Does anybody know what really happened on August 25, 2017 at the Red Sox/Orioles game?


It is reportedly the first time it has ever happened at a Major League Baseball game: A player who left a game came back in. This is disallowed by the rules, yet nobody noticed. But did it happen?

The Red Sox were losing 16–3 in the top of the ninth. To avoid tiring out their pitchers, the team chose to have their first baseman Mitch Moreland take over as the pitcher.¹

The game was played in a league which permits a special player called the Designated Hitter, who bats in place of the pitcher.² If a player in the field takes over as the pitcher, the team loses the Designated Hitter for the remainder of the game, and the player who enters the game to replace the vacated position (in this case, first base) is considered to have substituted for the Designated Hitter, batting in seventh position in this case.

As the game drew to a close, it came time for the player in seventh position to come to bat, but instead of the replacement first baseman, the original Designated Hitter Chris Young came to the plate. (He hit a single, later advanced to second base, but made no further progress by the time the game ended.)

Under the rules of baseball, a player who has been replaced may not return to the game, but there it just happened. And nobody said anything. (Reportedly, the Orioles noticed but chose not to say anything.)

What makes this confusing is that I've seen two different game summaries, and they disagree as to whether Chris Young actually left the game.

In this game summary, if you go to Play-By-Play and scroll down to Baltimore Orioles – Top of 9th, you'll see

LINEUP CHANGE H.Ramirez in as first baseman.
LINEUP CHANGE Team loses designated hitter.
LINEUP CHANGE Moreland pitching.
LINEUP CHANGE C.Young in as left fielder.

According to this game summary, Young did not exit the game but took over in left field. This is permitted according to the rules, in which case he retains his position in the batting order, and the new first baseman (Ramirez) takes over the batting position of the former left fielder.

If that game summary is correct, then nothing improper happened. It was definitely unusual, but no rules were broken.

On the other hand, this game summary does not mention that Young entered the game on defense. If that second summary is correct, then we indeed have a case of a player who left a game magically returning to it.

Does anybody know what actually happened?

Bonus chatter: The organization that runs professional baseball in the United States is called Major League Baseball, which is a bit of a misnomer because it actually a consists of two top-level leagues (the so-called National League and American League), as well as a number of lower-level minor leagues, so it should more properly be called Major Leagues Baseball. But nobody calls it that.

¹ Recently, position players are increasingly being called upon to pitch. This has historically been an uncommon occurrence and a source of amusement because, as a general rule, non-pitchers are not very good at pitching; that's why they're not pitchers. It typically occurs only in lopsided games where the team doesn't want to tire out their pitchers in a lost cause.

² As a general rule, pitchers are very poor at batting. To make the game more interesting, one of the professional leagues introduced a rule that allows a team to nominate another player to bat in place of the pitcher. Some people think this is a stupid rule.

Comments (27)
  1. GWO says:

    Does anybody know what actually happened? Yes – Retrosheet has a pretty good summary in its list of every-time a player has ever batted out-of-turn. http://retrosheet.org/outturn.htm

  2. FM says:

    Even more impressive:

    > Moreland did well in his one inning as pitcher, allowing no runs on two hits and even collecting a strikeout.

    How often do non-pitchers get strikeouts?!

    1. Peter Doubleday says:

      In extra innings or beyond? More often than you would think.
      They only need to pitch to one or two guys (maybe three), and they can usually summon their college experience as a SS or CF. A simple 89 mph fast-ball and a random off-speed in the dirt will do it against a batting line-up who’ve been out on the field for three hours and have no idea what you are going to do.

  3. DWalker07 says:

    I know that you said “as a general rule”, but former Atlanta Braves pitcher and hall of famer John Smoltz was a pretty good batter. He was used to bat once or twice when we wasn’t even pitching.

  4. pc says:

    I have to wonder how it’d look if Baseball went in the direction of American Football, and just completely separated the offensive and defensive players.

    Clearly, if the convoluted rules now aren’t clear as to what happened, the solution will likely be to add even more convoluted rules to explicitly allow or disallow what happened.

    1. Karellen says:

      It seems as if a lot of primarily-US-based team sports have a lot of emphasis – often encoded in the rules of the game – on players having a fixed position, hyper-specialising in that position, and allowing a lot of substitutions. Whereas primarily-European-based team sports seem to leave the position of players a lot more fluid, allowing players to change position and generally having more well-rounded set of skills, with few substitutions allowed per game. I’m sure that that, along with the propensity of US games to be very start/stop, while European games tend to just keep going, says something deep and meaningful about the Atlantic divide!

