Come On Blue!
Obstruction - ASA Ruling - Does the runner automatically get another base?
SITUATION: While umpiring at the 2014 Spanish Fork Halloween Havoc tournament 10U girls fast pitch championship game the runner rounded first and headed towards second base. The runner stopped and dashed back towards first. The first baseman was in the base path obstructing the runners easy return. The runner ran into the first baseman who was blinded by the late afternoon sun in her eyes and the runner still managed to get safely back to first, while I signaled obstruction. Meanwhile, in a way late fashion, the defensive team decided to throw back to first to try for the out, but was unsuccessful yet thankful that their first baseman even saw and caught the ball. A frustrated mother was heard to scream out from the bleachers near the offensive dugout, "C'mon Blue, that's obstruction and she should get second base!" As the plate umpire, I responded loudly to all those on and within earshot of the diamond, "Yes, that it obstruction and the runner gets to stay safely at first base."
Was that the right call?
If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, then is an extra base automatically awarded?
RULING ON THE FIELD: The runner was obstructed and made it safely to the base they were heading.
RULE BOOK: In the ASA 2014 Official Rules of Softball you must consult two different sections to get the answer. The first is in the Section 1 definitions where it states...
OBSTRUCTION. The act of a defensive team member:
- A. Who hinders or impedes a batter from striking at or hitting a pitched ball.
- B. Who impedes the progress of a runner or a batter-runner who is legally running the bases unless the fielder is:
- 1. in possession of the ball.
- 2. in the act of fielding a batted ball.
- NOTE: Contact is not necessary to impede the progress of the batter-runner or a runner.
The definition makes it clear that when using ASA rules the defensive player must have possession of the ball to be able to be in the base path unless they are making an attempt to field the batted ball. In our situation the ball did not get to the defensive player until long after the runner was already back safely at first base.
The next section is 8.5. I will share it in its entirety, but will highlight the important parts for this scenario.
Section 5. RUNNERS ARE ENTITLED TO ADVANCE WITHOUT LIABILITY TO BE PUT OUT.
- A. When forced to vacate a base because the batter was awarded a base on balls.
- EFFECT: (Fast Pitch Only) The ball remains in play unless it is blocked. Any runner affected is entitled to one base and may advance farther at their own risk if the ball is in play. (Slow Pitch Only) The ball is dead.
- EXCEPTION: In 16” SP and all divisions that can steal, the ball remains live.
- B. When a fielder not in possession of the ball or not in the act of fielding a batted ball, obstructs the progress of a runner or batter-runner.
- EFFECT: When obstruction occurs a delayed dead ball is ruled.
- NOTE 1: Obstructed runners are required to touch all bases in proper order and may be called out if properly appealed.
- NOTE 2: Should an act of interference occur following any obstruction, enforcement of the interference penalty would have precedence.
- 1. An obstructed runner may not be called out between the two bases where obstructed.
- a. when an obstructed runner, after the obstruction, safely obtains the base they would have been awarded, in the umpire’s judgement, had there been no obstruction and there is a subsequent play on a different runner.
- b. an act of interference, or
- c. if passing another runner.
- EFFECT: a-c The obstructed runner is no longer protected between the bases where obstructed and may be put out.
- d. Missing the base.
- e. Leaving a base before a fly ball was first touched.
- EFFECT: d-e The affected runner is out if properly appealed.
- 2. If the obstructed runner is put out prior to reaching the base which would have been reached had there no obstruction.
- EFFECT: A dead ball is called and the obstructed runner and all other runners shall always be awarded the base or bases which would have been reached, in the umpire’s judgment, had there been no obstruction.
- 3. If the obstructed runner is put out after passing the base which would have been reached had there been no obstruction or advanced beyond the two bases the obstruction occurred.
- EFFECT: The obstructed runner will be called out. The ball remains live.
- 4. The runner, while advancing or returning to a base;
- a. Is obstructed by a fielder who neither has the ball or
- b. Is attempting to field a batted ball, or
- c. When a fielder fakes a tag without the ball
- EFFECT: The obstructed runner and all other runners shall always be awarded the base or bases which would have been reached, in the umpire’s judgment, had there been no obstruction.
- NOTE: If the umpire feels there is justification, a defensive player making a fake tag could be ejected from the game.
CORRECT RULING: The runner safely attained the base they were heading back to and since they had no intent of going to second base they were not awarded second.
MAJOR LEAGUE BASEBALL: It may be that the mother in the stands had been watching baseball under MLB rules, which state:
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.
Reading section 7.06 of the MLB rules you can see a clear distinction between Type A and Type B obstructions. When play is being made on the runner, then the ball is called dead and the runner is advanced a minimum of one base. If the runner is obstructed when a play is not being made upon them, then there is a delayed dead ball and runner is protected to whatever base they would have made without the obstruction. If our play occurred on the baseball diamond, then I would have determined that the runner was just returning to first and that the play upon her was long after her decision to return to first and it would have been a Type B obstruction. She had no intention of going to second and just wanted to return to first base safely. An argument could be made by the coaches in that situation, but this is where the umpire's judgment comes into play. NOTE: I have always been taught to be very, very, very reluctant about awarding extra bases for obstruction while returning to your base in young youth baseball. The same is true with the young girls in fast pitch softball.
What are your thoughts?
Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah