Dodgers prospect homers on controversial dropped ball

July 17th, 2023

"What is a catch?" has been a simple, yet crucial question bedeviling sports fans for years.

It's one of the most basic plays in sports -- both baseball and football -- but its subjective nature makes for some controversial calls and bizarre plays.

The latest entry into the "What is a catch?" lexicon comes via Triple-A Oklahoma City after Dodgers utilityman Devin Mann hit one of the more unconventional home runs of the year in a 6-4 win over host Sacramento on Sunday afternoon.

Leading off the top of the fourth inning, the Dodgers' No. 30 prospect knocked a ball into the gap in right-center field. River Cats center fielder Bryce Johnson got a great jump and tracked down the ball with ease. But after corralling the ball on the warning track, Johnson took four steps and accidentally deposited the ball over the fence.

The initial call on the field was an out, so Mann hustled back to the dugout and sat down. After a few seconds, the umpires gathered and ruled the play a home run -- so the 26-year-old stood back up and embarked on his strangest trip ever around the bases.

"From my point of view, it looked like a pretty solid catch," said Mann, who played left on Sunday. "But I don't know all the ins and outs of how they get to the conclusion of it being a home run. But, shoot, I'll take it."

Sports fans are surely too familiar with the term "football move" when evaluating a catch in the NFL. But baseball rules are different -- four steps alone do not a catch make. The fielder has to demonstrate control of the ball -- which is up to the umpire's judgment -- and make a voluntary and intentional release of the ball.

Baseball's official rulebook puts it this way: "It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball."

As the umpires later explained to Mann, they look for several things when considering the play, including whether the fielder slowed down or made an attempt with his hand to take the ball out of his glove, neither of which the fielder did.

An Indiana native who played collegiately at Louisville, Mann is a football fan and remembers talking with friends about some of the most controversial "catches" in football. Little did he expect that one day his own homer, the 65th of his Minor League career, would spawn a new catch vs. non-catch debate.

"It's kind of crazy too because I remember watching the Dez Bryant one in Green Bay (in 2015) and same thing with Calvin Johnson (with the Lions in 2010)," Mann said. "I don't know who's making the rules and who gets to make the final decision on that, but it's a lot of gray area for something that I feel like, personally, there's not a lot of gray area. … But I feel once you slow it down and look at it, that's where all the gray area comes into play."