Further Review: This is junior college, not the major leagues
Column by Ken Cohen
May 10, 2013 The sequence of events that led to two mandatory forfeits by SUNY Sullivan and its elimination from the Region XV baseball playoff games raises lots of questions. Not necessarily about who was right or wrong, but about the rules and processes in place.
To recap, SUNY Sullivan and Rockland were tied 5-5 in a first-round game at Rockland. In the top of the sixth inning, The Generals' Mike Gonzalez blasted a three-run homer to put Sullivan up 8-5. The very next pitch from Rockland’s Matt Kostalos to Ariel Pineo was high and tight, perhaps thrown with a purpose. That's what Pineo wanted to find out and yelled out to Kostalos, "Are you trying to hit me?" To which Kostalos allegedly responded, "Yes I am."
That led to a lot of commotion which still is not clear in a lot of people's eyes. Several players left the Sullivan dugout and ran toward the field. How many? No one knows for sure not even the umpires. Leaving the dugout area or a fixed position on the field for any non-baseball purpose is grounds for an automatic ejection, which carries a two-game suspension. Some observers at the game say there were Rockland players who left the dugout or moved from their defensive positions as well.
At first, the umpires didn't eject anyone from either team. They simply issued warnings and were ready to resume play. That's when Rockland coach Joe Zeccardi came out and protested the game because he said that Sullivan players had to be ejected for running on the field. He insisted the protest be handled immediately because it possibly involved players still in the game. After calling the director of officials and conferring with both athletic directors, the umpires decided to eject five Sullivan players and no Rockland players.
How they reached this decision, no one knows. How they picked which five players is anyone's guess, including the umpires'. It's become increasingly clear the umpires really didn't know how many players actually came on the field they simply picked a random number and chose those players they thought were not going to influence the game’s outcome. Given the existing rules and the lack of any clear evidence of who actually came on the field, this was probably the fairest decision and the umpires should have stuck with it.
Instead, they caved into the home field atmosphere and the presence of Rockland athletic director Dan Keeley, who was at the game as site manager and scorekeeper. He challenged the umpires on how they knew who the five were and why they didn't eject more players?
Again, the umpires huddled and this time they threw out the entire Generals' team, resulting in a Sullivan forfeit because they could not field a team for the remainder of the game. They went from five ejections to 32, because as Keeley recounts, the umpires felt "there were just so many players on the field" that ejecting the entire team was the only way to ensure that the true culprits were penalized. Also, remember, no Rockland players were ejected.
Sullivan athletic director Chris DePew, who more than anything questioned the fact that no Rockland players were ejected, appealed the forfeit to no avail. No one from the National Junior College Athletic Association wanted to fess up to the myriad of bad decisions made here. Because of the two-game suspension rule that goes with an ejection, Sullivan was forced to forfeit its loser bracket game as well, ending their season.
Unless you have video evidence or can somehow positively identify players who did indeed come on to the field, you should not be ejecting them. We still live by a reasonable doubt standard in this country. Junior college baseball is not the NBA, NFL or major league baseball where there are television cameras to capture exactly who did what. Without that type of video support, there should not be rules which put umpires in a total guessing situation. Especially with such harsh consequences. If anything, ejections at this level should warrant automatic outs or runs, not game suspensions.
A junior college team usually has a coach and an assistant. When their team is at bat they are both on the field as first and third base coaches, leaving the dugout without an authoritative figure. It's very possible that Sullivan players charged the field and no Rockland players did because the Rockland coaches were in the dugout to restrain their players. The Sullivan players knew the rules and should not have left the dugout. But, they are still kids who were alone in a dugout and full of emotion.
If junior college is going to insist on penalizing players for leaving the dugout, it should really be if they cross a certain point on the field perhaps the first-base or third-base line depending on where the dugout is. This way the coaches have a chance to stop them.
Chris DePew and the SUNY Sullivan community have good reason to be upset with what happened. Not because they did nothing wrong -- they clearly broke the rules in place. But because the rules are ill-conceived and not practical for the junior college level.
Ken Cohen brings 30 years of publishing experience, many covering sports and working for sports companies, His column, “Further Review” will appear every Friday.