Let the players decide

Let’s review the end of a rather remarkable World Series baseball game. Saturday night, past midnight, the St. Louis Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox on an obstruction call. We will get to that call in a few minutes . Let’s start with the top of the ninth inning.

The score was tied at 4 entering the ninth, and the Cardinals were pitching Trevor Rosenthal. The Red Sox first batter of the inning was Will Middlebrooks, who had made — or not made — what I thought was the key play of the game up to that point. Back in the seventh inning, Red Sox manager John Farrell had decided to pinch-hit Middlebrooks for shortstop Stephen Drew, who has looked entirely helpless at the plate the entire postseason. This was a defensible but, it seems to me, extremely odd move. Sure, Middlebrooks hit 17 home runs and so Farrell was playing for lightning in a bottle. Didn’t happen. Middlebrooks flew out.

While Drew’s offensive feebleness is unquestioned — he is now 4-for-44, which is a lot of “for-for-for” sounds in a row — he’s a very good defensive shortstop. Pulling him meant jumbling a Boston infield defense already teetering with David Ortiz at first base. It meant moving 21-year-old Xander Bogaerts to shortstop, which was his natural position in the minors but he has only played eight games there in the big leagues. And it meant putting Middlebrooks at third.

“Middlebrooks is an excellent defensive third baseman,” Joe Buck told America upon his entrance though there really is little evidence of this being true. His defensive numbers, the advanced ones, are not particularly good. The bottom of the inning began with Matt Carpenter hitting a ground ball toward the hole between third and short. Bogaerts awkwardly fielded the ball and threw off balance and in the dirt to a hopelessly overmatched Ortiz. So Carpenter was on first. Then Carlos Beltran was “hit by a pitch,” and we could spent a whole other post on that one. We won’t.

Then Matt Holliday hit a hard ground ball to third.

We talk often here about foolishness of the error statistic — the only errors that are ever called are ones where the fielder gets himself in position to make the play and then botches the play. It is like only marking incorrect math answers where the student clearly KNEW how to to do the problem but made a careless mistake in the calculation. Will Middlebrooks did not botch Holliday’s grounder at third. He never got close enough to botch it. Instead, he did more or less everything wrong. He was playing in a weird position — well off the bag, a bit closer to the plate than you might expect — as if halfheartedly preparing for a bunt. But that couldn’t have been the reason. There was exactly 0.000% chance that Matt Holliday would bunt. You know the last time that Matt Holliday sacrifice bunted? That would be 2004.

So Middlebrooks started off in a weird position and then he did not pick up the ball off the bat. Look at the replay and you will see there’s a clear instant of non-recognition before Middlebrooks sprung into action. Then he kind of fell over, as if trying to fall out of quick sand. The ball got under his glove, banged around in left field, and was a double. Two runs scored. The Red Sox compounded the awfulness by throwing home without a prayer of getting the runner, allowing Holliday to go to third.

I don’t think Buck or McCarver made any reference to Middlebrooks’ defensive sluggishness. It seems people don’t talk much about defense unless it’s something obvious — a great play or a terrible one. Middlebrooks’ play wasn’t either. It was simply a missed opportunity.

Anyway, back to the ninth inning action, Middlebrooks led off by striking out against Rosenthal. And then, Farrell made one of the oddest moves in World Series history. He let his relief pitcher, Brandon Workman, hit. It is not often that you see a manager make a move, especially in the World Series, that is inarguably stupid. Even the moves most people might disagree with — a shaky bunt decision, a questionable pitching change, an ill-timed intentional walk, whatever — will have its counterargument. But hitting Workman was one of those moves that has no counter. It was just a brain cramp by the guy who will probably win manager of the year. It’s hard to believe that somebody, anybody, didn’t stop him from doing it.

Farrell after the game admitted his mistake, but even in his admission he seemed to miss why the move was so awful. Farrell said his error was not double-switching Workman back in the seventh inning. Then, he could have put catcher David Ross in the game in the pitcher’s spot, and put Workman into Jarrod Saltalamacchia’s spot (Salty ended the eighth with a groundout). That, of course, is true and should have been done. Farrell missed the double-switch opportunity. That’s a clear manager’s error.

But he doubled down on that blunder in the ninth inning. He decided to hit Workman because, he said, he NEEDED Workman to pitch more than one inning. This was pure nonsense. Everyone in the entire world knew that as soon as Workman gave up a single or a walk or anything else to put a runner on base, he would get yanked and closer Koji Uehara would come into the game. So, Farrell absolutely DID NOT need Workman to go more than one inning, and had no intentional whatsoever to stay with him if he got into even the mildest trouble. Farrell batted Workman because he was not thinking clearly.

And, what’s worse, as you know, the Red Sox had one of the better hitters in baseball, Mike Napoli, just SITING ON THIS BENCH. Two innings earlier, Farrell proved willing to play havoc with his defense just to give Will Middlebrooks the puncher’s chance of hitting an unlikely home run. But in the ninth inning of the World Series, he hit his pitcher instead of Mike Napoli — still boggles the mind — and again his explanation was as baffling as the move. He said he wanted to hold Napoli back because he thought the game would get into extra innings and the pitcher’s spot might come again. This is just so bizarre you don’t even know what to say.

Workman struck out on three pitches, of course, and I suspect will never forget his first big league at-bat. Yeah, that’s right. His first big league at-bat. But that’s OK. He never got a minor-league at-bat either. This at-bat is legend now.

Jacoby Ellsbury grounded out to end the inning, and the evening and the morning and the first half of a disastrous inning.

