Controversial, but Consistent: The New Secured Possession Rule

Jamie Squire

We're not even two weeks into the season, but there have already been numerous examples of MLB's new interpretation of the transfer rule.

New to MLB in 2014 is the secured possession rule (reinterpretation of a catch), which has already sparked much debate against managers and players alike. Last night, the Rays saw first hand exactly what this new rule means, and neither Joe Maddon nor Ben Zobrist were pleased with the results.

The play was in the bottom of the third as Yunel Escobar tossed a ball to Ben Zobrist to set up a double play. Zobrist caught the ball from Escobar and tagged second base for the force out, but upon transfer from the glove to his barehand to throw to first base, Zobrist dropped the ball. Therefore, the baserunner was ruled safe at second.

Joe Maddon came out and argued and wound up challenging the ruling, but replay confirmed that there was no out because of the transfer rule. Maddon told Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times, "He was absolutely out. Part of it is that everything is slowed down, there is instant replay, it is slow. You could easily discern that Zo had the ball in his glove with his foot on the bag and the runner is out, period. So as we move this forward there had to be a differentiation between that and the two-handed transfer. I do believe that has to be revisited.''

MLB released the following statement today, as shown on the Sun Sports Rays pre-game show,

"Umpires and/or replay officials must consider whether the fielder had secured possession of the ball but dropped it during the act of the catch. An example of a catch that would not count is if a fielder loses possession of the ball during the transfer before the ball was secured by his throwing hand."

Zobrist’s play wasn’t the only one of the night around the league that related to the new transfer rule. Over in Anaheim, Josh Hamilton caught a fly ball, but upon trying to transfer the ball to his bare hand to get it back to the infield to hold the runners, Hamilton dropped the ball. While originally ruled an out on the field, Mariners skipper Lloyd McClendon challenged the play, and the call was overturned.

On April 4th in the Tigers/Orioles matchup, we see a similar play to Zobrist’s, where the runner is also ruled safe because Andrew Romine could not get the ball out of his glove cleanly.

Again, on April 7th, the same scenario occurred in the Red Sox/Rangers game where Elvis Andrus dropped the transfer, resulting in the runner being ruled safe.

Steve Kinsella of Sports Talk Florida noted that Ron Washington was very vocal after the game, telling reporters, "I don’t think they got it right, he caught the ball. There are going to be some issues with that. [MLB] wants us to let them know what we think about things as we go along and I definitely will do that on this one. Elvis caught the ball. He went out and caught the ball. It’s not like he dropped it on the catch."

Washington told Evan Grant of The Dallas Morning News that in the spring, MLB told the teams that if the ball dropped at all, they would rule it safe on the field and then go to replay.

Back on March 12th during Spring Training, the first ever overturned call with the new expanded replay, was actually a transfer call as well. This, too, was between the Angels and the Mariners, and also featured Andrew Romine before he was traded to the Tigers. Here’s a link to the video of that call.

Just yesterday morning, former Ray, Elliot Johnson made a great catch in right field for the Indians, but dropped the ball during transfer, so it, too, was ruled a non-catch.

At the very least, there has been consistency around the league with the new interpretation of this rule. I’m sure we can expect MLB to revisit this rule after the season, as we can already see that many players and managers are not happy.

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