Come On Blue!
Obstruction - "You guys have been calling it wrong around here for years!"
SCENARIO: R2, 1 out. Ball hit and runner rounds third as the catcher receives the throw. The runner turns to head back to third with the third baseman in front of the bag clearly blocking the base as the throw is coming his way. He catches the throw high as the returning runner comes in crouched and barrels into the third baseman's thigh with his shoulder as the tag is brought down hard on top of him for a clear out. The third base coach complains loudly about the call as he tried to comfort his son (tagged out runner) who reportedly, by the coach, has broken his shoulder from the impact.
- Should "Obstruction" have been called on the third baseman?
- Is the defensive player allowed to block the runner's return base path?
- Was the catch made before there was any contact?
- Is the runner allowed to return to third by initiating deliberate contact with the third baseman blocking his path, or does he have to go around and avoid the contact?
- Is there a difference in the ruling between FED high school rules, NCAA rules, and MLB major League Baseball Rules on this same play?
- Is this a "Judgement Call" play?
- Is the coach allowed to demonstrate loudly and make a scene on a judgment call?
First off, I was just a fan in the stands watching a Field 1 game after umpiring two games myself earlier in the evening. I watched the train wreck take place and although mistakes were made on both the part of the umpires and the coach, the coach was completely in the wrong for his outburst and method of handling the situation. In my opinion, he should have been ejected and then allow the dust to settle. Instead, he was allowed to puff up his chest, disparage the umpires on the field, and then proceed to tell the League Umpire Assignor that we have been calling it all wrong around here for years and that it was hazardous to the health of the players. His logic was expressed as follows, "The catcher is protected with gear because home plate is the only base where any contact is to be expected. The third baseman was blocking the path to third base and his "Obstruction" is what caused the contact and my son now has a broken shoulder."
Is there any truth to the coach's argument? Is it "Obstruction" when a defensive player blocks the path either to or from the base? I will share the rules here, but the coach is not going to like the cold hard facts that the field umpire made the correct call and his son was deservedly called out. The sustained shoulder injuries are unfortunate, and the runner had several options, of which he decided direct and near malicious contact was the best choice. Yes, he could have attempted to go around the third baseman, of which was there long before the contact, but his runner chose the straight back to the bag by crashing through the defender approach.
Let's re-look at the questions listed above and interject the different rules to see why there is confusion.
Should "Obstruction" have been called on the third baseman? What is obstruction?
According to the 2014 Official Rules of Major League Baseball (MLB)
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.
In fact, in MLB there are actually two distinct types of obstruction calls. There is Type A and Type B obstruction.
Type A Obstruction occurs when a play is being made on the runner and when it occurs there is an immediate dead ball call of "Time. That's Obstruction!" and then penalties are assessed.
Type B Obstruction occurs when there is not a play being made on the runner and it becomes a delayed dead ball call of "That's Obstruction!" and the play is left live until it is completed and then penalties are imposed. An example of this is a deep shot to left center and the batter-runner is blocked by a first baseman and he rounds first and on his way to second. There are some special consideration when this happens, but I will not discuss those here because our scenario is clearly a question of Type A Obstruction.
Note the definition that clearly states, "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." MLB Rules clearly allow a defensive player his position if he is in possession of the ball or in the act of fielding the ball. A clear cut question is "Did the fielder have possession of the ball before contact was made?" If so, then there was no obstruction. "Did he receive possession of the ball after the contact?" If so, then it might be obstruction if the umpire determines that he was not in the act of fielding the ball. But this would be more likely imposed in a run down back and forth play where the fielder is in the base path and contact is made before the return pickle throw is made. In our real life scenario the third baseman was in position and ready for the throw coming his way, long before there was any contact. He also caught the ball high before there was any contact, but it was clearly in his possession.
Under MLB rules, is the defensive player allowed to block the runner's return base path? Yes... See above. He may block the base path if he is either in possession of the ball and/or in the act of fielding the ball.
Was the catch made before there was any contact? Yes.
Is the runner allowed to return to third by initiating deliberate contact with the third baseman blocking his path, or does he have to go around and avoid the contact? OYB and PONY have no "must slide" rule and there is no mention of any prohibition of the type of slide. This means that head first and feet first type slides are acceptable. We do enforce a malicious contact rule for the safety of all players and this contact was definitely initiated by the runner trying to get back to the base.
Is there a difference in the ruling between FED high school rules, NCAA rules, and MLB major League Baseball Rules on this same play? Yes. There is a huge difference.
MLB - This is explained above.
FED/NHFS High School Rules - This is where the confusion derives...
Per the 2014 BRD (Baseball Rule Differences), in FED/NHFS "Obstruction is always a delayed dead ball. (2-22-1; 5-1-3; 8-3-2; 8.2.3a)"
The BRD goes on to state,
"POE 2008: Obstruction is any act physical or verbal.
Obstruction can be "intentional or unintentional" and it can be by "any member of the defensive team or its team personnel" as long as it "changes the pattern of the play."
A first baseman (8.3.2g) or any fielder 8.3.2c) may block the base if he is in possession of the ball or if he blocks only part of the base."
