NEW YORK -- The umpire admitted he blew the call, more or less.
Give him credit for that.
But don't give him credit for anything else.
It was a huge call, it was his job to get it right and he didn't.
He said he never saw the kid.
Rich Garcia, the right-field umpire, said he never saw the 12-year-old who reached over the fence and pulled in a fly ball hit by Derek Jeter, preventing the Orioles' Tony Tarasco from making a play and giving the Yankees a home run that weighed Game 1 of the American League Championship Series in their favor last night.
Didn't see him?
The whole stadium saw the kid.
The whole world saw the kid.
If an umpire didn't see the kid from 30 feet away, either he needs glasses or he is hiding something.
Like that he completely missed the play.
Or that he didn't have the guts to wave off a game-tying Yankees home run in the eighth inning of a playoff game in front of a raucous sellout crowd at Yankee Stadium.
"I was concentrating on the play," Garcia said. "I never saw any fan."
He was the only one.
Oh, but wait. None of the other umps saw the kid reach over the fence and snatch the ball away just as Tarasco was preparing to catch it, or at least make a play.
"I asked for help from the second base umpire, the first base umpire and
the plate umpire," Garcia said. "They said they couldn't tell from where they were."
In other words, the umpires union had better work on getting a better vision-care plan.
Everyone in the world saw the kid, except the umps.
Just how stupid do they think we are?
"I saw the kid from where I was sitting in the dugout," Orioles manager Davey Johnson said after the Yankees' 5-4 win.
Actually, it's not fair to blame the other umpires. Extra umps are stationed in the outfield during the playoffs precisely for plays such as this. Garcia was out there as insurance and still missed the play.
He hustled out toward the fence, got close and missed the call for whatever reason.
And actually, he did see the kid -- on an instant replay broadcast after the game.
"If I had seen a replay [before making the call], I probably would have ruled interference," Garcia said.
Not that he would have called Jeter out, as baseball rule 3.16 dictates.
The rule says, "If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out."
Garcia said he didn't think Tarasco would have caught the ball.
"I think the ball was going to go off the wall," Garcia said.
Interference, in that case, would have awarded Jeter a double.
Was Tarasco indeed going to miss the ball even though he was camped under it? Who knows?
"To me, it was a routine fly ball," said Tarasco. "It was on the track, but I was camped underneath it. It was like a magic trick. I was ready to close my glove, but the ball never made it to my hand. Merlin must have been in the house."
Even if he did misjudge it, any chance he had of catching the ball was taken away by the kid.
It was the very definition of fan interference.
The very definition of bad umpiring.
Apparently, a fan has to tackle a player on the field to be found guilty of interference.
Coincidentally, Richie Phillips, the head of the umpires union, had held a news conference before the game in which he spewed venom about the "integrity of the game" in the wake of the Robbie Alomar incident.
Where is the integrity here?
Where is the umpire standing up and saying, "Boy, did I give the Orioles a raw deal."
Instead, there was Garcia saying, well, he still didn't really think Tarasco would have caught the ball, even after watching the replay.
It's just his opinion, of course. But it's also no more than a halfhearted admittance of error.
Sure, people make mistakes. We all understand that.
But this was a bad one.
Yes, Garcia deserves credit for taking the heat and coming into the interview room after the game.
And yes, the "home run" was not the deciding play in the game.
The Orioles lost a fly ball in the lights, blew a 4-2 lead, didn't hit in the clutch and went 11 innings before the Yankees' Bernie Williams hit a home run off Randy Myers to end the game.
Still, the Orioles had a 4-3 lead in the eighth inning when Jeter struck. The phantom home run was huge.
"I always say that one play doesn't beat you in a ballgame," Johnson said, "but this is about as close as you can come to one play beating you."
Conspiracy theorists who think Garcia was getting back at the Orioles for Alomar are way off base. The umpires are more professional than that.
Garcia was in position to make the right call, but he just didn't.
The Orioles will have no choice but to try to reconcile themselves to losing a game in such fashion.
Garcia won't lose any sleep, you can be sure of that.
Umpires don't worry about missed calls.
"Part of the job," Garcia said. "I'll go back out there tomorrow and do the best I can."
Good for him. But do we have to applaud?
The text of Rule 3.16, which covers fan interference:
When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference.
Approved ruling: If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out.
There is a difference between a ball which has been thrown or batted into the stands, touching a spectator thereby being out of play even though it rebounds onto the field and a spectator going onto the field or reaching over, under or through a barrier and touching a ball in play or touching or otherwise interfering with a player. In the latter case it is clearly intentional and shall be dealt with as intentional interference as in Rule 3.15. Batter and runners shall be placed where in the umpire's judgment they would have been had the interference not occurred.
No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator's interference.
Pub Date: 10/10/96