Neighborhood play

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In baseball, a neighborhood play is a force play where a fielder receiving the ball in attempting to force out a runner at second base, catches and quickly throws the ball to first base in a double play attempt without actually touching second base, or by touching second base well before catching the ball. By every rules code, such a play is not an out, because to record a force out, the fielder with the ball must actually touch a force base (or tag the forced runner) before the forced runner arrives (OBR Rule 7.08(e)).

The neighborhood play is called differently at various levels and in various leagues in amateur baseball (such as men's amateur, college, high school, or youth leagues). Its appropriateness and necessity in amateur and even professional baseball is debated. The safety necessity of the rule is lessened by most amateur leagues' use of the force play slide rule, which requires forced-out runners to either slide directly to the base or completely avoid the fielder, but some amateur umpires still treat the neighborhood play as an out.

The traditional application of the neighborhood play for an out developed because it is common for a sliding runner to collide with the fielder at second base, sometimes causing injury. On a double play attempt, the fielder must throw the ball to first base, which would generally require a step directly into the path of the incoming runner. On a close force out at second, a fielder often cannot avoid a collision while completing a throw to first base unless he stays some distance away from second base. For the sake of safety, umpires allowed fielders to score the first out of an attempted double play without actually touching second base as long as it "looked like" an out, i.e. the fielder made a clean catch, turn, and throw near second base before the runner arrived. This allowed the tradition of the take-out slide to continue while still providing a means of safety for middle infielders.

Instant replay review[edit]

In 2014, instant replay was added to Major League Baseball, but will not allow the review of the neighborhood play.[1] However, during the April 2nd game between the Chicago Cubs and Pittsburgh Pirates the Cubs challenged a play initially ruled a successful 4-6-3 double play. Crew chief John Hirschbeck allowed the review and it was determined that the force was missed due a poor throw from the second baseman rather than safety concerns (and therefore not a neighborhood play) and the runner was ruled safe, allowing a run to score from third.[2]

On July 7, 2014, during a game between the Atlanta Braves and New York Mets at Citi Field, a similar incident occurred. In the bottom of the 9th inning and the game tied at 3, Juan Lagares bunted towards third base to advance base runner Eric Campbell to second base. Braves third baseman Chris Johnson fielded the ball and threw to shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who was covering second base. Simmons was in no danger of being hit by the runner, yet the umpires ruled the runner out, calling it was a neighborhood play. Mets manager Terry Collins argued that it could not have been a neighborhood play, since it was a bunt play and recording a double play would be almost impossible. Simmons was moving away from 2nd base, and didn't record an out at 1st, either. Therefore, Collins claimed the only reason Simmons had to come off the base was an errant throw. The umpires accepted the claim and reviewed the play, and after review the out call was overturned. This led to an argument and ejection of Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez, who later said about the call that it was one of the worst calls he'd seen in his life.[3]

On August 17, 2014, with one out in the bottom of the second inning of a game between the Houston Astros and Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, Boston shortstop Xander Bogaerts fielded a ground ball hit by Houston's Marwin Gonzalez. Bogaerts threw the ball to first baseman Kelly Johnson before touching the second base bag. The play at second was initially ruled an out as part of a double play, but Astros manager Bo Porter challenged the call at second. Red Sox manager John Farrell argued that the call could not be challenged on the grounds that it was a neighborhood play, but umpire crew chief Jim Joyce disagreed. The call on the field was overturned after the review, and before the end of the inning, Houston's José Altuve hit his first career grand slam over Fenway's Green Monster, giving the Astros a 6-0 lead. Farrell immediately began to shout his displeasure regarding the overturned call, and was summarily ejected from the game by first base umpire Doug Eddings.[4]

On October 10, 2015, with one out and runners at the corners in the bottom of the 7th of the second game of the NLDS series between the Mets and the Dodgers, Howie Kendrick of the Dodgers hit a soft line drive fielded by second baseman Daniel Murphy and flipped to short stop Ruben Tejada to begin a potential inning-ending, run-saving double play. The flip put Tejada in an awkward, backwards position, and as he spun to throw to first, Chase Utley, running from first base after a pinch-hit single, ran into Tejada in an attempt to break up the double play. With the very late and aggressive "slide", Utley took out Tejada at second, knocking him into the air head over heels and fracturing his right fibula. Utley was called out on the play by second base umpire Chris Guccione, but upon review, requested by Dodger's manager Don Mattingly, it was revealed that Tejada's foot had been off of the bag by mere inches and the call was overturned, leaving the game tied 2-2, Utley at second and Kendrick at first, still with one out. Two batters later Adrian Gonzalez doubled to score both baserunners, putting the Dodgers ahead 4-2.

The slide by Utley and the subsequent review that overturned the call have been the subject of controversy. Although reviewing a neighborhood play is not allowed, this play was allowed to be reviewed because, according to an MLB spokesperson, it was reviewed under the auspices of a force play, not that of a neighborhood play. Because the odds of successfully turning a double play were deemed low, the neighborhood play did not apply, and so the play could only be viewed as an attempted force-out at second. This is a reviewable play and provided the basis for the call's overturning. The following day Joe Torre, the MLB Executive Vice President for Baseball Operations, suspended Utley from games 3 and 4 of the series, and indicated that discussions with the Player's Union concerning protecting middle infielders had been ongoing over the past year, and will continue.[5]