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More on Rule 7.06, Obstruction

Oct 27, 2013, 12:55 AM EDT

The Cardinals just won Game 3 of the World Series on an obstruction call by third base umpire Jim Joyce. You can read how the play went down in the recap right here or watch this video:

This post will deal with the intricacies of the rule for those of you who may find the jargon used in MLB’s official rules confusing. The official definition:

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.

As you can see in the video above, Middlebrooks was clearly “in the act of fielding a ball” as he was attempting to retrieve an errant throw by catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia, but that’s not the part in the timeline that matters. When Craig attempts to run home, the ball had already skipped past the dirt of the infield towards the left field stands. Middlebrooks was no longer “in the act of fielding”.

The next objection many have to the call is the intent of Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks. Intent does not matter. Middlebrooks prevented Craig from attempting to run home, and that’s all that matters. It is patently obvious Middlebrooks did not mean to get involved in a collision, but it does not make a difference.

Another objection deals with the baseline. Rule 7.08 states that “a runner’s 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.” As you can see in the following picture tweeted by MLB’s official Twitter account…

… they were to the right of the third base line but the baseline starts at the spot of the collision. From there, draw a straight line home, as Craig had already reached third base safely. That is the baseline. From there, Craig ran in a straight line home. He did not venture out of the baseline.

As for the rest of the play, Rule 7.06(b) states:*

(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.

Craig was tagged at home, but because of the obstruction, the umpire used his judgment to determine if he would have been safe absent the obstruction. Here, because Craig was running hard home, the umpire ruled — correctly, all video evidence suggests — that Craig would have been safe absent the obstruction.

Ultimately, third base umpire Jim Joyce made the correct call. It will be hotly debated, but all the evidence seems to support Joyce here.

How often does obstruction happen? According to an unofficial look by Baseball Reference, obstruction has been called twice in the post-season: in Game 4 of the 1986 NLCS between the Mets and Astros and in Game 3 of the 2003 ALDS between the Athletics and Red Sox. They found one game that ended on an obstruction call: a 2-1 victory by the Devil Rays over the Mariners on August 6, 2004.

*An earlier draft of this post cited Rule 7.08(a), which automatically awards a player a base for situations in which a play is being made on an obstructed runner. Since Middlebrooks did not have the ball and was not making a play, Rule 7.08(b) applies. We apologize for the error and any confusion it may have caused.

  1. bobsnygiants - Oct 27, 2013 at 8:34 AM

    he had money on the game

    • nbjays - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:58 AM

      I wish I had money on you making a stupid comment.

  2. matt14gg - Oct 27, 2013 at 8:45 AM

    Not sure why we are referencing Rule 7.06. The relevant rule is actually Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment. We already know “obstruction” allows the runner a free base, but what is important is what constitutes “obstruction”. There’s a lot that is subject to interpretation and judgement here, and it seems a shame that Jim Joyce would claim Craig was “on the chalk” when that is demonstrably false, but clearly this play could be “judged” as obstruction. Right call.

  3. fnf417 - Oct 27, 2013 at 8:49 AM

    Man there is a lot of crying about this call and I’m not a fan of either team…

  4. Anoesis - Oct 27, 2013 at 10:21 AM

    Didn’t see the game, but watched the replay and read the article and the comments. The only thing I can say is that the rule for obstruction needs to be changed. After Middlebrooks missed the throw from the plate what was he supposed to do? Just vanish into thin air so Craig could go straight home?

    Any rule that penalizes the fielder for a) attempting to field a throw and then b) for not immediately rising and actually obstructing the runner isn’t a well-written rule. MIddlebrooks appeared to stay on the ground in order to not rise up directly in Craig’s path, but was still called for obstruction. I guess his only choice was to just let the throw sail on by and I’m sure no one would have crucified him for that.

    It sure looked like Craig suddenly became a non-athlete with that stumbling attempt to go over Middlebrooks. I’ve seen drunks hop over a foot-high obstacle with better coordination.

    Disclosure: Definitely not a fan of either team.

    • nbjays - Oct 27, 2013 at 11:00 AM

      If you are staying on the ground in order to stay out of the runner’s way, you don’t lift your lower legs into his way – twice.

      • gdunkling - Oct 27, 2013 at 2:05 PM

        At what point would the umpires feel the baserunner was out of the “chaulk line”…2 feet, 3 feet, maybe 4 feet? Could somebody tell explain this? The runner in fact touched the infield grass when running to home plate. Does this factor into an interference call? Should it?

    • forsch31 - Oct 27, 2013 at 11:48 AM

      Craig’s running on an injured foot, and he aggravated it on the play, which is why he didn’t get up right away after he slid into home plate and he was limping badly after he did get up.

