Was Michael Bourn Out?

If you missed last night’s game, the Phillies lost 3-2 to the Houston Astros in large part due to a controversial call made in the top of the eighth inning. With a 2-1 lead, Ryan Madson was on the mound. Jason Michaels led off with a single. Michael Bourn, as he so often does, put a bunt down the first base line. Ryan Howard fielded the ball and instead of flipping to Chase Utley for the force out, Howard chose to dive and tag Bourn, but he missed. In an effort to evade the tag, Bourn may have stepped out of the baseline. The umpire ruled that Howard didn’t tag Bourn and that Bourn hadn’t gone far enough out of the baseline, so the Astros had runners on first and second with no outs. Michaels and Bourn eventually scored the tying and go-ahead runs on a weakly-hit Carlos Lee single.

In Major League Baseball’s official rules, rule 7.08 states:

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely.

Here’s a .gif of the play:

And here’s a few still shots (click to enlarge):

If my understanding of MLB’s definition of a baseline is correct, I don’t think Bourn stepped out of the baseline. However, considering where he started (just to the right of the chalk) and where he ended up (on the grass), it’s certainly a debatable point as it seems like Bourn went excessively out of his way to avoid the tag. Perhaps in the off-season, MLB can provide better clarity on this rule. Establishing the baseline “when the tag attempt occurs” could mean the baseline is from the front of the dugout to first base. The simple way to do it is to define the baseline as a straight line from one base to the next, and the runner gets three feet of wiggle room. I think that’s the way most people interpret the rule anyway.

What do you think? Was Bourn out or safe?

UPDATE: As mentioned in the comments and in Matt Gelb’s article, Greg Gibson was the first base umpire in both last night’s game and on June 24 when the Phillies played the Cleveland Indians. During that game, Shane Victorino was called out for running outside of the baseline on a similar play.

Gelb wrote, “Gibson told [Victorino] Carmona had established the tag attempt and Victorino was more than three feet away from it.”

I’m not sure I buy that.

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  1. Phylan

    August 24, 2010 11:27 AM

    Are there any intervening still shots that suggest Howard may have made the tag, or did he definitely miss? I was listening on the radio, but I heard people suggest he might have made the tag.

  2. Bill Baer

    August 24, 2010 11:29 AM

    The second shot you see there is the best one I could come up with and seems like the only opportunity Howard had to tag Bourn. If you look closely, you can see some space between Howard’s glove and Bourn’s body.

    The only other thing I can come up with is that Howard tagged Bourn’s knee but given his momentum that doesn’t seem likely at all.

  3. Phylan

    August 24, 2010 11:34 AM

    Yeah, I suppose not. And since that baseline box is 3 feet wide, it really doesn’t look like he deviated more than 2.5 feet.

  4. Phillies Red

    August 24, 2010 11:56 AM

    Upon repeated viewings, Gelb said he thought Howard got ’em. Who knows. I think the smart play is to make the throw, but of course, Howard is terrible at throwing and Utley was a fast moving target.

    Either way, what a disappointing play. And watching the game, you just knew something like that was going to happen. One thing is for sure, Bourne has game changing speed.

  5. Dan

    August 24, 2010 12:01 PM

    The problem is… how do you determine when the tag attempt is? Is it when he first starts running towards the base runner? If so, he was out of the base path (the line formed to the bag at that point in time). Or is it, as the umpire is implying, only when he gets withing an inch of the runner.

    Doesn’t really make sense that you define the attempt as the point in which you are close to the runner, because as soon as he took a step towards Bourn he committed to trying to get that tag. It seems to me that the base line should be slightly to the right of the foul line (where he’s running in still frame # 1).

    Regardless, I think there should definitely be a set base line. Too much room to argue interpretations of this rule currently. There needs to be consistency.

    Also, if you have the clip of Victorino being called out in a similar situation (by the same umpire) a couple months ago, you should post it for comparison’s sake.

  6. Goldenmonkey

    August 24, 2010 12:07 PM

    It looks like either way, he was very very close to either being tagged out, or out of the baseline – but neither is conclusive.

    It sucks the call went against us, but you really can’t be mad about it since it was close either way.

    Thems the breaks in baseball sometimes.

  7. Scott G

    August 24, 2010 12:19 PM

    My take on the rule is that “when the tag attempt occurs” would be the second Howard started to lunge for Bourn (1st still shot). At that point in time, his left foot is about 6 inches outside the inside line (haha). In the second picture alone, his left foot is more than 6 inches outside the outside line. Thus, he is clearly out of the base path. Out.

  8. essman

    August 24, 2010 12:22 PM

    “The simple way to do it is to define the baseline as a straight line from one base to the next…”

    This would make life difficult for runners rounding second on the way to third.

  9. Bill Baer

    August 24, 2010 12:25 PM

    They wouldn’t be trying to avoid a tag though, essman.

    Dan, I’m working on posting a .gif of the Victorino play.

  10. Richard

    August 24, 2010 12:27 PM

    Howard was way too far away from the line to attempt the tag like that. Even if he did get him, it was just barely.

    While I wondered about the first pitch to Lee, Madson really deserved better. (On the Lee pitch: yes, he broke his bat, but he was probably up there hacking, so a fastball inside was perhaps not the best call. But that’s easy to second-guess.)