So looking closely at the high school rules, the determining factor is whether or not the defensive player had possession of the ball before the contact was made. If not, and he finds himself blocking or obstructing any part of the base, then "Obstruction" is called and the runner would be awarded the next base.
But the discussion of high school rules is moot because we use OYB, PONY and MLB rules in Orem Youth Baseball league play. Unfortunately, the coach and parents are also quite used to watching high school games and they are unaware of the subtle differences between the two. As an umpire it is important to know which field we are on, otherwise we can really ruin a game. The same is true for the coaches, most of which do not own current rule books.
So let's clarify with a scenario and ruling by Carl Childress in his "The 2014 Baseball Rule Differences"...
PLAY 223-370: R2 has been taking a huge, secondary lead. After a pitch, R2 lazily starts back to the base, and the pitcher and F6 execute a perfect pickoff. F6 reaches the bag, drops to one knee, and an instant later, the ball and R2 arrive simultaneously. R2 has no access to second and is tagged out.
RULING: In FED/NFHS and NCAA, the umpire cancels the out and awards the runner third base. In OBR (Official Rules of Major League Baseball), he is simply a former runner on the way back to his dugout.
Is this a "Judgement Call" play? Absolutely
MLB RULES 9.02
(a) Any umpires decision which involves judgment, such as, but not limited to, whether a batted ball is fair or foul, whether a pitch is a strike or a ball, or whether a runner is safe or out, is final. No player, manager, coach or substitute shall object to any such judgment decisions.
Rule 9.02(a) Comment: Players leaving their position in the field or on base, or managers or coaches leaving the bench or coaches box, to argue on BALLS AND STRIKES will not be permitted. They should be warned if they start for the plate to protest the call. If they continue, they will be ejected from the game.
(b) If there is reasonable doubt that any umpires decision may be in conflict with the rules, the manager may appeal the decision and ask that a correct ruling be made. Such appeal shall be made only to the umpire who made the protested decision.
Of course, our real life scenario displayed a judgement call, the questioning of the call by the coach, and then the appeal by the coach regarding the correct application of the rule. In this case, the coach made the appeal to the field umpire who then said, "Coach, I know the rule and the right call was made." The coach did not accept this answer and then touted his years of experience both coaching and umpiring and how the umpire (age 21) did not know what he was talking about. This led to the rant on the field about child safety, catcher's gear, his hurt player, while his runner from first base went to second, and then continued to try to sneak over to third. The ball was never called dead, and the coach was partially on the field as his own player is trying to sneak over in behind all of this verbal actions and physical posturing when the defensive team realized this and tagged the sneaking runner out just before he got to third and the third out was called and the inning was over.
When I say it was over, I meant that the third out was called while the coach marched down to home plate to continue verbalizing his disgust to the home plate umpire (28 years old). When this produced no positive effects, he marched back down the third base line, out of of the field through his dugout and in front of his fans continuing to rile up his players and fans as he marched onward towards the snack shack where he could complain to the league officials. As he headed that direction I called out to him and he let me know that my opinion was not important because he knew the rules and he continued his march from Field 1 to the Snack Shack. I continued to follow. When he got there, he explained his frustration to the umpire assignor beleiveing that he was the only individual at the fields that night that knew the rules. He repeated the phrase, "You guys have been calling obstruction wrong around here for years. It is all about safety and my son now has a broken shoulder...."
Is the coach allowed to demonstrate loudly and make a scene on a judgment call? No.
2013 MLB RULES Official Rules: 4.00 Starting and Ending a Game
(a) No manager, player, substitute, coach, trainer or batboy shall at any time, whether from the bench, the coachs box or on the playing field, or elsewhere --
(1) Incite, or try to incite, by word or sign a demonstration by spectators;
(2) Use language which will in any manner refer to or reflect uponopposing players,an umpire,or any spectator;
I am certain that the coach feels he did nothing wrong last night. I am certain that he is defending his actions with thoughts of trying to protect his players, preventing injuries, combined with his knowledge of the rules and what he felt was the lack of knowledge of the rules on the part of the umpires. But what he actually did was damage his own reputation and ultimately ruin his own game in what turned into a big loss. His complaining about the second out led to the third out as his runner tried to sneak into third.
SO WHAT WOULD HAVE BEEN BETTER - I would have preferred to see the out called and the coach call time so that he could appeal to the umpire making the call. Next, he could have protested the call citing a misapplication of the obstruction rules. This would have resulted in an on field halt of play until the correct ruling could be made. he would have still had a runner on second with two outs and a rather close score at that point of the game. This could have been done professionally without all of the fanfare and strutting around the field while verbally belittling the umpires in front of the crowd and the players.
HAVE WE BEEN CALLING IT WRONG FOR ALL THESE YEARS? - It turns out not to be the case. Instead, according to OYB, PONY, and MLB rule books, we have been calling it right all along! Michael Leavitt - Orem, Utah
*** 2014 BRD by Carl Childress - www.carlsbrd.com/
SEE OTHER "MAKING THE RIGHT CALL" RULINGS