The bottom half of the inning began with Workman striking out Matt Adams and then giving up a bloopy fly ball single to Yadier Molina. It’s not entirely clear where the outfield was playing Molina — Ellsbury seemed to start Springfield, Shane Victorino in St. Joe — but we just don’t have time to get into all the bizarreness of the inning. Of course, Koji Uehara came in right away, meaning Workman’s at-bat was traded for one out and one base runner. Cardinals manager Mike Matheny promptly pinch-hit Allen Craig rather than let Trevor Rosenthal hit — how novel — and on the first pitch Craig laced a double to left field. If the batter on first had been anyone not named Molina, he might have scored on that double. As it was, the Cardinals had runners on second and third, one out, and Jon Jay came to the plate.

I suspect that I don’t need to review my loathing, unadulterated loathing, for the intentional walk. And so it is with great regret that I say here: I cannot believe the Red Sox did not intentionally walk Jon Jay. If you are ever, ever going to use the intentional walk, this was it:

1. You set up the force play at the plate.
2. You set up a potential double play.
3. Instead of facing Jon Jay — a left-handed hitter with a career .300 batting average against righty pitchers — the Red Sox would face Pete Kozma, who can’t hit. The Cardinals had backed themselves into a corner by using up their entire bench. Kozma and his season-long .217/.275/.273 line — he has had one hit in the NLCS and World Series combined — was followed by Kolen Wong, a rookie who hit .153/.194/.169 this year.
4. The one significant disadvantage of loading the bases — that a walk or hit batsman would force in the winning run — was almost entirely muted by the fact the Koji Uehara was pitching. The man has not walked or hit a a single batter since August 3. Repeat: He has not walked or hit a batter since August 3.

I firmly believe the intentional walk should be discouraged with a harsher penalty, but this was clearly the time to use it.

Farrell, continuing his odd laissez-faire managing policy, let Uehara pitch to Jay.

And then: Mayhem. Jay hit a ground ball toward second, and Dustin Pedroia, playing almost up by the pitcher’s mound, made a superman diving play on it. He threw home to get Molina at the plate. It was a fantastic play that overruled the Farrell bizarreness and seemed, for only a second, to free the Red Sox from their fate. Then catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw wildly to third in a self-destructive attempt to get the double play on Allen Craig. As a high school football coach used to tell me, there were a lot of brain fuses popping.

The throw was a terrible decision AND it was an awful throw. Despite what the commercials might tell you, sometimes AND is not better. Middlebrooks on third — who certainly grasped that if the ball got by him, the Cardinals were going to win — did not come off the bag to try and prevent the ball from getting by. Again, like on the ground ball in the seventh, he seemed initially paralyzed. He seemed to have some vague illusion of catching the ball and tagging out Craig, but that wasn’t going to happen. He again dived at the last second, tumbling over Craig. The ball went out into left field. the game was over.

Or was it? Middlebrooks was lying on the ground and Craig still had to get around him. The two men tangled up. Craig fell and then finally headed home. Boston left fielder Daniel Nava chased down the ball, threw home and Salty laid the tag on the thoroughly beaten up Allen Craig.

But, no, it was right the first time. The game was already over. Third base umpire Jim Joyce had immediately ruled obstruction, meaning Craig was safe at home.

Of course, there was mass hysteria because nobody could ever remember a game ending on an obstruction call. At first, the eyes focused on Middlebrooks and his intentions — he lifted his back legs while on the ground, which seemed to thwart Craig’s efforts to run home, but had he done that on purpose? — but as it turns out, intent has nothing to do with the rule. Any blockage, accidental or on purpose, after the ball gets by on that throw is obstruction. The rule:

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.

Seems pretty simple. And in the comment it becomes even simpler:

“After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the ‘act of fielding.’ 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.”

It’s so rare that you have an actual “textbook call” that is covered specifically in the rulebook. But here’s one. Replace “ground ball” with “horrendous throw” and you have a perfect match. Joyce clearly made the right call. The anger by the Red Sox and fans, while understandable because it was such a freakish play, does not fit the moment. Once Salty made that throw, once Middlebrooks failed to stop it, the Cardinals won the game. The rest is praying for a bailout.

And that’s why the one complaint I’ve heard that stands above all the others is that the umpires should “Let the players decide.” The thinking is that umpires and officials should not interfere with the natural course of play. You hear this all the time in sports, all sports. It comes up whenever a foul is called in the final seconds of a basketball game, whenever a referee calls a penalty in a hockey overtime, whenever an official calls a holding penalty or something like it on the critical play in the final seconds. The whole “let the players decide” line of thought seems pretty suspect most of the time.

But in this case, it’s downright ridiculous. You will never see a game where the manager and players DECIDED more than this one. When Farrell decided to hit his pitcher, when he decided to leave Napoli on the bench to rot, when he decided to pitch to Jay, when Salty decided to throw to third, when Middlebrooks decided not to come off the bag and throw his body Secret Service style to stop the ball, the Red Sox decided to lose. And they did.

106 thoughts on “Let the players decide

  1. Ward

    “Repeat: He has not walked or bit a batter since August 3.” – Joe, might want to edit this sentence just a bit…. :)

    Reply
    1. Bryz

      Being in the base path only matters if Craig is avoiding a tag, according to Rule 7.08a(1). With no tag to avoid, he can run wherever he pleases. In this case, he chose the shortest path as he should have, and it just so happened that Middlebrooks lay in his path. You’re suggesting that Craig is supposed to step around him – taking a longer path to get to home plate – and risk getting thrown out, when there is no rule in the rule book that addresses his requirement to avoid the fielder.

      I guarantee that any runner, if he thinks he has a chance of scoring, is not going to waste his time seeking out the nearest fielder in the hopes that obstruction is going to be called. No, you get to the next base as fast as you possibly can. I think there is no reason to believe that Craig tripped over Middlebrooks on purpose for fear that obstruction ISN’T called.

      Reply
    2. cohnjusack

      Sigh. I keep hearing this over, and over, and over again. The “basepath” is three feet either side of the line with a straight line to home.

      Craig stood up, left leg first, which put him on the 2nd base side of third base pointed toward home. This happens on basically every single instance where a guy slide into third and then heads home after a bad throw.

