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MLB teams can’t play games under protest anymore

This was sort of a stealth rule change for this season.

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For those of us of “a certain age,” the photo above brings back memories of Cubs manager Leo Durocher arguing with an umpire over ... well, just about anything. Sometimes, depending on the situation, those arguments resulted in filing an official protest with the league, “playing the game under protest,” in the vernacular of the time.

League officials would review the protest and make a judgment. 99.9 percent of the time, the protests were disallowed. Perhaps the most famous example of a protest that was upheld was the George Brett “Pine Tar Game” in 1983, when Brett’s apparent home run was taken away because his bat was seen to have pine tar above the legal limit. The game was ordered replayed from that point on.

I have learned that this is no longer possible. Official Baseball Rule 7.04, which covers protested games, has been amended for 2021 and now reads:

Protesting a game shall never be permitted, regardless of whether such complaint is based on judgment decisions by the umpire or an allegation that an umpire misapplied these rules or otherwise rendered a decision in violation of these rules.

This is interesting, despite the fact that almost no protests were ever upheld. What if there actually is “a decision rendered in violation of these rules” by an umpire or umpiring crew? There won’t be any recourse for teams.

These situations, of course, don’t come up very often. Per this article on Retrosheet, in the last 110 years there have been just 15 protests that were upheld.

The most recent of those — and now, it’ll be the last one ever — involved the Cubs at Wrigley Field, August 19, 2014. You might remember that game against the Giants, in which a heavy thunderstorm hit in the fifth inning. After waiting several hours, the game was called as a Cubs win. The Giants protested and it was upheld; the game was resumed two days later. The Cubs wound up winning anyway. Here are some details from the baseball-reference box score:

During the middle of the fifth inning, the umpires and Cubs grounds crew were caught off guard by a sudden deluge that lasted just between 15 and 30 minutes. In the process of attempting to cover the field, the crew was unable to properly apply the tarp and as a result large lagoons formed around the shortstop and second base positions and elsewhere. Despite attempting for four hours to make the field playable, the field was never deemed playable and the game was eventually called by the umpires around 1:00AM local time with the Cubs 2-0 winners. The Giants filed a protest which was upheld by the league office and the game was completed two days later beginning at the middle of the 5th with the score 2-0 and the Cubs coming to the plate.

Game was suspended in the bottom of the 5th with the score 0-2 and was completed August 21, 2014.

Here’s what I wrote about that game at the time and here are some further thoughts I posted here a day later. This protest resulted in some changes to the suspended-game rule covering “mechanical failure” of tarps, and the suspended-game rule has now been extended to include games before they become “official,” a change I hope continues beyond 2021.

At the time, the 2014 upheld protest at Wrigley Field was the first since 1986.

And now, it’ll be the last one ever. Tempus fugit.