Did McLouth hit the foul pole: a Frame by Frame Analysis.

screen-shot-2018-07-25-at-4-37-21-pm.png

In 2012 the Orioles had a magical season and made the playoffs for the first time since 1997. In the first round of the playoffs, the Orioles beat the Texas Rangers in the new one game wild card to advance to the ALDS. They would meet with the juggernaut New York Yankees, who were just 3 years removed from a world series victory. The Orioles and the Yankees split the first two games of the series which set up a huge win or go home game 5. If the Orioles could somehow manage to win this game, they would erase the many previous years of disappointment and break the hearts of every soul in New York.  

Game 5 was scoreless until the bottom of the 5th, when Raul Ibanez singled to center field and scored Teixeira to give the Yankees a 1-0 lead. In the top of the 6th with two outs, Nate McLouth stepped up to the plate. He worked the count full against a prime CC Sabathia, then on a 3-2 pitch, he skied a ball deep into right field. Everybody in the stadium knew that it had the distance, but the question was if whether or not it was going to be fair. If this ball stays fair, it would tie the game and the momentum would be shifted in favor of the Orioles. If it goes foul, the Yankees would be 9 outs away from the ALCS. The ball gets closer and closer to the foul pole until it lands in the upper deck. There was no noise of it hitting the pole, there was no obvious bounce, so the home plate umpire calls it a foul ball. Immediately players on the Orioles bench adamantly protest that the ball hit the pole. Fairly quickly, the umpires head into the clubhouse to look at the replay to see if the ball hit the pole. After a few minutes of suspense, the umpires ran back out onto the field and signaled that the ball was indeed foul.

Here is the full video of the incident. (Open in a new window to watch, this is the only version on youtube but the owner does not allow playback on websites)

 

The Yankees would go on to win the game and advance to the ALCS.

But…it wasn’t foul! The ball so clearly hit foul pole. I mean, you can so easily tell that the ball changed directions when it crosses in front of the pole! This is just another example of the Orioles getting absolutely robbed by umpires in New York. First there was Jeffery Maier, and now this! Unbelievable.

Ever since this even happened, all Orioles fans have held on to the belief that Nate McLouth hit the foul pole on a home run that would have possibly changed the outcome of that series. Despite the controversy, I have yet to find someone who has truly analyzed the footage frame by frame. So that is what I am here to do today. Now I am by no means a CaptainDisillusion type expert at video analyzation, but I do know my way around Photoshop pretty well. After a few hours of editing footage and creating some visuals, I have decided once and for all if he really did hit the foul pole or not. Let me show you how I came to a conclusion.

First, I took a screenshot of every frame of the angle that most clearly shows the ball allegedly change direction. Then, I threw all of the screenshots into Photoshop and stabilized the backgrounds. I did this by putting the first frame at 50% opacity and then layering the next frame so that the foul pole stays in the same position, but the ball moves.

screen-shot-2018-07-23-at-11-33-49-pm.png
screen-shot-2018-07-23-at-11-33-57-pm.png

I did this with every frame, and then set a timeline for each frame to play for .1 seconds each. This gives us a stabilized gif of the ball going by the foul pole.

mcclouth-foul-pole.gif

Now this GIF gives us our first look at a somewhat stable image with the ball passing through. Keep in mind that this is very rough and some frames are off center. It is tough to tell based on this alone if the ball changed directions when it crossed by the foul pole.

In order to give this GIF even better stabilization, I went frame by frame again, but this time only included the area within the magnified region of the broadcast. I also stacked the frames on top of each other in order to give the appearance of a still image with a moving ball. I spent even more time on each frame making sure that the background was lined up almost perfectly with the previous frame. All of this combined gives us this GIF:

mcclouth-foul-pole-finalized.gif

To my knowledge this is the best view of the McLouth fly ball that can be found on the internet. The placement of the ball in each frame is almost exactly to what it was in real life. Watching this GIF certainly raised some doubt in my head. All my life I had thought that McLouth hit the foul pole, but you can't tell for sure from this angle. There is no clear change in direction, however if you really focus, an argument could be made that the ball just nicked the edge causing the ball to shift right a little bit. To give us an even better view, I highlighted the ball in each frame with the paintbrush tool to make the path of the ball stand out.

mcclouth-foul-pole-stable-with-lines.gif

Now, if you remove all of the background and just show the blue lines, you will get a trajectory that I am confident is within pixels of the actual trajectory that the fly ball took. I am not trying to hype this up or anything, but the picture that you are about to see might be one of the most important pictures in recent Orioles history. With that in mind, here is the trajectory of the 2012 Nate McLouth fly ball.

mcclouth-foul-pole-lines-final.png

I have looked at this picture sideways, upside down, squinting, up close, from far away, and yet it is still extremely difficult to determine if there is a slight bend or change in direction. It is possible that the camera angle which this footage was taken at would make any change in direction invisible, but the biggest problem with this theory is that this specific camera angle is the only angle where the ball appears to hit the foul pole in the live broadcast. From every other angle it looks like the ball comes extremely close to the pole, but does not hit it.

mclouth-best-angle.gif

I think it is time for us Orioles fans to accept the harsh truth that we have been avoiding all of these years. Yes, Jeffry Maier may have interfered with Jeter's fly ball, but...

Nate McLouth did not hit the foul pole.