"I tell you, Smith, it's greater than skin diving!"