The Free Press, Mankato, MN

October 27, 2013

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


The Mankato Free Press

---- — 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.

Intent doesn't matter. Middlebrooks was waving his feet around, and so what? He could have remained as motionless as a body in a Civil War photograph; once Craig tripped over him, it was obstruction.

Middlebrooks and Craig weren't in a straight line between third base and home. Again, it doesn't matter. As long as there's no tag play going on, the runner makes his own baseline. Craig can head for home by way of Kansas City if he wishes.

There's really nothing Middlebrooks could have done to avoid interference other than make the play on the throw or at least remain on his feet and out of Craig's way.

The Sox and their fans are unhappy with the outcome of Game Three, and that's understandable. Blaming the umpiring for the outcome is not. The Red Sox, and specifically Saltalamacchia, messed up the final play, not Joyce.

Edward Thoma (344-6377; ethoma@mankatofreepress.com) maintains his Baseball Outsider blog at fpbaseballoutsider.blogspot.com. Follow him on Twitter @bboutsider.