Obstructing a win

Have you ever? No I’ve never! The was the reaction of the baseball world after last night’s game ending obstruction call in Game 3 of the World Series.

After throwing out the potential winning run in Yadier Molina at the plate for the second out of the bottom of the 9th, Boston catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia saw Allen Craig advancing to third and fired off a throw. His throw went wide as third baseman Will Middlebrooks dove, trying to snag the errant throw as Craig slid safely into third base. The still injured Craig worked his way back to his feet and tripped over a still outstretched Middlebrooks. He worked his way over Middlebrooks, continued home, and was thrown out by a couple feet at home.

Extra innings, right?

Wrong.

Third base umpire Jim Joyce had signaled obstruction on the play when Craig tripped over Middlebrooks at third. That mean that Craig was a protected runner until he reached the next base. In this case, that was home plate for the game winning run.

Was it the way you want to end a World Series game? No. Was it the right call? Yes.

THE LETTER OF THE LAW

According to the rule book, this would qualify under Rule 7.06.

(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.
Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.

Also listed was Rule 2.00 which is really just a list of terms, but the comment on it really spells out the key to this call.

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered “in the act of fielding a ball.” It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the “act of fielding” the ball. For example: If an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.

The key in the obstruction definition is “After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the act of fielding the ball.” Middlebrooks dove for the ball and whiffed as it went sailing past him. Once the ball gets past him he is no longer considered to be fielding the ball. Now you can move onto the next part of the definition, “a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.”

After reviewing the video this afternoon, having to climb over Middlebrooks cost Craig two to three seconds on his trip to home plate. In the end, the throw beat him by about 1 second. So his progress was definitely impeded by the fielder. It’s my opinion that if Craig hadn’t had to climb over Middlebrooks, he would have been safe standing up.

IT WASN’T INTENTIONAL

By letter of the law, intent doesn’t matter. There is only two questions to ask.

1) Did the fielder impede the runner? Yes.

2) Did he have the ball? No.

Thus, obstruction.

I know, once Middlebrooks dove for the ball and didn’t come up with it there was nothing he could do. Once he went to the ground, he was at the mercy of Craig being able to get over him or go around him without any trouble. Craig slid into third, saw the ball get past him, spun around towards home to take off and ran into Middlebrooks.

He didn’t intentionally run into Middlebrooks. Just like Middlebrooks didn’t intentionally impede him.

Now there was also the suggestion that a runner should now always find a way to run into a fielder that is between them and the base they’re going to. Except that the runner intentionally running towards and into a fielder wouldn’t qualify as obstruction because at that point the fielder isn’t impeding the runner’s progress. The runner is. And in 99% of the plays, you’re either going to be safe or there’s nobody in a position to run into.

The last thing that anyone really wants is to let umpires judge intent.

I mean, how often do fans sit back and complain about balls and strikes? Those are completely up to an umpire’s unquestioned judgement according to the rule book. We should only be looking at those two questions when determining obstruction.

THAT’S NOT HOW YOU SHOULD END A WORLD SERIES GAME

Are these people really arguing that they want to have one set of rules for innings one through eight, but a completely different set for the ninth inning? How many times do we watch other sports and we see some calls not get made in the final minute of the game because the referees don’t want to have their call decide the outcome? If it’s a penalty in the first minute, it is still a penalty in the last minute.

Does it suck? Yeah. I think everyone on both sides of the ball last night would have rather had an outcome that didn’t require a call by the umpires. Pretty sure Jim Joyce and the other umpires and Major League Baseball would have preferred that too.

But if it isn’t called and the Cardinals end up losing the game in extra innings, it is an even bigger travesty.

GAME THREE OF THE 1975 WORLD SERIES

One Boston writer wrote a piece today wrote about conflicting obstruction calls that both cost the Red Sox. The problem is that they don’t. In fact, one wasn’t even obstruction.

It is common confusion among fans and even myself before educating myself after the game. Obstruction is when a fielder impedes a runner. Interference is when a runner impedes a fielder. They are two completely different rulings.

The situation that was brought up was from the 1975 World Series. After Ed Armbrister bunted, he stood in the way of Carlton Fisk as he jumped out from behind the plate to field the ball. They collided, Fisk fought past, grabbed the ball and fired it towards second base. But because he had to throw around Armbrister, it went sailing into the outfield instead. Art Martone, the writer, says that the Red Sox argued for an obstruction call on the play.

That can’t possibly be true, because as I clarified again, obstruction is called on fielding players. Thus an obstruction call would have guaranteed Armbrister first base.

In this case Martone is either intentionally swapping the language in the hopes of garnering reaction or just unaware of the difference.

During an interference ruling, there is a judgement call that gets to be made by the umpires. There is some leeway given to the runner because they have a clearly defined area they have to use to advance to the next base. Meanwhile the fielder does not have a clearly defined area in which to field the ball.

In interference there is a judgement call that gets to be made by the umpires. There is leeway given to the runner because they have a clearly defined area they have to use to advance. The fielder does not.

In conclusion, the game may not have played out like anyone wanted it to. But the call was correct and that’s all you can ask for.