Don’t you just love baseball? First we had Steve Bartman, then we had the Red Sox winning the World Series after coming back from 0-3 against the Yankees in the American League Championship Series (ALCS), and now, instead of the “catch”, we have the “no catch”. Except that umpire Doug Eddings didn’t say “no catch” when Angels catcher Josh Paul rolled the ball to the pitcher’s mound after a third call strike on White Sox batter A.J. Pierzynski in the second game of the 2005 ALCS.

He didn’t say anything. He did, however, tepidly make a fist, the universal sign for “out”. Paul would not have seen that because the umpire is behind the catcher. Pierzynski, however, turned around as if to head to the dugout and realized that Eddings had not said “batter out” so he quickly hightailed it to first base. A classic case of ambiguity. Eddings was not sure if Paul trapped the ball or fielded it cleanly; thus the mixed signal of a fist signaling out but no words to accompany it.

Pierzynski is a catcher himself and he’d been burned on this very same play last year in San Francisco. Framing a ball, the practice of a catcher making the ball look like it’s in the strike zone when it isn’t, or running to first base after a third strike call, are examples of working the umpire. That’s what Pierzynski did. He saw Eddings’ indecision and he forced Eddings to make a call.

He had nothing to lose unlike Josh Paul. Rolling the ball towards the mound then running off the field to assure the umpire that you caught the ball, whether you did or did not, is a bad idea. If you’re wrong, you do have something to lose. The batter stands at first base and could bring the winning run to the plate. Which is exactly what happened. Even worse, it happened in the ninth inning of a playoff game. Paul’s glove hit the ground even if the ball didn’t. That’s an automatic play for any catcher. If there’s any doubt whatsoever, tag the runner.

A third string catcher – how many teams even have a third string catcher, an indecisive umpire, and a batter who’s memory bank pulls up the still fresh embarrassment of being burned by exactly the same play. A scriptwriter could not have come up with that story.

A third string catcher, … an indecisive umpire, and a batter who’s memory bank pulls up the still fresh embarrassment of being burned by exactly the same play. A scriptwriter could not have come up with that story.

The only thing that would have made it better is if the call had gone against the White Sox. They haven’t won a World Series since 1917. The futility of their title quest hasn’t reached the status of the now released Red Sox curse of the Bambino, but an Eddings curse might have elevated it to that status.

Eddings did confer with his fellow umpires as he should have. The umpires could not conclusively tell him whether the ball hit the ground or not. Eddings should have used this as an opportunity to stick with his original decision which was to pump his fist indicating that the batter was out. By choosing to decide that the ball had been trapped, and at this point, it was a decision that could have gone either way, he made himself look even more indecisive.

And created yet another item of baseball lore known as the “no catch”.

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