      Reply
      1. cubanxsenators

        No, cohnjusack, the basepath has nothing to due with a physical line. The basepath is three feet on either side of the line from wherever the runner is to the base he is trying for at the time a play is being attempted on him. If no play is being attempted on him, a runner is definitionally in the dead center of the basepath.

        If no tag is being attempted (and none was here) Craig cannot be “out of the basepath.

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    3. Richard Aronson

      I am a Dodgers fan, so I’ve got no preference who wins. I watched the video of the play three times, all four angles. The camera looking straight down the left field line is definitive. Middlebrook is not in the base path, even with the three feet from the straight line (which extends onto the grass), if by Middlebrook you mean ONLY HIS HEAD. His knees and feet are clearly in the extension of the dirt. All of his legs are in the real basepath, and some of his torso. Anybody who argues he was not in the basepath is a Red Sox fan, not a baseball fan.

      Reply
  2. Lowell Thomson

    I’ve also got a big problem with the “Let the players decide” argument. First of all, does that mean the umpire SHOULD call that earlier in the game, but should NOT call it in the last inning? Really? I find it preposterous that a call can be correct during certain parts of a game but not others.

    Secondly, if we’re going to just let the players decide, than Middlebrooks should tangle his legs into Allen and simply keep him from going home, since the umpires can’t (shouldn’t, by some people’s logic) make the call. Or the defender should GRAB the guy with the ball about to score a layin to win the game, since the ref should swallow the whistle.

    No, the only way to let the players decide the game is to call the game the same way every second (or out) of the game. Period.

    Reply
    1. Michael Monk

      I always hated that also. And your examples are great. I also add the physical team vs the finesse team (I am a hockey fan also). Should, in the last 5 minutes of the game, the bigger/slower team be allowed to just grab the faster team?

      Reply
  3. jacobus

    Really great post Joe. As someone who enjoys baseball but isn’t super smart about it, it’s nice to see all the nuances I missed during the game last night.

    Reply
  4. Noam

    The umps say “runners establish their own baseline,” but doesn’t that refer to times when they’re rounding first on a double, etc? Not running straight from a stable position on a base home?

    In this case, I think this example helps: Imagine if you run from first to second on a fly ball, then realize it’s about to be caught, touch second, and start running back toward first. The fielder then ends up actually dropping the ball and you run back to second. You have to touch second before running to third. You can’t just skip the base, running in the dirt area next to second.

    After sliding into third, Craig fell backwards onto the second base side of third base. From there, he got up to run home. The obstruction happened in the dirt area constituting the hypotenuse from his location to home plate. If he had retouched third (as he needs to), and ran home on the baseline, there would have been no obstruction.

    So it seems to me that there were 2 major mistakes by the ump.

    1) There was no obstruction because the “obstruction” occurred out of the baseline. Runners can only be obstructed in the baseline.

    2) Craig should have been called out when he didn’t retouch third base before running home, given that he fell toward second base, invalidating the need to make the obstruction call in the first place. This would be like the runner in the first example who passed second, ran back, and then ran to third without retouch the base.

    Reply
    1. Robert

      You don’t have to retouch a bag that you weren’t rounding. The direction a player “fell” when scrambling back to beat a throw is irrelevant. Craig plainly didn’t have to touch 3rd again.

      Reply
    2. Dre

      That is a horrible, horrible analogy. A runner established his own baseline. He was heading home, not back to 2nd. After sliding into 3rd, he’s on the back inside corner of the base, facing the pitchers mound. Nobody, from that position, would then cross over their body (or do a spin move the other way??) to run in foul ground. He took the most direct path – parallel to the baseline, a few feet inside the base, exactly from where he started.

      Reply
      1. Noam

        So, it depends what you take as Craig’s starting point. When he is on third, the most direct path is the baseline. When he gets up on the second base side for some reason, he “establishes” a baseline that is obstructed when an unobstructed one remains. Here is the rule:

        Any runner is out when —
        (a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runners baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely; or (2) after touching first base, he leaves the baseline, obviously abandoning his effort to touch the next base;

        The question is, when does the “straight line” start? If it starts when he was on the base, then craig did NOT make an attempt to run straight home. If it started once he gets up, then he has a case. In the end though, it doesn’t seem that there should be obstruction called when the runner has a clear baseline to run on. Can a runner “establish” an obstructed baseline when an unobstructed one exists?

        Reply
        1. cubanxsenators

          The straight line constantly adjusts as the runner moves. The line only becomes fixed when a tag is being attempted.

          And you’re showing every sign of desperation logic, Noam.

          Reply
        2. Tom Ellis

          Noamnoamnoam…Watching the replay, over and over, and the man gets up straight from where he was, and made his way immediately towards home. He got up on the 2nd base side of 3rd, because that’s where his body was after sliding into 3rd. I have to agree with cubanxsenators: desperation logic.

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        3. Brett Alan

          Um, Noam, read it again. Under (a)(1), the runner is out when he runs out of the baseline TO AVOID A TAG. The baseline is established WHEN THE TAG ATTEMPT OCCURS. Since there was no tag attempt, Craig can not possibly be out under this clause. (Well, there was a tag attempt at the end of the play, at home, but that’s irrelevant since the obstruction had already been called, and anyway I don’t think anyone things Craig ran out of the baseline then.) Under (20, he would have to obviously abandon his effort to reach the next base (basically, he’d have to head back to the dugout), which clearly didn’t happen.

          So this rule does not support your point in the least.

          Reply
    3. Richard Aronson

      Another obvious Red Sox fan. Craig is still recovering from a leg injury, and his slide and recovery were awkward (and his speed reduced). He did not run towards second. He used the leverage of the base to help him get up. He took zero steps towards second, he just stood up (and his foot was still on the bag). Once he saw the ball got by Middlebrooks, his obvious intention was to run home. He didn’t look at second. His first step was towards home. You’re just making stuff up here.