  11. Jake

    August 24, 2010 01:09 PM

    I watched the play live, and watched in slow motion. The still shot above does not do justice to play. If you allow the play to continue slow motion you can see the glove make contact with Bourne’s leg. If your DVR will allow zoom, you can even see the glove bend back.

    So, he was out. In regard to the rule, it depends on interpretation. He moves more than three feet to avoid the tag and his established line is not toward the bag!

  12. James

    August 24, 2010 01:22 PM

    They showed about 4 different replay angles of it this morning and all of them showed he clearly got the tag.

    Bourne also clearly started trying to avoid the tag when he was running only a few inches in foul territory, then stepped a good 5-6 feet to the right to avoid the tag.

    Honestly this was a very clear cut case of running outside of the base line no matter how you look at it.

  13. Phylan

    August 24, 2010 01:29 PM

    Again, that box on the baseline is only 3 feet wide, to give you some scale. With that in mind, I’m not sure how you can suggest he moved more than 3 feet out of his established path.

  14. Drew

    August 24, 2010 02:16 PM

    Bourn just joined the nemisis ranks of Barajas and Helms. He just gets under my skin. He looks way to cocky for a 1 or 2 tool player: speed.

  15. Greg

    August 24, 2010 03:03 PM

    If that is the same ump for both calls, then yeah. I really do think that umps should be required to conference on close plays like this. When they feel that their professional competence is on the line it leads to cognitive dissonance as they try and justify their actions post ex. If it was encouraged to seek help from the other umps I think we would have less gut calls being justified by torturing the rule book.

  16. Scott G

    August 24, 2010 03:04 PM


    If for no other reason than what you’re saying, he clearly ran out of his base path. In the first picture is where his base line would be established. His left foot is about 6 inches to the right of the left line. Then his left foot is on the grass, more than six inches to the right of the right line. Thus, he moves more than 3 ft to his right. Also, he was tagged out.

  17. Bill

    August 24, 2010 03:06 PM

    Ironically, they said during the telecast that the umpire that called Bourne safe and not out of the baseline is the same umpire that called Victorino out of the baseline.

  18. Mike

    August 24, 2010 03:10 PM


    Thanks for saying exactly what I was going to say.


    His base path is about 6 inches inside the line when Howard attempts the tag. He ends up about a foot on the grass. And since you have pointed out the box is 3 feet wide, he clearly moved more than 3 feet.

  19. Cathie Leahy

    August 24, 2010 03:19 PM

    That was a disgrace as the up was right in front of the play when Bourne was way over the line and even motioned he was safe before he touched the bag.

  20. Scott G

    August 24, 2010 03:25 PM

    I would like to know exactly what he was watching. Not only did he miss a tag (clear cut sign of safe and out), but he failed to establish the point at which Bourn planted his left leg (1st picture) so he could dodge the tag attempt from Howard.

  21. Bill Baer

    August 24, 2010 03:48 PM

    I don’t think it’s that clear that Howard tagged Bourn. In fact, I don’t think he tagged him at all. If anyone can find a better angle showing the clear tag, feel free to post it.

  22. SJHaack

    August 24, 2010 04:57 PM


    Watching in SD last night the angle you pulled your shots from has a frame where it looks like Howard definitely swatted Bourn on the butt as he ran past. The tag wasn’t on his jersey or hip, it was lower. If I can find a shot I’ll show it.

  23. Neil

    August 24, 2010 05:29 PM

    all anyone wants from an umpire or can reasonably ask for is consistency. you can’t have Victorino out and Bourn safe. If anything, Victorino was less out of the baseline. Come on ump. Nobody wants you deciding the division or wild card race. Get some help from the plate ump .

  24. Phillies Red

    August 24, 2010 05:36 PM

    If you have mlb.tv enabled for HD you can watch the slow mo at 202:40 and it certainly appears that Bourne’s belt moved. His foot landed at the exact second, so it could have been from that impact, but the belt appears to move more at the same spot where Howard was going for the tag.

    The 1st base umpire never could have seen that, though. Watching the home plate umpire, however, it is clear he has a fully unobstructed view of the tag. Afterward, he stood there as if he was prepared to conference and tell what he saw, but according to Gelb, Manuel never asked the 1st base umpire to get help with the call. If you’re Manuel, don’t you say: “look, I thought he tagged him (even if you don’t think this) and I thought he was out of the basepath. Can you check with the home plate umpire to see if he tagged him?” After you get that verdict, you move on to the basepath argument. I haven’t seen folks mention this, but Charlie seems almost negligent for not working both fronts here. Perhaps there is some kind of manager – umpire code of arguing I’m not privy to, but man, the way that ump is standing there you gotta ask for what he saw.

    Spilled milk blah blah blah. Would have liked to have that one last night.

  25. hk

    August 24, 2010 07:05 PM

    Why does baseball require the ump who made the call to initiate the conference with other umps to get a call right? This makes no sense. If the home plate umpire was sure he saw Howard make the tag, he should initiate a conference with the 1B ump. It’s like MLB’s stance is we’d rather get it wrong than have one ump show up another.

  26. pounded clown

    August 29, 2010 01:43 AM

    Great work with the GIFs. I was out of town for the the Indians series so didn’t see the call Gibson made on Vic. Interesting. Phillies should consult Flyers about impartiality of officiating!

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