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MLB breathes life into "dive" with replay-driven overturn of Desmond's ITPHR

Justin Upton put an MLB spin on soccer diving, and MLB ate it up
Justin Upton put an MLB spin on soccer diving, and MLB ate it upedmchugh.ca

MLB officials bought a snooker job from Braves left fielder Justin Upton, choosing to overturn Ian Desmond's inside-the-park home run in the bottom of the 5th inning of the Nationals’ home opener. The ITPHR would've tied the contest at 1-1 had it been allowed.

Leading off the bottom of the 5th inning, Desmond hit a ball ruled fair, which bounced and rolled towards the left field wall, stopping at the foot of the wall. Justin Upton -- who at that point knew Desi had a double and possible triple, ran towards the ball but then stopped. Upton put up his hands up, appealing to the idea of obstruction of the clearly visible ball at the base of the left field wall proclaiming #Natitude.

The ball was located under some padding, yet it appeared to be well under said padding (as later replays appear to indicate). Upton stopped and raised his hands enough of a distance away that no clear determination of a wedged or invisible ball was evident (such as a ball would be that had disappeared into the ivy on the outfield wall at Wrigley Field). No call on the field was made by on-field umpires indicating a ground rule was in effect, leaving the ball live. Further undermining any claim of actual obstruction was Upton’s apparent effortless retrieval of said ball and tossed it to the infield just prior to Desmond’s crossing home plate.

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez issued a “stadium boundary challenge,” which put the play under review. It was then incumbent upon the MLB umpires and replay officials -- in New York, not Washington -- to determine if Desmond's inside-the-parker had compelling evidence to overturn it. As Upton had picked up the ball and thrown it back while the play was still live, the claim of actual obstruction couldn’t be substantiated. The umps could have examined the spot itself to see if the spot could really have allowed for a wedged ball by checking the distance between the pad and the ground, yet no official left the infield to have a look.

Word came from New York that they sided with Upton despite the lack of an on-field ruling of obstruction or ground rule in effect and despite Upton’s unilateral claim of obstruction and rapid action to avoid actual verification of said obstruction. (Someone near my seat claimed to have gotten a text from someone who saw a bag of peanuts thrown in disgust in the vicinity of the owner’s seating area, though there was no word if the bag became wedged at the base of a wall.)

What Upton did equates to a “dive” in soccer. Dives are one of the most detrimental aspects of professional soccer, as it so often leaves critical moments in a game in the hands of refs and those players who, instead of letting a play unfold, try to bait the refs into giving them an unwarranted advantage. What MLB umpires and officials did was send a signal to the actors in the player ranks to take their acting skills from the batting box to the rest of the field and take a chance on derailing the other team. (The Nats lost to the road company of the Atlanta Actors Studio, 2-1.) This is a development that needs to be nipped in the bud lest MLB go the way of the FIFA diva.