      Reply
      1. Noam

        Guys, really no need to get nasty here. The rule says that a fielder can’t impede the progress of a runner. Given that the baseline was clear, can we say Craig was impeded? Craig had a perfectly clear line to go from third to home, but chose to run over Middlebrooks instead. Yes, he was *physically* impeded, but he there was no complete impediment that stopped him from running the “straight line” from third to home.

        This isn’t desperation logic. I can’t think of another time in which a runner chose to establish an obstructed baseline when an unobstructed one exists. I’m just asking the question of whether this can count as obstruction when an unobstructed baseline remains available.

        Reply
        1. Noam

          Yes, he didn’t run toward second, but he also did not get up on the direct “straight line” from third to home. That line was always completely clear.

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        2. Karyn Ellis

          From where Craig was when he came out of his slide, heading home took him right over Middlebrook’s rump. The runner is not obligated to avoid the fielder when there’s no play on the ball. The line to the plate was Craig’s, and he does not have to cede it to a fielder.

          Reply
        3. Robert

          “I’m just asking the question of whether this can count as obstruction when an unobstructed baseline remains available.”

          The answer is, obviously…yes. There is no such thing as a baseline without a tag attempt, which is a point that you seem to be missing. When Craig breaks for home, from wherever he is, he is entitled to that line, unobstructed, regardless of intent.

          The call was easy and correct.

          Reply
  5. Matt Tierney

    Sox fan here, and this is an absolutely perfect summation of everything that went wrong for the Sox last night.

    Lost here and everywhere else is the crystal clear case Nava made for why he should be playing over Gomes, and why Farrell is a fool for deciding otherwise. Nava and Ross need to be in the lineup the rest of the way. Live with Drew’s bat in favor of his glove, but Salty is giving the team neither.

    Reply
  6. JeffSkid

    I foresee a rule change coming – Unintentional Obstruction – the runner returns to the last base occupied and play resumes – intentional or unintentional becomes the umps judgement, and will be reviewable via replay next year..

    Reply
    1. cohnjusack

      So….the Cardinals shouldn’t have scored that run because Middlebrooks “didn’t mean to” fall over in the basepaths and trip the runner? How is that the Cardinals fault and why should they be punished for it? Basically, you reward the Red Sox for Middlebrooks not coming off the bag to field the bad throw.

      Reply
    2. Wilbur

      What need is there for a rule change? This has been the rule since I started playing, over 50 years ago. There’s nothing unfair about it.

      Reply
    3. Jon Midget (@YuccaManHoops)

      @JeffSkid Making the rule independent of intent is a huge part of the point. Otherwise the umpire has to somehow intuit what a player meant to do.

      Imagine how many SS’s will just fall down and block the runner from going to third if the catcher makes a bad throw on a base-stealing attempt … and then argue: “Hey! I was just trying to catch the ball and then get up. I didn’t TRY to block his path.”

      The power of the rule is that intent doesn’t matter. It makes it so much cleaner to officiate.

      Reply
    4. Jon Midget (@YuccaManHoops)

      Additionally, think of a line drive hitting the base runner. He’s out.

      It doesn’t matter whether he tried to run into the ball or not. It doesn’t matter whether he had time to get out of the way or not. He’s simply out. Same kind of deal here.

      Reply
    5. JeffSkid

      agree with all – that a rule change is not necessarily needed, but it always seems that MLB reacts to these instances – also agree that if my foreseeable rule were applied the cardinals would have been punished and more arguments would ensue – I’m a Card’s fan and glad I am on this side of the argument

      Reply
    6. Richard Aronson

      I see no need for a rule change. Middlebrooks makes millions of dollars a year and he should learns the rules and know two things in that situation. First, he must stop that throw and come to the ball. Why didn’t he? It’s not a force play, it’s a tag. Second, if he impedes the runner, it’s obstruction, so he’s better off not diving for the ball. Finally, your proposal turns a fairly easy umpire judgement (was there contact? did it obstruct?) into a very hard one that involves mind reading (did Middlebrooks deliberately raise his legs? nobody lifts their feet off the ground when trying to get up?). I’d bet a week’s wages that if the Red Sox had won on the obstruction rule, you’d be fine with it.

      Reply
    7. KHAZAD

      That’s silly. I was rooting for the Red Sox in this game, but he got in his way on purpose. His legs came up with momentum, he put them back down, and then he stuck them straight up when he realized the runner was there. It was a good call.

      The Sox lost the game due to bad managerial decisions, and a catcher who got caught up in the moment and tried to make an impossible and unnecessary play when he should have eaten the ball.

      Reply
    8. adam

      I don’t. Baseball doesn’t have do-overs. Never has and probably never will.

      The other thing baseball almost never does is change its rules.

      Reply
  7. Paul Hamann

    Joe,

    Baseball fan and high school basketball official here. THANK YOU for slaughtering this ridiculous canard.

    Saying “The call was right, but it shouldn’t be made with the game on the line” is the same as saying “In important situations, officials should get it wrong on purpose.” I cannot believe anyone with a sense of justice would believe that.”

    Reply
  8. oira61

    The Red Sox obstructed two runners in the same inning in 2003, Game 3 of the ALDS against Oakland, 6th inning. Eric Byrnes was blocked off the plate by Jason Varitek without the ball, and Miguel Tejada was blocked in the third-base line by Bill Mueller. The umpires didn’t call either one, both runners were out, and the A’s lost that game in extra innings.

    Glad to see the umps get one right, even if it took them 10 years.

    Reply
  9. troywestfield

    Yes, OK, you can be sure we Sox fans hate everything you said we should hate. But the call wasn’t nothing. If nothing else, it is a stupid rule correctly applied; what is Middlebrooks supposed to do there? You fall and a runner runs into you, you’re guilty of obstruction?