      Anyway, baseball seems to allow fewer substitutions than American Football/Basketball, but still quite a few (not sure exactly how many though?). I was previously under the impression that alternate pitchers were other players already “in the field” and that they just swapped position with other fielders at times, like bowlers in cricket. TIL that’s not the case.

      1. Brian says:

        In baseball, you start with 9 players in your lineup. Those 9 players names are marked in “batting order” on a “lineup card” (yes, there is a card).
        Even under the designated hitter (DH) rule (which is in one of two leagues, so half the teams), there are 9 players “in the lineup” (the pitcher (equivalent to a cricket bowler) isn’t counted under the DH rule). The names and the “batting order” of the lineup is preserved (mostly) for the entire game.
        If there is a substitution (say for the #5 batter), then that player is removed from the game, his name crossed off the lineup card and a new player takes his exact place in the lineup, preserving the name/order rule. You can keep substituting names all you want with two limits:
        1) Once a player is removed from the game, he can’t come back in (Raymond’s point)
        2) A team has a finite number of players in uniform for each game
        In general, only the names/batting order are preserved. A player can play defensively anywhere the team wants him too, as long as his name is on the lineup card.
        The “designated hitter” rule complicates things (since the designated hitter is taking the place of the pitcher in the lineup). I have no idea what all the details of the DH rules are; though I live in an American League town now (the AL has the DH rule), I grew up in a National League town (and so I think the DH rule is “just wrong”).

        1. pc says:

          Yes, the core confusion is that in baseball, the batting order is the “slots” that the players are placed in (for rules purposes), while many people likely think of the defensive positions as being the “slots one needs players to fill” when considering strategy. But for the most part when in the field players can go anywhere they want to make plays, they just have default roles and expectations based on the position they’re playing, whereas when batting they have to arrive in exactly the right order.

        2. Karellen says:

          So, you could have two (or more) pitchers on the field, taking turns pitching? (Per-pitch? Per-at-bat?)

          If that’s the case, it seems odd that the designated hitter is regularly described as taking the place of “the pitcher” in the lineup, where instead it would seem better to say “a pitcher”?

          When you say “a finite number of players in uniform” – how finite is that? Wikipedia tells me that “MLB teams maintain 25-player active rosters.” – so a team could make 16 (25 – 9) substitutions in a match? That still seems like a lot to me.

          1. Here’s a game where three fielders took turns pitching, cricket-style. Rule 5.10(g) says that you can change pitchers only once per at-bat (except in case of injury). The DH bats for “all pitchers” provided all they do is pitch and nothing else. And a team could theoretically make 16 substitutions but it is unlikely because managers are reluctant to use their starting pitchers as substitutes. (They are supposed to be resting for their next start.)

          2. GregM says:

            Generally a team has 5 starting pitchers and around 6 relief pitchers. That leaves around 14 position players to substitute for the 8 position players (9 with the DH) that start the game. With those numbers, that gives around 5 position player substitutions. On September 1st, the full 40 man roster is available per game. This is generally after the minor league teams have finished their season, and gives the minor league players some major league experience.

      2. sef says:

        as the saying goes, it just ain’t cricket.
        where anyone can bowl.

    2. DWalker07 says:

      Regarding having offensive and defensive players in baseball: As Brian said, and the baseball rules say:

      Baseball is a game with 9 players. They do this and this and this. (And then you can substitute, and then you can add the horrible DH, and so on.)

      1. Aside from the pitcher and catcher, there are no rules about who can do what; they are all equivalent. The rules don’t even give the other players names! (Well, except for the first baseman, because there’s a special rule about the first baseman’s glove. But the first baseman is not required to stand near first base.) What they do is a matter of strategy and convention.

  5. Peter Doubleday says:

    Raymond —
    I suspect, but cannot prove, that this is a correct application of rule 5.11, The big thing about being a DH is that you can’t be part of a multiple substitution (common in the NL, for fairly obvious reasons). In particular, the DH is due up whenever he is due up — in this case, Chris Young, at #7 in the line-up.
    Full disclosure: I am a Red Sox fan, and also a Doubleday. And on both counts, I am obviously disqualified about discussing this.
    Nevertheless, it does rather sound like nit-picking to me. If only they’d defined the role properly back in 1973!

