At the end of the Dixon Red Sox’s 11-2 crushing defeat by the Winters Cardinals in the championship round of the District 64 Majors Tournament of Champions Sunday, coach Andy Butler was still irked by what he believes was a call that had shaken his team’s psyche from the start.
Matt Butler - Andy's son - was ejected after colliding with Winters’ catcher Sam Gonzales at home plate in the first inning. Little League rules state a player that is ejected is ineligible to play in his team's next game, but Dixon Little League president Dustin Baumbach said that district officials reviewed video from a fan Sunday afternoon and determined that Butler will be allowed to play.
The ruling is crucial because with Jaret Wedow on a family vacation, Butler is Dixon's best player on its roster, and will start Tuesday's TOC Championship game.
The Red Sox were rallying to make up for an early deficit before things unraveled.
Trailing 2-1 in the bottom of the first inning, the Red Sox got two runners into scoring position when Joe Jimenez grounded out to bring in Matt Butler, resulting with the collision at the plate, and the chaotic scene that followed.
Umpire Jim Ogando called Butler out, deeming that the incident could have been avoided. The out was the third of the inning and it erased the run, which Butler had seemingly scored.
Coach Butler rushed out of the dugout to argue the call with Ogando. After a brief verbal exchange, Butler protested the call and appealed to the District for an official ruling on the incident.
The game’s official scorekeeper contacted assistant district administrator Milt Eberle, who said that according to Little League rules the younger Butler could not be ruled out at the plate - therefore allowing Butler’s run - but could be ejected if Ogando wished. Ogando did not originally eject Butler, but did so after Eberle was contacted.
“I think there was a close play at the plate without the baseball at all,” coach Butler said “I still stand by what I believe in: the umpire made a bad call.”
Fan video shows that Gonzales backed into Butler’s path at the split second that Butler crossed home plate. Timed from a stopwatch, Butler had less than two-tenths of a second to react to Gonzales obstruction of the plate. It’s not clear why Gonzales backed into Butler’s path or if Ogando saw the last-second impact.
Ogando said after the game that Butler was ejected due to unsportsmanlike conduct, and that the hit was malicious, adding that he doesn’t want anyone to get hurt. He said that Butler was ejected because coach Butler protested the call and “went to the next level” instead of just taking the out.
“There was no attempt to touch the base,” Ogando said. “…I didn’t want to get him ejected…There should be no contact at any base at any time.”
Contacted after the game, Eberle said that Gonzales was obstructing the base, and therefore by little league rules, Butler was awarded home plate. Butler crashing into Gonzales, he said, is a totally different issue.
“It’s up to the umpire and he has to make a judgment call,” Eberle said. “He has to make a ruling on what the call is.”
As for trying to call out Butler at home, Eberle said that Ogando can’t rule Butler out and that’s what coach Butler was protesting.
“He’s (Ogando) not allowed to do that,” he said. “That was the rule interpretation that was protested… The umpire may want to call him out but that’s not what the rule says.”
Butler couldn’t protest Ogando ejecting Butler, as judgment calls by umpires cannot be protested.
As for the game, the Red Sox committed five errors after the first inning, and gave up four runs in the third and sixth inning.
Butler was sure that the ruckus in the first inning rattled the team the rest of the way.
“It affected the rest of the game,” he said. “The kids still came out and played as hard as they could possibly play. Then when you have one of your key players go down, it affects the whole team. I was still focusing on the rule book and seeing what I could do to get our player back in there somehow.”
The Red Sox will play at Winters again on Tuesday at 7 p.m. for the Majors TOC title.
Dixon jumped over the Davis Dodgers 13-4 in the first game of the TOC. They play the Vacaville National Phillies on Tuesday at Playfields Park in Davis at 5 p.m.
Editor's Note: California Little League District 64 Administrator Mike Pappa did not return a call for comment on this story. He later stated during a Tuesday game in Winters that the video had nothing to do with his decision to allow Butler to play and that it was based on the Winters coaches' assurances that they had no problem with Butler playing after he was ejected.