    Reply
      1. cubanxsenators

        Middlebrooks’ best option is to catch the ball. If he has the ball he can stand anywhere. And the throw was catchable, just very difficult to catch if you’re intent on remaining in contact with 3rd base.

        Given he knows he cannot, his best option would be to let it go and hope Nava backs the play up (which he did well – I’ve heard no one praise this). If an obstruction call (and a loss) is certain, that’s the only option, right?

        But the ump in their press conference indicated it was not automatic, that because no play was being made at the time of the obstruction, it is purely umpire discretion in assessing what would have been the most likely result and imposing that interpretation.

        Reply
        1. Greg

          In the official Rules of baseball it is obstruction…the remaining question then is on an AWARDING OF A BASE(S)….if in the UMPIRES JUDGEMENT the runner would have scored had it not been for the obstruction then the award to the runner would be home plate in this case…it would have looked better if the umpires had conferred in my opinion…even if the result did not change……If you want to have a real discussion about this with your friends get a copy of Childress’s Baseball Rules Differences and read the sections on the definition (35?) and on the rule (365?) concerning obstruction….there you will find the information on the only two obstruction calls made in the playoffs since 2002….one of them was where Nomar Garciaparra missed a tough chance and the runner from first ran into the third baseman..obstruction (type B2 – live ball) was called and the runner continued toward the plate where Jason Varitek (by then holding the ball) tagged the runner who was called out because in the umpires judgement he could not have made it to home even without obstruction..the philosophy of major lg. baseball was (and guess it still is) to not award the forward base unless the umpires are absolutely certain that the runner could have scored – they always protect him in returning to the last base touched of course….so, in summary, IF the decision by Joyce was that the runner would have made it home but for the obstruction then the call is 100% right and it makes no difference in this case that the throw beat him there……I won’t run the video to see if Joyce looked to see where the ball was when the obstruction occurred but it is proper mechanics for umpires to watch the ball and glance at the runner so I am sure he did so and used his BEST JUDGEMENT (nobody on TV will explain that to you either)…

          Reply
    1. Richard Aronson

      Middlebrooks is supposed to know the rules that affect his playing his position for which he is very well paid. He is supposed to EITHER come off the bag earlier (as Joe said) to catch the ball on a non-force play, or stay on his feet and get out of Craig’s way. He’s allowed to block Craig while he is going for the ball, but if he lets the ball get past him,he risks being guilty of obstruction. The rule is that clear to prevent umpires from having to read minds; was it intentional or not?

      Reply
  10. Xeifrank

    This is another reason why I do not like the DH rule. AL manager (Farrell) have trouble managing a game where quick thinking under pressure is involved. There is a lot more strategy involved in an NL rules game and the Boston manager botched most of his moves last night.

    Reply
    1. Bonder

      This is totally stupid. This is like saying we should get rid of the Pitcher because one time a pitcher failed horribly at his attempt to get men out while he was on the mound. If Farrell can’t make good decisions that’s his fault, not the rules. Further, if your argument were true we would see some discrepancy in World Series results no? Where all the “better” NL managers would be able to use their strategy to beat the opposing AL managers?

      The illusion of “strategy” involved in trying NOT to have your pitcher bat is silly. The rule creates a situation where managers are forced throughout the game to try desperately to avoid the black hole of pitcher batting. That’s not strategy.

      Reply
    2. adam

      This will sound more snarky than I mean it, but quick thinking is needed? Have you seen how long it takes just for one at-bat these days?

      Reply
  11. 18thstreet

    It’s gone without notice so far, but Joe made an important point about Joe Buck and Tim McCarver: they don’t know what they’re talking about.

    Middlebrooks comes into the game and they say he’s a good defender. If you’re a casual fan, or a normal human being, you believe them. If you’re a relatively informed fan, you think, “He must have few errors.” If you’re a very informed fan, you’re stuck loading up fangraphs.com to look up advanced defensive metrics because, by now, you know that the number one broadcasting team for the World Expletive Series doesn’t know anything.

    Reply
    1. Bill White

      I didn’t hear Buck and McCarver’s drivel because I turn down the sound on them as a matter of course. ESPN radio has Dan Shulman and Orel Hershiser, who are informative and fairly insightful announcers.

      Reply
      1. Richard Aronson

        I had a chance to hear Shulman and Hershiser during the NLCS when the signal from Bakersfield puttered out. Hershiser has kind of an annoying voice. But man, does he know his stuff. One sequence I recall involved the Cardinals’ pitcher (Wacha?) on his second at bat of the game. The first at bat was a warning drive out, so Hershiser predicted he would not just see fastballs. First one, breaking ball off the plate. Hershiser says the same rules apply 1-0. Another breaking ball, 2-0. Hershiser says, at 2-0 it’s an automatic take. Fast ball down the middle, taken for strike one. On 2-1, Hershiser says he’ll have the green light on this one. Swing and a foul into the stands. A fan with a glove tries to catch the ball, drops it, and it falls to a lower level. Without missing a beat, Hershiser says, “I can’t call everything.”

        Hershiser was not good enough to make me switch over from Vin Scully, but he was good enough to make me switch from Charlie Steiner (or, more fairly, Rick Monday).

        Reply
  12. expat

    How does this call relate to the normal place that you see this kind of play? A runner is sliding into second (usually on a steal attemp), the ball skips past the fielder, but the fielder falls over the runner and keeps them from moving to third. According the the explicit language, isn’t this also obstruction? I’ve never seen it called however.

    Agree with Joe’s point, the umpire doesn’t decide the game by making a correct call. The players decided it by making the play they made. The basketball equivalent is don’t foul if you don’t want a foul called in the last 3 seconds.

    Reply
    1. Mark Daniel

      Good point on the SB at 2nd. I’ve seen obstruction called, however my recollection is that it is more overt than last night’s game, such as the fielder obviously tying himself up with the runner.

