Hal Lebovitz was baseball’s oracle. From the sandlots of South Euclid to the bigger-than-life stage of the World Series, there was no weird call or strange situation that fell outside his realm of expertise (his “Ask the Referee” column ran in The Sporting News for decades). In the introduction to “Ask Hal” (Gray & Co., $14.95) local sportswriter and commentator Les Levine recalls how an odd play during his Little League days, which left two players standing on third base — both tagged out, was met with a singular answer as to which player should head to the dugout: Ask Hal.
The memory makes it all the more fitting that Levine, who had Lebovitz on his television show as a weekly guest for 10 years and now pens the Sunday sports column that Hal once did for the The News-Herald and The Morning Journal, was the one who helped Neil Lebovitz sift through decades of his father’s inquiries and answers to assemble this collection, which serves as an eternal conversation starter for fans of the game. Test how your baseball knowledge matches up some of the innate wisdom Hal dished out over the years.
QUESTIONS: 1. A batter hits a routine ground ball and it rolls through the fielder’s legs without touching his glove, although he put it down. Is it an error? c Yes c No 2. Is the black edge of home plate part of the actual plate, and therefore part of the strike zone? c Yes c No 3. A batted ball hits the first-base bag, bounces up, hits the first baseman’s glove and rolls into foul territory. Is it fair? c Yes c No 4. Can a batter position himself to allow the ball to hit him? c Yes c No 5. A line drive hits a runner standing on third base. Is he out? c Yes c No
ANSWERS: In Hal’s own words from the book 1. Yes. “Here’s the simple rule of thumb: If the batter is safe on a ball that should have been fielded with ordinary effort, call it an error.” 2. No. “The black is just a border. It has nothing to do with home plate and it isn’t even a requirement.” 3. Yes. “Once it hit the base it had to be a fair ball no matter what happened to it afterward.” 4. No. “The batter must try to avoid being hit by a pitch. If he has a chance to get out of the way and doesn’t make the attempt the pitch will be called as a ball or strike by the ump.” 5. Yes. “A runner who is touched by a fair bail while on or off the base is out if the ball hasn’t previously touched the fielder.”