    • alan3008 - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:11 PM

      Here’s a clue: Middlebrooks should not have put himself in a position where he could potentially obstruct the runner. He did. He obstructed the runner. The runner advances automatically. Boston loses. Suck it up Boston. Live up to you new, overused slogan: Boston Strong.
      Also, Anoesis, if they change the rule, then players are going to intentionally obstruct players and act like it was unintentional, and that would be bad for the game.

      • gdunkling - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:43 PM

        The fielder is suppose to just stand there and watch the runner advance? Infielders should have the right o do there job as well. Oh, by the way, Middlebrooks was well to the infield side of the running path, as was the runner.

      • bigharold - Oct 27, 2013 at 2:15 PM

        “The fielder is suppose to just stand there and watch the runner advance?”

        No, he’s suppose to stay out of the way and watch the runner advance. This isn’t football or hockey. No blocking or checking allowed.

        “Middlebrooks was well to the infield side of the running path, as was the runner.”

        His feet weren’t. Middlebrooks’ actions clearly was obstruction. On the other hand I don’t think, all things considered, it was possible for him to avoid obstruction. I certainly don’t see enough evidence to suggest it was intentional. But, intent for this ruling is irrelevant so it doesn’t matter.

        This game was lost because of Pedroia. If he hadn’t made such a spectacular play, throwing out the runner at the plate so quickly, Saltalamacchia wouldn’t have had the opportunity to make such a poor throw to 3B.

        Damn you Dustin Pedroia!!

  5. alan3008 - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:13 PM

    Good call by the umpires. They got it right.

    • gdunkling - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:22 PM

      Nope, Craig was two feet INSIDE (field side) of the base line. (Look at photo above.)

  6. acsauber - Oct 27, 2013 at 12:26 PM

    This is what’s takes away from baseball. Obtuse rules that don’t consider intent or the spirit of the game. I’m a Yankee fan and am dismayed that any team, including the Sox would lose a game on this crazy rule. One could argue that my 10 year old could run better than Craig. Even without the obstruction, I seriously doubt he beats the tag. Sad day for the World Series.

  7. gdunkling - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:06 PM

    Setting aside last nights call (whether it was correct or not), how about changing this rule to make it clear that both a infielder and base runner have rights to the field. In this case, Middlebrooks was not in what most would describe as the baseline (he was in fact a foot or more on the infield side of play), and the runner had plenty of room to run, unobstructed, to home base had he elected to pursue this path to home plate. One player (the runner) should not be entitled to an empty field upon which to run to home base. The rule could be adjusted slightly to make this clear and offer umpires greater discretion.

  8. gdunkling - Oct 27, 2013 at 1:21 PM

    Craig is two feet INSIDE (field side) of the chaulk line. So how exactly is this interference?

    • redzone04 - Oct 28, 2013 at 4:19 PM

      The only time the chalk line has to do with anything regarding the runner is the last 40 feet of the first base line. The runners basepath is established the moment a tag attempt is made on him. At that point the runner has three feet to either side of his position and a direct line to the next base. So craig being inside the third base line is of no consequence and has nothing to do with the call. That is by rule not by interpretation.

  9. jdillydawg - Oct 27, 2013 at 3:16 PM

    Whether or not the ump made the right call or not, the rule is worth reviewing and perhaps even changing. There is a lot of controversy here, and both sides make good arguments.

    Sadly, my guess is that it will come and go, and baseball will put its efforts into changing other worthwhile rules, like the DH in the NL, or changing the playoff format.

    • tjwilliams - Oct 27, 2013 at 7:40 PM

      Why on earth would they need to change this rule? It’s the runner’s basepath and the fielder needs to get out of the way when he’s not making a play. Craig scores 100 times out of 100 on that play if Middlebrooks isn’t in the way. That it went down this way is just bad luck for the Red Sox, but there’s absolutely no reason to even consider changing the rule.

  10. bigrob15 - Oct 28, 2013 at 1:39 AM

    While this single play has caused so much controversy and debate, I thought I’d see if I could bring up just one more point about the play. Being a die hard red sox fan, and a lifelong fan of the game, I will say that the call made on the field was the correct call. Middlebrooks, in my eyes, did not cause the obstruction on purpose. However, he did cause the obstruction. The umpire made the right call. With that being said I will have to bring up that on any play where a runner is awarded the next base,( i.e. obstruction, balk) that player must touch the base or plate. Now I only saw what was shown on TV, but from every angle I have been shown Craig never touched home. He gave up the awarded base and should have been called out by the time he had reached the dugout. The game then goes into extra innings and who knows what would of happened. the game is over and nothing can be done besides play the next games and move on. I’m not complaining about the forfeit of the awarded base, simply stating what feels like nobody else saw or is talking about

  11. desertpilotjc - Oct 28, 2013 at 2:05 AM

    So here is the problem that I have with the obstruction call from last night. In replays that show Joyce, he is looking at the loose ball rolling to the left field seats. While he was looking over there, Craig has both hands down on WM’s torso. By the time Joyce looks over, all he sees is Craig tripping over WM’s but / torso. In the moment after the ball passes the colliding players, Craig was scrambling to get up and run, WM is trying to stand up and run after the ball. As far as he knew at that point, he was closest to the ball, and needed to run after it to get it back in play. Also in the moment after the ball passes, Craig was at the bag, but doesn’t get up and head straight down the line. My point is that WM should have just as much right of way to get up and run after the ball, as Craig should have to run straight to home from wherever he gets back to his feet. Craig’s stumbling around was as much a hindrance to getting directly to home as WM was laying there trying to get up. Once WM sees that Nava is getting to the ball he lays flat again, and his legs go up. Craig had already tripped. The rule should be changed to allow a fielder equal right to run after a loose ball as a runner has to run the bases.