      Reply
      1. Richard Aronson

        I have seen obstruction called in that situation. The difference there is if the attempt to catch the ball creates the contact. If Middlebrooks had jumped into Craig while trying to catch the ball (not a pleasant option; Craig’s BIG) obstruction might not have been called.

        Reply
  13. Bob Lince

    Notice the language of the rulebook “comment” to the obstruction rule: “…he very likely has obstructed the runner.”

    That doesn’t say the fielder “has” obstructed; it says maybe he has and maybe he hasn’t.

    So, what would constitute, “he hasn’t?”

    Reply
    1. wordyduke

      Hmmm. Trying to decide if I should wait until 4:05 pm to make my reply (it’s only 12:35 EDT here in Ohio).

      One supposes that what the umpire (or umpires, if a conference is needed) see actually happening in this particular play would determine whether obstruction has occurred.

      (Joe, it is amazing how quickly you put up so clear and spot-on an analysis.)

      Reply
    2. Anon21

      Maybe if the runner attained any base he would have done in the absence of the contact in the umpire’s judgment. Although perhaps that’s still obstruction, but there is no remedy necessary.

      Reply
      1. Richard Aronson

        There is some judgement. Tom Verducci wrote a detailed article on this play, and some elements of the judgement are: did the runner continue directly to the next base (Craig did); was the contact enough to impede him (it was); did the obstruction matter (in this case, the home plate umpire makes that call, and yes, it did). If Nava had been charging hard all the while to back up the play, and fielded the overthrow 50 feet closer and thrown Craig out by 30 feet instead of five, then the obstruction would not have mattered. In the Tejada example cited above, the reason obstruction was not called was because Tejada did not run hard, so his lack of effort was why they ruled no obstruction.

        Reply
  14. cubanxsenators

    My wondering, and I haven’t seen a discussion anywhere is: what constitutes “a play being made on the obstructed runner”, i.e. how does the ump determine whether to invoke part (a) of the rule or part (b)?

    Is it strictly at the millisecond of obstruction?

    Is a “play” strictly a tag?

    The last time a game ended this way Joe West (I know, invoking Joe West might not be the best evidence) seemed to rule a “play” was being made when an OF threw toward home with a runner on 3rd obstructed. He waved the ball dead and game over before the ball was over the infield.

    Reply
  15. Rick

    Of course the fielder’s intent does not matter. That is in the rules. But doesn’t the runner’s intent matter? Don’t the umpires have to consider the runner’s intent as to whether he purposely ran into the fielder to determine if he interefered with the fielder or abadoned his pursuit of the next base?

    Reply
    1. Richard

      Except that it would be stupid for the runner to intentionally trip. If Craig hadn’t tripped,he would have beaten the throw easily. In any case, no, the intent of the runner doesn’t matter; if the umpire judges that the runner would have been safe if he hadn’t been obstructed, he’s awarded the base.

      This is why obstruction was no called on Tejada in the previous series; he stopped running so would not have been safe even with no obstruction.

      Here’s another comment from fangraphs:
      On another blog, a commentator said this, which I think is absolutely correct: “The rule is a corrective. Neither the fielder nor his team is punished for the obstruction. The umpire merely awards the base that the runner would have reached safely but for the obstruction.” That is why I think Dave is just dead wrong here. The runner is supposed to be able to run unimpeded by a fielder who neither has the ball nor is in the act of fielding the ball, period. If he is is impeded in any way by a fielder, he is supposed to be awarded the base. That this happened to decide a World Series game is not just irrelevant, it’s what the rule is supposed to make happen. If obstruction is not called, Craig is out at the plate when he quite clearly would have been safe had it not been called. That would have been a wrong result in the third inning of a Mariner-Astros game in April and it would have been the wrong result here.

      Reply
      1. smlyc (@smlyc)

        Beautifully put. Another reason this particular runner on this particular night would not have intentionally tripped – besides the the would easily have scored otherwise, which is plenty – is that he is injured in the foot, and people with foot injuries do not go looking for opportunities to entangle and put unusual painful stresses on said foot (by tripping and scrambling), as he visibly did in this instance.

        Reply
  16. Mark Daniel

    As soon as Workman batted in the 9th, prompting me to say, “What the f$&&k?”, I knew the game was over. The baseball gods don’t bail teams out when a blunder like that is made in the World Series.

    Reply
  17. Karyn Ellis

    This reminds me of an NBA play I saw a couple years ago. I think it was Jason Kidd bringing the ball up. The opposing coach had stepped on to the court (as coaches sometimes do) to shout instructions to his team setting up the defense. Kidd saw this, and purposely ran into the coach. Some people thought this was cheap, as he’d gone out of his way to collide with the coach. Others saw it as opportunistic, and smart basketball.

    Reply
    1. Beezbo

      I remember that game too. Funny that Kidd went on to play for Woodson in NY. What’s not funny is, as a Hawks fan, Atlanta blew that game and Kidd’s heads up play was the main catalyst for the collapse.

      Reply
  18. MisterMJ

    Nice, thorough breakdown. These games are great because they spit in the face of every manufactured “narrative” that is conjured up pre-game: Middlebrooks is a “good” 3B and should be in the line-up; Martinez and Rosenthal are “untouchable” (and so young!); Uehara is “untouchable” (for what it’s worth, he’s responsible for giving up two game-winning hit during the postseason – to TB and last night); Salty is a “gamer”; Farrell is a “great” manager; etc.

    As for Napoli, I’m pretty sure Farrell was waiting for the moment when he thought the guy would must succeed. Something like later in the game, runner in scoring position, not against Rosenthal, etc. Typical old-school manager mentality.

    Reply
  19. Matt Janik

    Commenting only to admit that when I read the title to this post, I was deathly afraid Joe was going to argue against the call. I should have had a little more faith than that; he’s way too smart to get sucked into that nonsense and, once again, reminded me with some fine writing. Clearly the correct call there, clearly a fantastic essay about the whole game here.

