Dodger outfielder Reggie Smith smashed a three run home run in the top half of the fifth inning to open the scoring. But the Yankees responded in the bottom of the sixth when Yankee outfielder Reggie Jackson singled home Roy White with a one-out single, which moved Yankee catcher Thurman Munson to second base.
Lou Pinella then scorched a line drive at Dodger shortstop Bill Russell, who dropped the ball. Russell then picked up the ball, stepped on second base to force Jackson out and threw the ball toward teammate Steve Garvey at first base.
The ball never arrived there. Jackson, WHO WAS ALREADY OUT, stayed put between first and second base. As the ball neared him, he stuck out his hip, which the ball bounced off and caromed into right field. Munson scored to make the score Dodgers 3, Yankees 2. Russell was charged with an error for this throw.
Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda went on to the field to argue with the umpires that Pinella should be called out for Jackson's interference. The umpires disagreed. After Lasorda returned to the dugout, Dodger pitcher Tommy John retired the next batter, Graig Nettles, to end the inning.
The unearned run came back to haunt the Dodgers. In the bottom of the eighth, the Yankees scored another run to tie the game. When the score remained tied after nine innings, the game went into extra innings, where the Yankees won it in the bottom half of the tenth, 4-3. Having tied the Series, the Yankees went on to win games five and six to win the best-of-seven contest.
Dodger fans still complain about this call and believe it cost the Dodgers the World Series. Without question, the play cost the Dodgers game four and a three-to-one lead in games. So, as I have done with the Immaculate Reception, I will ask the necessary questions to arrive at the answer of what happened.
Were any rules broken on this play?
To answer this question, we need to first know which of two rules applies to this situation. One rule 6.05(l) governs the outcome of a play where the fielder deliberately drops a line drive, while another rule 7.09(d) decides whether a baserunner has interfered with a play.
So, the first question is whether Bill Russell deliberately dropped the line drive. The rule 6.05(l) states that a "batter is out when...an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners should return to their original base or bases."
The question of intent is left up to the umpires. Much as in law, baseball rules generally understand intent to be a matter of purpose or knowledge.
What would be the purpose of Russell deliberately dropping the ball? If anything, it made it harder to complete a double play. Had he caught the ball, he would only need step on second base to force out Munson, or, alternatively, throw the ball to first to double up Jackson.
However, the umpires did not rule Pinella out and the play continued. In fact, the DVD available for this game shows the second base umpire waving his arms in the "safe" call to show the ball was still in play. It appears, then, that rule 6.05(l) does not apply. Had the umpires invoked the rule, Pinella would have been out and Jackson and Munson would have been sent back to first and second base, respectively with two outs.
The wording of rule 7.09(d) reads: "It is interference by a batter or runner who has just been put out [Jackson] hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner [Pinella]. Such runner [Pinella] shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate [Jackson]." (Brackets added for clarification).
There is no mention of the baserunner (Jackson) having to act intentionally for this rule to be invoked. But the umpire in question, Frank Pulli, told reporters the following day that "after watching the replay, I'd have to say that Reggie Jackson did not intentionally interfere with the ball."
According to Dictionary.com, "hinder" means "to cause delay, interruption or difficulty in" and "impede" means "to retard in movement or progress by means of obstacles or hindrances."
From these facts and rules, it appears to me that the umpire misinterpreted rule 7.09(d). It does not matter whether Reggie Jackson acted intentionally to interfere with the ball.
Of course, if Jackson had no opportunity to get out of the way of the ball, the umpires would have been wise to use discretion in deciding not to invoke the rule. But Jackson not only had a chance to get out of the way, he appears also to have stuck his hip out in the direction in which he knew or should have known the ball would be.
I purchased a copy of a DVD of the fourth game of the 1978 World Series. As soon as I got it in my hands, I hurriedly put it into the DVD player and watched the Jackson base running play. And again and again from different angles available.
I looked closely at the actions of Bill Russell. Lou Pinella hit a hard, sinking line drive that Russell gets a glove on. Russell does not appear to deliberately drop the ball. Also, it was in his interest to catch the ball because all he had to do to get a double play was to step on second base. He would have put out Munson, who had wandered off second base.
As for Jackson, he had plenty of time to make his decision about what to do. He was a veteran of numerous professional baseball games. I played Little League and high school baseball for ten years and know from experience that base runners get used to the fact that plays happen quickly and learn to adjust the decision on where to run as the action develops.
I didn't quite catch the turn of Reggie's hip on normal speed, although I sensed something was wrong. The slow motion replays leave no doubt that he moved into the ball, which was on a true line from Russell to Garvey. On any speed, there is no question that Jackson just stood there long after he knew that he was out.
So I was puzzled when I watched a segment of this game in which Dodger manager Tommy Lasorda argues with the umpires as to the non-interference call. The audio allows us to hear not only Lasorda's words (in which he pleads for interference on Jackson) but also the response of the umpires.
The umpires, including Pulli, tell Lasorda that Jackson was "confused" as to what to do because Russell had dropped the ball. What did the confusion of a base runner have to do with anything? The point advanced by Lasorda is that Jackson had the opportunity to move out of the way and failed to do so.
The DVD also makes it clear that the announcers, Joe Garagiola, Tony Kubek and Tom Seaver, agree that Jackson intentionally got in the way of the ball.
There was no excuse for Jackson's hip deflection. He had plenty of time to calculate an illegal way to bring in a run for the Yankees.
The Dodgers wuz robbed!