In one of several inept defensive displays by the Cardinals in Game 1 of the World Series last night, pitcher Adam Wainwright allowed a pop-up by Stephen Drew to fall right in front of him despite being in position to easily make the play.
Cards catcher Yadier Molina was also in the area when ball dropped, but seemed to think it was Wainwright’s ball the whole time. Often, in an infield pop-up situation, another defender will call off the pitcher, but this particular ball wasn’t hit high enough to allow a teammate to get into a better position to catch the ball. Wainwright was right there, called for the ball, then, for some reason, declined to catch it.
The official scorer ruled this play a single, as the ball dropped in safely without any defender making a play on the ball. The conventional wisdom in this situation is that because no player touched the ball, an error can’t be awarded. This isn’t true, and if I were scoring this game, I would have given Wainwright an error. Here’s why:
There’s contradictory information in the rule book about what to do in these situations, and many baseball people advance the myth of “you can’t award an error when a guy doesn’t touch the ball” (I heard Orel Hershiser do this on the radio while analyzing this very play) despite the presence of this passage in Rule 10.12(a)(1):
It is not necessary that the fielder touch the ball to be charged with an error. If a ground ball goes through a fielder’s legs or a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer’s judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error. For example, the official scorer shall charge an infielder with an error when a ground ball passes to either side of such infielder if, in the official scorer’s judgment, a fielder at that position making ordinary effort would have fielded such ground ball and retired a runner. The official scorer shall charge an out- fielder with an error if such outfielder allows a fly ball to drop to the ground if, in the official scorer’s judgment, an outfielder at that position making ordinary effort would have caught such fly ball.
In other words, if you can easily field a ball, but decide not to, it’s an error on you. This seems pretty clear, but later in the very same comment section, there’s this:
The official scorer shall not score mental mistakes or misjudgments as errors unless a specific rule prescribes otherwise.
This sentence is the reason that many “catchable” balls turn into hits rather than error. For instance, when an outfielder misjudges the flight of the ball and it lands 10 feet in front of him or behind him, the batter is awarded a hit even though logic would dictate that the ball should have been caught. This was a misjudgment by the fielder, and a misjudgment is not an error.
Official scorers tend to lump miscommunication between fielders under the “mental mistakes” clause. If one guy backs off because they think the other guy has it, and it falls between them, this is usually scored a hit because of the defenders’ inability to communicate and the difficulty in assigning blame to one player.
In the case of Wainwright last night, he clearly called the ball and admitted after the game that he had called the ball. He also claimed he was waiting for a teammate to call him off, but that never happened. Here’s what he said:
“That’s my ball, I called it and I waited for someone else to take charge and that’s not how you play baseball.”
In my opinion, no miscommunication took place on this play. Thus, the first passage I quoted above should be applied. Wainwright was in the position to handle the ball with ordinary effort, but allowed the ball to drop to the ground. He did not misjudge the ball, and thus should have been charged with an error.