    Reply
  20. Ed

    I was rooting against the Red Sox since they beat my Tigers. I was unsure of how to feel about this loss and you have helped me accept the call as correct so I can now enjoy it. Thank you!

    Reply
    1. Persimmon

      I’m a Tigers fan, too, but I can’t get over the fact that noted call-blower Jim Joyce got his nose in the middle of history once again. I know I’d be pissed as hell if he did that to the Tigers.

      Reply
  21. Michael Green

    I wonder whether anybody remembers Larry Barnett. He ruled obstruction in Game 3 of the 1975 World Series involving Carlton Fisk and Ed Armbrister, and he wound up getting death threats that he blamed–wrongly, I feel–on Curt Gowdy and Tony Kubek. The death threats came from people who don’t understand or want to understand baseball’s rules, and would rather spout off about umpires than blame the failings of their own players and themselves.

    So, thanks to Joe for a beautifully reasoned analysis of last night’s game. Jim Joyce made indisputably the right call, and the Red Sox, from the manager down, should be ashamed of their performance last night on the field. That does not mean they were excessive about the umpires, although they have said stupid things. They have a long way to go to top … the St. Louis Cardinals, who, for their behavior after the Don Denkinger call in 1985 and especially the next night, should have lost Whitey Herzog and Joaquin Andujar to suspension for at least the first month of the 1986 season.

    Reply
  22. Cathead

    Several points – some might have been made in earlier posts. 1. Craig also made a baserunning error on the play – why was he so late getting to third? 2. Even after Joyce called interference, Craig getting credited with a run was not automatic.. The plate ump must rule that it had an impact on the result of the play. If Craig falls down halfway home, he will get called out. 3. Every Series has a defining play – we now have it for 2013. 4. The overall play of this series has been sloppy. Fielding errors, basernning errors, managerial errors. I exected much bette, but it’s been entertaining.

    Reply
  23. Chip S.

    As pointed out by expat @3:57, this sort of play happens frequently on stolen base attempts and is rarely, if ever, called. Just like the “neighborhood play,” They’re examples of the significant differences between the rules as they are written and the way they are actually enforced.

    Here’s another instance of that from last night’s game: Rule 6.08(b)(1), which states…

    The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when –
    ((b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;

    Why was that rule not invoked when Carlos Beltran failed to make any attempt to avoid having his elbow armor grazed by a Breslow pitch? Because it’s a rule that’s never enforced to the letter of the law. It’s only invoked if a batter’s attempt to get hit is blatant. If DeMuth had called that pitch a ball instead of a HBP, Matheny, his team, and his team’s fans would’ve been outraged. And it had a direct bearing on the outcome of the game.

    Look, Joe, the umpires’ decision is obviously defensible because it’s a letter-of-the-law ruling. That doesn’t mean that it’s consistent with the normal application of those rules.

    I think Jim Joyce’s initial take on the play was that Middlebrooks flagrantly tripped Craig. I think the replays show otherwise–that Craig and his bad wheels stumbled into Middlebrooks. If there were a replay review, I think Craig would’ve been awarded 3d base and the game would’ve gone on.

    I’m not faulting Joyce for a split-second decision, but I also disagree that this is an obvious, open-and-shut case.

    A more interesting story line would be the uncanny resemblance of this series so far to 1975.

    Reply
    1. Richard Aronson

      I have seen the no attempt to dodge rule invoked, most famously in helping Don Drysdale set his scoreless inning streak when Dick Dietz let a ball hit him with the bases loaded. The rule in this case, as I’ve said above, is clear: it doesn’t matter whether Craig’s contact with Middlebrooks is incidental or not, because that makes umpires mind readers. It does matter that it happened (clear), that it impeded Craig (clear), that it mattered (clear), that it was in the base path (clear), and that it happened when Middlebrooks neither had the ball nor was trying to catch the ball (clear). The rule makes judgments obvious, as opposed to (say) the Tuck Rule in football.

      Reply
      1. Chip S.

        I’m no authority on these things, but I’m pretty sure that your ability to find one instance of the attempt-to-avoid rule being invoked, which you yourself attribute to something other than normal considerations, substantiates my point.

        As I already said, quoting chapter and verse misses the point totally.

        Reply
  24. BeninDSM

    When I saw a world series game had ended on this play it made my day. Perhaps I won’t need to explain the difference between obstruction and interference as frequently next season! Huge Pet Peeve as an umpire.

    P.S. Pretty irrelevant in this case but the basepath is established as a straight line from the location of the runner when a play is attempted against him to the next base. Generally accepted to be about 6 feet wide though it’s a judgment call. If Craig wanted to high 5 the camera pit before proceeding home he could have and when the ball eventually caught up with him he could not have left the baseline until a play was attempted against him. The baseline would be wherever he was.

    Reply
    1. Richard Aronson

      AND,if Craig had high fived the camera crew on the way home, he’d have been out, because in that case it would be Craig’s mental error rather than the obstruction that meant he didn’t beat the throw.

      Reply
  25. brendt

    OK, those of you who have the rulebook memorized can address this better than I. But isn’t there some kind of rule — like somewhere about page 2 in the rulebook — that you aren’t safe if you never touch the frickin’ base/plate? Even several seconds after DeMuth called him “safe”, Craig still had never touched the plate. Sure, they got an obscure rule right, but EPIC FAILED on the basics.

    Reply
    1. Mark Daniel

      I don’t know, is there any scenario where Craig would have been out given that he was awarded the base? By rule he’s safe no matter what, right?

      Reply
      1. brendt

        No, he’s not safe no matter what.

        If you watch the presser of the umps’ defense of their call (http://atmlb.com/1ddFcuP), Hirschbeck explains that Demuth’s call can become subjective under different circumstances: “If what you saw happened and [the runner is] out by 20 feet, then the umpire determines that, if the obstruction had not occured, he would’ve been out. But since it was there, a bang-bang play, obviously that’s obstruction – [the obstruction] definitely had something to do with the play.”

