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MLB passes new transfer rule to the delight of utility man Elliot Johnson

By Stephanie Storm Published: April 25, 2014

Somewhere in a posh San Francisco hotel, Indians utility man Elliot Johnson woke up this morning to the news that Major League Baseball's Playing Rules Committee passed a new rule that provided “a clearer interpretation” of how umpires should determine their call when a player catches a ball for an out, but then accidentally drops it on the transfer from his glove to throwing hand.

The new rule takes effect immediately, beginning with today’s MLB games.

The Indians right fielder was mired in the middle of “transfer gate” two weeks ago when he made a running catch towards the wall on a ball off the bat of San Diego Padres Chris Denorfia in the first inning of the second game of a double header at Progressive Field.

After securing the ball for a catch, which he felt was an out, Johnson took a few steps before dropping the ball as he transfered it from his glove to throwing hand.

First base umpire Bob Davidson ruled Johnson didn’t make a catch since the ball was dropped in the transfer, even as immediate television replays showed he took a couple steps after securing the ball. Indians manager Terry Francona challened the play, later half joking that Johnson “could have been called for traveling” for as many steps as he took after the catch.

Suffice to say, the Indians – as well as most folks who watched the television replay – were stunned when the play was upheld by MLB’s Replay Command Center in New York.

The Padres went on to win the game 2-1 and Johnson vented afterwards to a large group of reporters about the need for “common sense” about dropping the ball during the transfer.    

“Let’s use some common sense, it was a catch, it was an out, lets move on,” Johnson said.

Two weeks later, Johnson got his justice Friday morning when MLB announced a new “transfer rule” that validated his stance.

“The interpretation was discussed and agreed upon by MLB, the MLB Players Association and the World Umpires Association, and beginning with games starting tonight, it will be the guiding principle that umpires use in ruling on the play.

“The committee's determination is that an out has occurred whenever a player has complete control over the ball in his glove, and if he drops the ball after opening his glove, it will still be ruled an out. There is no requirement to successfully remove the ball from the glove for it to be an out.

“Also, if a player drops the ball while attempting to remove it from his glove in order to make a throw, the umpire will determine whether he had secured it in his glove before attempting the transfer. If the ball has been caught and controlled, it's an out even if the player drops the ball in the process of transferring it.”

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