Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Sports Pundits Wrong To Say Obstruction Rule Needs To Be Modified

Here is the final play of the third game of the 2013 World Series that the Cardinals won 5-4.   Many are calling this the controversial call that ended the game, but while it was an unusual play to end the game, there was actually nothing controversial about it in my opinion.  There was clear interference by the third baseman, that without that interference the St. Louis runner Alan Craig would have easily scored. 

In the rules of Major League Baseball:

Rule 2.00.
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: 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.

Rule 7.6 on obstruction:  " RULE 7.06 "(a) When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal 'Obstruction.'
"If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire's judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out."

In a strange fate of Karma, the example they gave in the rule was almost the exact situation that occurred on the play.   And it adds that "very likely the fielder has obstructed the runner".  

How is this not obstruction?
When you read the rules of baseball this was not a controversial call at all.  What would have been a controversy was if this play was not called obstruction.  That not only would have been controversial, but to ignore the obstruction would have been detrimental to the integrity of the game.  Some [many] seem to think because this play was so unusual and it was a call that ended a game in the World Series, that something must be done to change the rule.  What?   The obstruction rule has been with baseball since time immemorial and there has never been a call to change the rule.  The reason: because it makes sense.

Those calling for the rule to be looked at, say that intent to obstruct should be the only reason for the rule to be enforced.  How would that be fair?  Let's say if a runner is unintentionally impeded by advancing to the next base, that he surely would have, because the fielder is in the way of the runner's path, then to not give the runner the next base because it would have been deemed to be unintentional doesn't seem to be fair to me.

Also, talk about controversial.  If intent was incorporated into the obstruction rule then every single obstruction call or non call would be controversial.   How can you prove intent?  For example, what would have been the call in game three if the umpire needed intent to call the rule.  If the umpire ruled the runner was out at home plate because the third baseman had no intent on interfering with the runner you would have had the Cardinals manager out on the field in an uproar.  He would have said the third baseman obviously lifted up his legs in hoping to obstruct Craig from advancing to the winning run.   And if the umpire ruled that there was obstruction you would have had the Boston manager on the field saying it was obvious there was no intent on the third baseman to obstruct the runner.  So, a play that was really non-controversial would have immediately become controversial if intent was added to the rules.

I submit the obstruction rule is a fair and good rule as it is, and without it would lend to unfairness in some situations.  Keep the obstruction rule intact!
Update:  When I first saw the play live and even after seeing a couple of replays I thought to myself, surely the third baseman unintentionally impeded the runner's path to home plate.  But after reviewing it in slow motion a couple of times, I now really think the third baseman, knowing that the winning run was about to score, intentionally lifted up his legs hoping to trip Craig--the only chance to stop the winning run from scoring. 

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