Fair or foul, roller to third full of debate

August 13, 1991|By Josie Karp | Josie Karp,Evening Sun Staff

From start to finish, the Orioles' extra-inning victory last night was uncharacteristic.

First, it was the Orioles who actually came out on top, the first time that had happened in six games.

Second, manager John Oates was ejected from a game, only his second ejection of the season.

Which leads us to perhaps the strangest aspect of the game: the call that led Oates to storm the field, kick some dirt, and throw down his hat in disgust, and thus spend the rest of the evening watching his team mount a dramatic comeback against the Chicago White Sox from the clubhouse.

The play occurred in the bottom of the fourth inning. Randy Milligan started the inning off with a walk. Chito Martinez then singled to right. Milligan advanced to second on the play. Leo Gomez's perfectly placed sacrifice bunt put Martinez on second and Milligan on third, with one out, and the Orioles trailing, 3-2.

And then the fun started.

Chris Hoiles chopped a ball down the third base line toward Chicago's Robin Ventura. Ventura fielded the ball, and applied a tag to the quickly retreating Milligan at third base and then threw to first, too late to get Hoiles.

Third base umpire Jim McKean signaled the ball foul; home plate umpire Vic Voltaggio signaled the ball fair.

The following questions then arose: Was the ball fair or foul? Which umpire had the jurisdiction to make the call? If the ball was fair, did Milligan beat Ventura's tag at third?

The umpires resolved the conflict this way: Voltaggio, as the home plate umpire, had the authority to dictate exactly whose call it was -- he deemed that it was his.

Logic then dictated that, if the call belonged to Voltaggio, then the ball must have been fielded in front of the bag, because the home plate umpire's authority only extends that far.

Building on that logic, third base umpire McKean said that he then assumed that Milligan was off the bag at third when Ventura applied the tag because Ventura would have had to have been between Milligan and the base if the ball had been fielded in front of the base.

He then called Milligan out at third.

That was too much for Oates, who gave McKean an earful before taking his frustration out on the dirt lining third base. That got Oates ejected.

After retiring to the dugout for less than a minute, Oates stormed back out onto the field, informed McKean that he was wrong, and then disappeared, not to be heard from again until

after the game.

From start to finish, the play took just over seven minutes.

"Our main objective was to get it right," McKean said.

It would appear the umpires failed in accomplishing their main objective.

Replay indicated that the ball bounced one time in fair territory less than three feet in front of third base, and then skipped at a sharp angle to the left where Ventura fielded it in foul territory two feet beyond the bag.

Since the play occurred beyond third base, Oates was probably right in saying: "The umpire who should have made the call called it foul," meaning McKean.

McKean's mistake was in calling Milligan out, because Milligan clearly had his right foot on the base before Ventura applied a tag to his chest.

Hoiles should have remained at the plate with two on and one out. Instead, he was on first, with two out and Martinez at second.

Juan Bell then popped out to end the inning.

After home runs by Hoiles in the ninth and Gomez in the 11th gave the Orioles the victory in extra innings, the play, which loomed large at the time, was reduced to one mere oddity in an odd game.

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