Of all the many responsibilities an MLB manager has to deal with each day, filling out the lineup card is one of the easiest.Â It’s simple enough: put the right names down in the right order. Just in case an error creeps in, various members of the coaching staff should check the copies of the cards before they are handed over to the Umpire Crew Chief and the opposing manager.
This process is completed without incident every day in the Majors and few fans give it much thought.Â However, it only takes one slip-up to make us realise just how important it is for the managers to get the official lineup card right.Â
When we get two such slip-ups in the same week, you can’t help but delve into the rules to learn a bit more about the topic.Â
Cecil Copper and the Astros decided to switch their top two hitters for Wednesday’s game against the Brewers, moving Kaz Matsui into the lead-off spot with Michael Bourn batting behind him.Â This is the order they noted down on the official lineup card, but unfortunately it wasn’t the order they had up in their dugout.Â
Bourn incorrectly stepped up to the plate to lead off the game; the Brewers’ manager Ken Macha checked his lineup card and waited until the outcome of the at-bat was known.Â
Why did he wait?Â Well, the most curious part of the rules is that it is up to the teams to spot any batting order errors.Â The umpires and the Official Scorer might (and indeed should) notice someone is batting out of order, but they are not allowed to draw attention to it(*).Â It therefore stands to reason that whether the error gets picked up, and when, depends on how the situation develops.Â More specifically, it only gets picked up by the opposing manager if he gains an advantage by doing so.
When Bourn hit a single, Macha was straight out of the dugout knowing that the hit would be scratched off, Matsui would be called out (as the person who should have been batting) and Bourn (the batter following Matsui in the lineup) would have batted again.Â Â
However, Macha wouldn’t have appealed the play if Bourn had grounded out and Matsui then strolled up to the plate.Â The Brewers would have recorded one out and still been left holding the joker, ready and waiting to wipe Matsui off the bases had he got on board.Â A Matsui single would have resulted in Macha appealing to the umpires, a bemused Lance Berkman being called out without seeing a pitch and a confused Carlos Lee stepping up to the plate.
As Leonard Koppett states in â€˜The Thinking Fan’s Guide to Baseball’, the key to a batting lineup is not the numbers of the lineup spots, but the sequence of the batters.Â The Astros’ top four were as follows:
In the above example, Bourn’s at-bat becomes official once the Brewers make a pitch to Matsui, but Matsui is then batting out of order as well.Â Berkman has to follow Bourn once his at-bat is official, even if Bourn was hitting out of order to begin with.Â If Macha had appealed once Matsui reached base, the umpires would have to call Berkman out (as the batter who should have followed Bourn) and then Lee would have to bat.
The point Koppett makes is that the rules of baseball have developed to follow a basic concept of fairness (the relevant chapter, ‘The Evolution of the Playing Rules’, is a fantastic overview of how and why the rules evolved over the years).Â You might initially think it is unfair that Macha gets to appeal the play, but the opposing team has made a mistake and therefore the result should not lead to the Brewers being disadvantaged. Â If they get an out, they should be allowed to let the error pass rather than the umpire or Official Scorer pulling the play back.
Koppett also passes comment on the issue of fielding positionsÂ and lineup cards.Â If a shortstop and second baseman want to swap over during an inning, they can do so without a formal substitution being made (of course, it would have to be noted by the Official Scorer) so long as they maintain their places in the batting order.Â The exception to this comes in the American League, where one batter in the lineup must be listed as the Designated Hitter.Â If not, the pitcher has to hit.
Tampa Bay Rays manager Joe Maddon is known for being one of the smartest guys in baseball, so his lineup card gaffe against the Cleveland Indians last Sunday was all the more surprising.Â Both Ben Zobrist and Evan Longoria were listed with a â€˜5′ next to their name: the fielding number for a third baseman.Â When Zobrist manned the hot corner in the top of the first inning, the Indians’ manager Eric Wedge questioned the lineup card with the umpires.Â After thirteen minutes, they finally came to the conclusion that the DH spot had been nullified, Longoria wasn’t in the game and pitcher Andy Sonnanstine had to bat third in the order.Â
Sonnanstine, like most pitchers, fancies himself as a decent hitter and he subsequently hit an RBI double in his second at-bat.Â There would have been plenty of banter between Sonnanstine, Longoria and the rest of the Rays in the dugout after that, I’m sure.
Despite these errors, both the Astros and the Rays went on to win their games. I don’t think it’s a tactic any other manager will be trying though.Â In fact, it’s probably made them even moreÂ conscious of the importance of writing out and checking their lineup cards thoroughly.
(*) A similar situation was coveredÂ in our Friday lunchtime feature, ‘You Are the Scorer’, back in November.