The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Ed Thoma

October 27, 2013

Thoma column: News flash: The umps got this one right

Jim Joyce reached umpiring infamy in 2010 with a blown call at the end of what would have been a perfect game for Armando Galarraga.

On Saturday Joyce's umpiring odyssey reached a more palatable destination: an unusual, game-deciding call in a World Series game that happened to be absolutely, and literally, textbook.

In a era when stop-motion replays and (disputable) televised strike zone charts have served to put major league umpires in an increasingly bad light, this serves as news.

Not one fan in 100 knows the ins-and-outs of the rulebook on obstruction. I didn't. But as it turns out, the rulebook covers Saturday's play explicitly:

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.

That certainly covers Saturday's game-ending play. Jarrod Saltalamacchia makes his wild throw towards third. Will Middlebrooks dives futilely for the ball. Once the ball is past, Middlebooks is no longer in the act of fielding. And the specific example of the last sentence describes what happened next.

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Ed Thoma
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