    1. 5.11(a)(5) provides for the DH being part of a double-switch. The general principle in baseball is that once a player is given a position in the lineup card, that position never changes. Young stays in position 7 as long as he remains in the game. (If he had gone to left field as implied by the first play-by-play, then what happened was a multi-player rotation. New player → 1B → P → LF → leaves game. The new player therefore would take the place of the left fielder in the batting order.

      1. Peter Doubleday says:

        Good lord, but this is complicated stuff. (And people complain that cricket is hard to understand.)
        First of all, for the benefit of all, here is rule 5.11(a)(5):
        “The Designated Hitter may be used on defense, continuing to bat in the same position in the batting order, but the pitcher must then bat in the place of the substituted defensive player, unless more than one substitution is made, and the manager then must designate their spots in the batting order.”
        As for everything else? I think you’re right and I’m wrong. That was almost certainly a transgression of the rules. However, since the game was 16-3 in the 9th at the time … I think we can call this Umpires’ Discretion.
        As your cite explains, the only plausible penalty here would have been to have both Young and Moreland (I think — I’m still confused) and possibly Farrell ejected from the game, Which, under the circumstances, wouldn’t really have achieved much.
        Now, how ’bout them Tigers and Yankees?

  6. Euro Micelli says:

    My understanding is that these types of batter-order violations are not reported by umpires. It’s up to the opposite (defensive) team to bring it up.

    For example, a player would be allowed to bat out-of-order even if umpires notice. Only if the opposite (defensive) team brings it up, the player batting out-of-order would be immediately called “Out”. The defensive team might just let it go for a while, because they know they have been given a free Out. If the out-of-order batter hits into a double-play [causes two Outs], then great – the violation worked to your advantage. If he succeeds and gets on base, you can always bring it up to the umpire AFTER the play completes (but before pitching to the next batter). The umpire then cancels the effects of the play and call the batter Out. Nothing to lose.

    1. Batting out of order is an appeal violation 6.03(b)(7). But an ineligible player entering the game is covered by rule 5.10(d), which says that the umpire-in-chief shall enforce it “immediately upon noticing” (and any play that occurs before the ineligible substitution is detected remains valid).

  7. cheong00 says:

    This reminds me of the Croatia player who received 3 yellow cards within a group stage match in World Cup 2006.

    1. Peter Doubleday says:

      Entertainingly, at least part of that mistake (by Graham Poll in the 2006 WC) was down to language.
      The perp/miscreant (Josep Simunic) was fluent in Australian English, and Poll got a bit confused in the tumult. Apparently he wrote down the number of the offender correctly (you read it off the back of the jersey, obviously), but got the team wrong. Well, Croatia and Australia are easily mixed up … sort of … maybe in the Western Suburbs …
      Rules are there in an effort to ensure that the result is justifiable; in sport, just as in software. If the result is justifiable, the various minor transgressions against the rules are of no consequence whatsoever.

  8. So, someone is suspected of having violated a rule in a local game and no one is sure about it? Hmm…

    Imagine what would have happened if the game was an international one and thousands of people have seen with their own eyes that a rule was blatantly violated.

    In an associated football game between Argentina and England in 1986, Diego Armando Maradona scored a goal through committing a foul that the referee didn’t see. Everyone else saw though. (But apparently, everyone else can go to hell.) Of course, in the same game, Maradona scored a spectacular goal that was called the goal of the century.

  9. Tobias Langer says:

    I thought there is a one year cue in posting blog articles. What has happend, Raymond?

    1. The queue is only two months now. And articles can jump the queue.

    2. pc says:

      He has a queue, but it’s a prioritized queue. Things sometimes get inserted in the beginning, or scheduled for particular dates, or otherwise rearranged.

      1. Peter Doubleday says:

        Or, to put it another way: imagine the queue was a rigid 24 months or so.
        “Hey! Remember that weird baseball event, in the middle of the last but one season?”
        I’m relatively sure that wouldn’t be an audience grabber.

  10. Matt Seitz says:

    I think “League” in this case is a “noun adjunct”, a noun that modifies another noun. Nouns adjuncts are usually singular, as in “chicken soup”, even if there may actually be multiple chickens in the soup.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Noun_adjunct

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