NEW YORK -- For more than a century, baseball seemed to know when a catch was a catch. Then expanded instant replay came along this season, and no one seemed to be sure.
The sport’s Playing Rules Committee clarified the meaning of when a fielder catches the ball before trying to transfer it from his glove to his hand for a throw, trying to defuse a controversy that left managers and players puzzled in the season’s opening weeks.
With umpires watching slow-motion replays in a New York control room, several plays that routinely have been called outs in the past had been ruled drops. Starting Friday, possession was defined as having complete control of the ball. The committee said fielders may drop the ball after intentionally opening their gloves to make transfers.
"I understood that if you went by the rule in the book, you had to call it a certain way. But it had been called another way for 100 years," New York Mets centerfielder Chris Young said. "It’s amazing that Major League Baseball stepped in now so fast and stopped it so quickly. All it took was a couple of miscues. I think it’s great call, for sure. I’m really glad they did it now, rather than waiting until after the season to evaluate it."
Calling this a "common sense interpretation," MLB Senior Vice President Dan Halem said the committee decided "as long as the fielder intentionally opens his glove with the intent to take the ball out, that piece of the rule is satisfied.
"Somebody told me that I think the definition of catch in our Official Playing Rules was written in 1953 perhaps, and obviously it wasn’t written with the precision of instant replay in mind," Halem told the Associated Press Sports Editors.
MLB said the committee, chaired by New York Mets general manager Sandy Alderson, determined "a legal catch has occurred ... if the fielder had complete control over the ball in his glove, but drops the ball after intentionally opening his glove to make the transfer to his throwing hand."
"There is no requirement that the fielder successfully remove the ball from his glove in order for it be ruled a catch," the committee said. "If the fielder drops the ball while attempting to remove it to make a throw, the umpires should rule that the ball had been caught, provided that the fielder had secured it in his glove before attempting the transfer."
Los Angeles Angels second baseman Howie Kendrick said players around the league were unhappy with the rule.
"It’s a good thing they changed it," he said. "The rule book clearly states that a catch is a guy securing a ball in his glove. The transfer is another element. Then you have guys that worry about it, and it changes the speed of the game."
New York Yankees captain Derek Jeter also saw the difference on the field.
"It made it very uncomfortable to turn a double play," shortstop said. "I think you saw a lot of people -- it appeared to me a lot of people -- were sort of taking it step by step. You try to be quick when you turn a double play. Now it’s take your time."
Players were hopeful the problem was resolved and they can go back to getting the ball out of their glove in a flash, the way they had practiced for years.
Marlins manager Mike Redmond, who had two recent transfer plays overturned in Miami’s favor, will wait until the rule is tested in games.
"I think I have an idea of what a catch is," the former big league catcher said. "Now we’ll see what a catch is. Tonight, maybe we’ll see."
The committee also said "the umpires will continue to use their judgment as to whether the fielder had complete control over the ball before the transfer."
"Unlike some of our other calls in instant replay, the catch call does require the umpire to exercise in some cases a fair amount of judgment, and the rule actually really just wasn’t precise enough to withstand scrutiny on replay," Halem said.
In addition to plays in the field, the catch decision has become controversial for outfielders trying to make quick throws.
Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called the interpretation "a good solution.
"And since it’s still April, I think we acted quickly," he said.
AP Sports Writer Howie Rumberg and AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker contributed to this report.