  12. jabardelli - Oct 28, 2013 at 9:58 AM

    Craig was not obstructed at third by Middlebrooks anymore than when a catcher blocks the plate on a runner trying to score, as seconds later happens to a hapless “out of his element” base runner Craig.

    Craig has lost sight of where the ball was and, as he arises from a cumbersome slide, he is trying to locate the ball, which is natural. But he doesn’t even look to the third base coach for guidance and direction, a coach who is waiving Craig to get the hell on the road to home.

    However, to say Craig doesn’t know that Middlebrooks is laying on the third to second base path is fiction.

    Interestingly enough, the third base coach doesn’t go through any motions to indicate that his errant runner’s daring piece of base running has been obstructed by third sacker Middlebrooks. Hmmmmm? One would think —-

    Having lost sight of a somewhat errant throw which, incidentally, still should have been caught or blocked by Middlebrooks [after all, this is only the World Series and the winning team share is over $300,000 per player --- worried about a body bruise], Craig arises and starts to run blindly first into left field, then to second base and then, initially hitting Middlebrooks thighs, which cascades him into Middlebrooks low raised legs, all the time losing valuable steps in a circuitous route toward home, while looking back over his left shoulder trying to determine where the ball is, he finally arises from a long count and staggers in the right direction reaching home plate in about 6.2 seconds at best. Craig’s madcap dash was reminiscent of childhood dreams when being pursued by some creature and you just can’t get those legs to move.

    Clearly, Craig in his adroit clumsiness, took his eyes off the base path and, in fact, is not running in the base path the founders had in mind in designing the field, i.e., from third to home in as straight a line as possible, so he starts for home by way of an inventive sight seeing by taking an initial step and a half into left field, then a step from third base to second, then, as he finally gets his bearings to head for home plate, he commences running over bodies in the process reminiscent of an Eyes Blind Shut escapade.

    One thing is crystal clear, Middlebrooks is not obstructing the baseline from third to home. He is laying there deposited by the laws of physics, lamenting the fact that he screwed up knowing he should have either caught the ball thrown by the Red Sox catcher, blocked it, or knocked the ball down and that in so failing he probably just cost the Red Sox the ball game.

    Meanwhile, Ty Cobb is shaking his head in utter disgust that base running has evolved into such a multi-million dollar per season art form while cursing but smiling just the same at the Bambino for hitting all those titanic home run shots which, forever, changed the face of baseball as well as the art of umpiring.

    Clearly, we can see Craig had reached third base and Middlebrooks is laying in the running line from second to third, not third to home. He is laying in fair territory and no fielder should have to anticipate that a runner such as Craig would be retreating his deft base running by heading back to second base by way of either left field or third base.

    Had Middlebrooks attempted to rise up immediately from his prone position, he would have been within his right to do so because he was not in a position to obstruct a runner going from third to home. Ump, a runner cannot go out of his base path looking for trouble.

    To coin a legal maxim for Craig, who didn’t see the ball, a prone third baseman or the third base coach — “that which is there to be seen should be seen.”

    Middlebrooks was there to be seen and could no more have removed himself from the field of play as a prone ball player than could have umpire Joyce removed himself from the field while standing tall.

    Joyce has mush for brains in making a call of that nature in the climatic moments of a World Series game, regardless of what the rule book says and any need to justify an umpire error, on a rule book, makes a mockery of the simplicity inherent within the game of baseball.

    Lost in all its mediocrity, was the fantastic fielding and throw to home by Red Sox second sacker Pedroia nailing the runner from third, whose slide was equivalent to a ballet dancer not wanting to ruffle her tutu, leaving the catcher fully in control of the ball to be in a position to throw to third to potentially double up Craig ending the Cardinal threat, not a semblance of contact having been made, — and the the throw from the left fielder Nava to nail Craig whose dying whale slide brought instantly to mind Pete Rose’s All-Star game slide when catcher Ray Fosse sought to block the plate on Rose coming down the line — with dire consequences — when $300,000 was not on the line.

    Even Pete Rose had to be thinking the same thing while shaking his head, thinking in awe and respect of The Georgia Peach, himself, — in total bewilderment watching this cascade of foibles.

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