The Most Painful MLB 2021 Storyline: Controversy

Benny Sieu – USA TODAY Sports

Sports are by no means immune to controversy. With a season as long as that of the MLB where there are around 15 games a day for seven straight months there are bound to be moments that are questioned by the entire league. Unfortunately, just over a month into the 2021 MLB season there have already been an excessive number of controversial plays. Here are the plays that deserve the most attention. 

Mets: Walk off hit-by-pitch

Mike Store – Getty Images

On Thursday April 8th, the Miami Marlins went to New York to start a three game series with the Mets. Coming into this series the Marlins were 1-5 to start the season and looking for some way to get going. The Marlins took a 2-1 lead in the top of the sixth and held onto that going into the bottom of the ninth.

The Questionable Comeback

Jeff McNeil led off the bottom of the ninth with a game tying solo home run for the Mets and things only got worse from there. After four more batters Marlins closer Anthony Bass had only recorded one out and gave up two hits plus an intentional walk to load the bases for Michael Conforto. Bass got ahead in the count 1-2 and threw an 84 mph slider in the upper left corner of the strike zone for what should have been strike three, instead it was a walk off hit by pitch as it grazed Conforto’s elbow pad. 

An Attempt Must Be Made

If it was in the zone how could he have gotten hit by it? It is a simple answer: he leaned in. Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs is known for standing right on top of the plate, but even if he were to get by a pitch that was a strike it would be obvious that he leaned in. The batter must make some attempt to get out of the way of a pitch and insteading of moving away from the ball, Conforto moved into it.

All the Marlins could do was challenge the HBP, but he was clearly hit so that would be unsuccessful, sadly there is no way to challenge whether or not he leaned into it. The Mets went home happy with a 3-2 victory, but the inability for home plate umpire Ron Kulpa to get the call correct made this the HBP heard round the nation. 

Phillies: Go ahead sacrifice fly

Dale Zanine – USA TODAY Sports

Only three days after the Mets won on the HBP, on Sunday April 11th, the Philadelphia Phillies and Atlanta Braves capped off a three game series in Atlanta. The Braves took the first two games of the series and were looking to sweep it. After the first inning the Braves were up 3-0, but the Phillies came back to take a 5-3 lead in the fourth. After some more back and forth the game was tied 6-6 going into the ninth.

The Ninth Inning

In the top half of the ninth inning there was one out and runner Alec Bohm at third. Didi Gregorious hit a medium deep fly ball out to left fielder Marcell Ozuna. Bohm tagged and made a mad dash to home, but Ozuna threw a two hop strike to catcher Travis d’Arnaud who applied the tag as Bohm was sliding in. It was a bang bang play at the plate and because of that home plate umpire Lance Barrett called Bohm safe. 

The Replay Failure

After taking a look at the play the Braves decided to challenge the call of safe at home. While the umpires were on the headsets there were plenty of angles to look at of the play and they all showed d’Arnaud use his right knee to push Bohm’s left leg away from the plate and tag Bohm. Also, due to the way Bohm slid in he could not get his left foot down all the way meaning only his heel was touching the ground and at no point did his heel touch home. After a couple minutes of deliberating with the replay officials in New York, the umpires took off their headsets and signalled safe. The Braves ended up going down in order in the bottom of the ninth giving the Phillies a 7-6 victory.

The walk off for the Mets created a lot of chatter, but this blew that conversation out of the water as fans, players and organizations across the country expressed their frustrations. These are the plays that replay was created for, moments that are obvious and can impact the game in a major way and they got it very wrong which bring back a necessary question: what is the point of having replay if they cannot get the call right?  

White Sox: Pulled off the base 


The controversy just kept on coming in April. On Thursday April 15th, just one day after Carlos Rodon threw a no hitter for the Chicago White Sox against the Cleveland Indians, the Sox looked to take the series as they had won two of the first three in Chicago. The Sox had all the momentum going their way and an early play may have shifted it.

Two Batters In

Tim Anderson led off the bottom of the first with a single and Adam Eaton followed suit with a single to right field. Anderson ran to third and Indians right fielder Josh Naylor attempted to throw him out by throwing to third, but the throw was late. Since the throw went to third, Eaton decided to hustle to second so third baseman Jose Ramirez threw to shortstop Andres Gimenez to try to nab Eaton, but he slid in safe. The ball came in low to Gimenez at second causing him to bend down, putting his lower left leg on the ground in front of the base as Eaton slid in. After Eaton reached the bag safely Gimenez stood up, but since his leg was under Eaton it lifted his arm up and off the base and because of that he was called out. 

The Defenders Fault

This type of play happened many years ago at a play at first base when the runners leg was picked up resulting in him being called out. That was a play that significantly changed the game because it made it illegal for a defender to pull a runner off of a base. Obviously, Gimenez was not purposely trying to do this, but it does not take away from the fact that Eaton should have been called safe by second base umpire Bill Miller. Eaton was understandably furious at this missed call and during his argument he pushed Gimenez causing the benches to clear for both teams. To make matters worse Eaton was handed a one game suspension by the MLB for inciting an brawl, an unfortunate punishment for a player who was on the wrong end of an unfortunate play.

This, just like the Mets HBP, is not a challengeable call, all the White Sox could do is challenge the out call, not whether he was pulled off the bag by the defender. Instead of having second and third with nobody out it was only a runner at third with one out. They were able to put a run on the board a few batters later, but they ended up losing 4-2 and who knows how much that one play impacted the remainder of the game. This is a play that could change the game of baseball and what is allowed with replays. 

Phillies: Running out of the base path 

Elizabeth Robertson – The Philadelphia Inquirer

May immediately started off with controversy. This time, the Phillies were on the wrong end of a call that baffled the nation, but once again the Mets are on the positive side. On May 1st, the Phillies took on the Mets for game two of a three game series in Philadelphia.

The Scary Seventh

In a 4-4 game in the bottom of the seventh there was one out and Andrew McCutchen at first base. Matt Joyce hit a ground ball to shortstop Fransisco Lindor, who with the shift on was playing on the right field side of the infield. As Lindor fielded the ball he ran towards McCutchen who was running to second, but he missed him and threw to first to get the force out, but Joyce was called safe. Even though both runners were called safe, the entire Mets team ran off the field assuming it was a double play and the inning was over. For some reason, they assumed correctly. 

The Wrong Call From All Angles

The first matter to resolve is that Joyce was out by a large margin at first, but that call was reversed. The worst call of them all was that McCutchen was called out for running out of the base path. It is not clear if second base umpire Jose Navas knows exactly where the baseline is because McCutchen stayed on the dirt and ran in a straight line the entire way to second and no amount of arguing would change his mind.

There have been times where former Pittsburgh Pirate Josh Harrison would try to escape a run down by running into the grass and no umpire ever called him out for running out of the baseline. Although Lindor was arguing for this call to be made it does not mean the umpire should do it if it is clearly the wrong call. To make matters worse, the baseline call is a judgment call and is not reviewable. The Mets would go on to win the game 5-4. The Phillies might have been able to tack on another run in what was at the time a 4-4 game and could have changed the entire complexity of the game.

Controversy is inevitable, it is impossible for the game to work smoothly and perfectly at all moments, but it is getting out of hand. There are plenty more examples so far during this season including an interference call for the Milwaukee Brewers and mishaps by despised umpire Angel Hernandez at the Indianas and Kansas City Royals games. If it continues down this road this will be an extremely interesting and frustrating season for fans, players, coaches and all those who love the game of baseball.

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