        And so Demuth did the right thing by watching the play at the plate before making his call. If Craig had been immediately awarded the plate because of the obstruction call, Demuth could have turned around and gone back to the hotel right after Jim Joyce raised his hand.

        If a player hits a walk-off HR, he doesn’t round the bases, carefully touching all the bags, because it’s good theater. He does it because he HAS to.

        The rule (basic as it is) is still the same, regardless of the level of play. Think back to that college softball game a few years ago when a girl hit a walk-off and then tore her ACL (or something like that) rounding first. The umpires were very clear with her manager that if she didn’t touch ‘em all, her run wouldn’t count (nor could her teammates help in any way). Then a couple of defensive players created a FaceyPlace viral sensation by carrying the runner around the bases so that the run counted (and they lost). College umps got it right; Dana DeMuth got it wrong.

        Reply
        1. Mark Daniel

          Okay, so Saltalamacchia should have tagged Craig as soon as the confusion began, then appealed the play. Do you think, then, that would have been an out?

          Reply
          1. brendt

            Two thoughts:

            (1) By the rule book, yes, it would definitely be an out. By reality, no, it would not be an out, as Demuth would never admit his mistake and (unlike that horrible 2B call in Game 1) there was no ump with a good enough view to convince him that he had called it wrong.

            (2) Unless Craig touched the plate after the cameras were pointed there, the moment that he left the basepath (to head for the dugout) he was out — where Salty tagged him or not.

          2. Mark Daniel

            Looking at the replay again, after Craig misses home, Saltalamacchia inadvertently steps on home. I think that means the runner is out, and therefore the umps did blow the call.

          3. brendt

            It wasn’t a force, so that’s probably not the case. However, a friend of mine who is an umpire just quoted me chapter and verse of the rulebook that seems to imply that Craig SHOULD have been awarded home automatically, DeMuth should have just gone to get a beer as soon as Joyce raised his hand, and Hirschbeck is an idiot who doesn’t even know the rules (and didn’t bother to check them before the presser).

          4. Mark Daniel

            It wasn’t a force play, but from rule 7.04: NOTE: When a runner is entitled to a base without liability to be put out, while the ball is in play, or under any rule in which the ball is in play after the runner reaches the base to which he is entitled, and the runner fails to touch the base to which he is entitled before attempting to advance to the next base, the runner shall forfeit his exemption from liability to be put out, and he may be put out by tagging the base or by tagging the runner before he returns to the missed base.

            That’s exactly what happened in game 3. Saltalamacchia stepped on home plate after Craig missed home. He was out, and the umps missed it. Granted, the Red Sox should have brought this up, but still.

          5. adam

            Rule 7.04 doesn’t apply. It’s about advancing to the next base after the one awarded due to the obstruction call. Basically it’s saying you have to touch that base before heading to the next base. There was no next base in this case.

            There still could be some other rule that applies, though I read somewhere that Craig did touch the plate at some point after the play.

            In any case, the end result is both the correct and just call. The obstruction rule is designed so that fielders actually have to throw/tag the runners out, as opposed to stopping them by physically impeding progress. In this play they physically impeded his progress, and he would have scored if they hadn’t, so he should be awarded home plate. Simple as that.

            TL;DR: When there’s a runner on third and you throw the ball into left field, he is going to score, and you can’t use the rule book as a crutch to avoid it.

          6. Mark Daniel

            Adam, 7.04 doesn’t apply? How about 7.08?
            “Any runner is out when – (k) In running or sliding for home base, he fails to touch home base and makes no attempt to return to the base, when a fielder holds the ball in his hand, while touching home base, and appeals to the umpire for the decision. This rule applies only where runner is on his way to the bench and the catcher would be required to chase him. It does not apply to the ordinary play where the runner misses the plate and then immediately makes an effort to touch the plate before being tagged. In that case, runner must be tagged.”

            As such, the end result is correct and just but only because the Red Sox didn’t formally appeal the missed base. If they had, Craig should have been called out.

            I only bring this up because it’s interesting, not because I’m making excuses for anybody. Since we were discussing the details of the rule (in baseline/out of baseline, intent/no intent, etc), this seemed appropriate.

  26. Herb Smith

    Sometimes, I forget how good a writer Joe is. This piece takes a monumentally confusing situation and totally clarifies it. To add to that, he adds wit, history, and a “voice of the fan” (yes, I was one of the many trying to decipher Farrell’s brian-dead strategies, and thinking to myself, “Well, perhaps I’m just missing something.”)

    Farrell showed idiocy, or perhaps just carelessness. Joyce showed intelligence and balls.
    The Cards are my least-favorite team, and I hated to see them win, but it was entirely fair and deserved.

    Thanks, Joe, for pointing that out.

    Reply
  27. KHAZAD

    It is always a pleasure to realize, when watching the post season, that the managers of successful teams make some of the same inexplicable decisions as the one who drives you crazy on your own team.

    Reply
    1. KHAZAD

      The article speaks alot about intention and ignores the fact that the guy lifted his legs intentionally. In the NFL it would be tripping. 9 times out of 10, he gets away with that, and the game goes on. This time, there was an umpire there that made a great call.

      Reply
      1. brendt

        1) The article, does indeed, speak a lot about intention, thereby obscuring the author’s actual point that the rulebook says “very likely”. Don’t let poor writing skills (or perhaps padding of word count) on Miller’s part distract you from the fact that the rule is not nearly as cut-and-dried as people are making it out to be.

        2) Unless you’re God or Middlebrooks, you have absolutely no knowledge that he “lifted his legs intentionally”. Let’s keep this in the realm of the non-ludicrous, shall we?

        Reply
  28. Mickey

    All this talk about the World Series obscures the more important issue: how annoying those “and is better than or” car commercials are. You need to write that article that is bubbling inside you.

    Reply
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