How To Fix MLB's Obstruction Rule

Jamie Squire

The Cardinals won Game 3 of the World Series on an obstruction call. The call was made correctly, but the rule might not be clear enough. Here's one way it could be fixed.

You've seen this, likely many times, and discussed it at length. I'm going to try to advance the discussion, but first, have a look at the obstruction call from World Series Game 3 again:

It's absolutely clear that the umpires made the right call, based on the rule as it is currently written. Here is the definition of obstruction from MLB 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: 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. 

And here (scroll down to rule 7.06 [b]) is the specific instance of obstruction and the play that followed in Game 3:

(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.

The comment to that rule is exactly what the umpires ruled, and explained after the game, in this situation. The ball was still live; no play had yet been made on Allen Craig, and he ran to the plate (once he got up) at his own risk. The umpires judged that the tag play actually made on Craig by Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia was close enough that, without the obstruction, he would have been safe -- thus the safe call was made.

That's all correct. What I think MLB has to do is clarify intent in calling obstruction. It was clear to me -- and I know some disagree -- that Will Middlebrooks was not intentionally trying to obstruct Craig. He was trying to get up and see where the ball went. Craig was trying to get up. They were, essentially, tripping all over each other. To me, this is the kind of thing where an umpire could rule, "Hey, it happens," and simply let the play in question play out -- which is already allowed in the rules.

All you'd have to do is add one word to the definition of obstruction, from above, with my added word in ALL CAPS:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, INTENTIONALLY impedes the progress of any runner.

Major League Baseball, in the aftermath of this play, has already announced they will have a look at this rule:

Joe Torre, baseball’s vice president of operations, told The Post the rule will be examined this winter.

"A couple of people have raised the issue with me," Torre said. "It’s only fair to do that. I try to serve the managers and this is something we will look at."

Obviously, "intent" would be in the judgment of the umpires. There are already many rules where this is so -- in fact, the Rule 7.06 (b) comment already involves umpires' judgment. What was not allowed to be judged by the umpires in this case, based on the existing Rule 2.00, is whether it was obstruction or not.

This is something that doesn't come up often, and has never before happened in a World Series game, and isn't likely to happen again in that situation, at least not before many, many more World Series go by. This is a chance for MLB to clarify the situation and make it make more sense, in my opinion.

What's yours? Have at it. (And just wait till I get at the infield fly rule.)

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