Oct 27, 2013, 11:08 AM EDT
Some people — maybe most people — look at last night’s game-ending obstruction play and feel some level of dissatisfaction. Even if they admit it was correct on the merits, there is some sense that it was wonky and weird. I totally get that. But for me, the obstruction play and all of its weird wonkiness provided a glimpse at the essence of baseball.
I don’t mean “essence” in terms of drama, dynamics and aesthetics, of course. In those terms nothing beats a walkoff home run, the 27th out of a perfect game, a laser throw to the plate, a runner going first to third at top speed or a 99 m.p.h. fastball that leaves a slugger flummoxed and humbled. I wouldn’t dare suggest that an odd play that ends with Joe Torre waving a rule book during a hastily-assembled press conference is better in any sense of the word than an actually dramatic and exciting baseball play in which one player’s athletic prowess trumps that of another. I simply mean that the obstruction play helped distill what baseball is, by its very nature, when it comes right down to it.
And what is baseball? A decidedly 19th century construct shaped by all manner of rules and conventions. A construct In which, unlike its 19th century contemporaries such as boxing, weightlifting or horse racing, physical prowess is nowhere as nearly close to everything. Rather, it’s about physical prowess being channeled alongside a set of ground rules and formalities that require the mind and discipline to work hand-in-hand with the body and its fast-twitch muscles. It’s a pursuit in which force being applied via instinct rather than calculation is almost always punished rather than rewarded.
In its effort to reign in nature’s impulses via these formalities, it reflects the time of its creation. A time in which man believed nature could be and should be tamed if only enough work was put into it. Often times — maybe most times — 19th century man totally bollocksed up that impulse. He decided that a raging river can be channeled in thus-and-such a fashion and be used to serve his will. That an impenetrable forest can be tamed and utilized for thus-and-such an industry. It was hubris that the world is still paying for.
But in baseball — at least in my mind — man got the balance right. He found a way to impose his will over something naturally occurring that resulted in an actual improvement: the athletic impulse reigned-in and set against challenges, but not defeated. The perfect blending of man’s primal and enlightened selves. Of might and mind working in tandem to accomplish something that is useful. Enjoyable. At its best uplifting. It’s as close as we get to a distillation of the Renaissance or Enlightenment mind in a sporting context.
The sports which came later all have a heavy dose of this as well. Football, basketball and hockey all have scads of rules, conventions and settings where the impulse to simply flatten the opposition via brute strength is channeled through formality. Ask Ryan Leaf what a cannon arm does for you if you don’t have a brain and a plan. Ask any opponent of Michael Jordan how his mental game did just as much to defeat them as did his leaping ability. Ask anyone in the NHL why the biggest goons and the fastest skaters all get schooled by those who apply mind and body in equal measure. All modern sports, to some extent, owe their existence and greatness to that 19th century impulse.
But the other sports also have instances — often critical instances — in which it is agreed, tacitly or otherwise, that the rules should be dispensed with or relaxed and that the raw physicality should take precedence. Where the rules against, say, pass interference or hacking should be relaxed because it’s late in the game and some physical, emotional and dramatic climax should be allowed to the come to the fore. Whistles are swallowed. The call is made to “simply let them play.” In those cases it is understood and expected that the balance should swing back to the primal when the clock’s seconds wane.
Not in baseball. At least not when baseball is administered properly. In baseball the rules are the rules from start to finish and are not dispensed with simply because time is running out. Oh, wait, in baseball time never runs out. As Earl Weaver reminded us, there is no clock in baseball. There is no moment that is truly more critical and thus more demanding that formalities be dispensed with due to an incessant tick-tick-tick. “You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance,” Weaver said. “That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”
So many people with Boston IP addresses are telling me this morning that, though the call on the Middlebrooks/Craig obstruction play was technically correct, it perhaps should not have been made. The play — with its collision and tripping and stumbling and dashing home — should have been “allowed to proceed” rather than having a rarely-thought-of rule invoked to determine the outcome. It was the ninth inning of a close World Series game, they’re basically arguing. It was too important to allow the imposition of a rule trump the running and throwing of men.
Baloney. That call went to the heart of what baseball truly is. A sport in which there is or at least should be no relaxation of the rules due to the exigency of a critical moment. Baseball does not and should not allow for times in which aesthetics or raw physicality excuse the relaxation of the rules. It’s, by design, a sport in which the beauty and glory of the entire pursuit is a product of the mixing of the two things. Dana DeMuth, whether he realized he was doing it at the time last night, was ensuring that this anachronistic yet eminently satisfying balance was maintained.
Refrain from calling obstruction on that play? To do so would be a betrayal of baseball’s very essence.
Sep 19, 2014, 4:19 PM EDT
Konerko has hit just .220 with five homers and a .616 OPS in 74 games.
Sep 19, 2014, 3:30 PM EDT
What do you get the man who has everything? A bronzed version of the stuff he already has!
Sep 19, 2014, 3:15 PM EDT
He has two years remaining on a three-year, $26 million contract.
Sep 19, 2014, 3:00 PM EDT
Because if Clayton Kershaw needs anything, he needs a bunch of run support.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Kevin Gauzman has been fantastic for the Orioles, posting a 3.57 ERA with just five homers allowed in 18 starts as a 23-year-old rookie.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT
If you have to haze, at least get some coffee out of the deal.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
After homering seven times in his first 19 games Cubs rookie Javier Baez has gone deep just twice in his last 24 games while hitting .146 with 44 strikeouts.
Sep 19, 2014, 2:00 PM EDT
Baseball is making a more formal commitment to oversight in international talent development.
Sep 19, 2014, 1:47 PM EDT
449 feet off Addison Reed.
Sep 19, 2014, 1:15 PM EDT
As usual, context is everything.
Sep 19, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT
Just some casual perusing of epic collapses.
Sep 19, 2014, 12:38 PM EDT
This is the biggest series for the Royals since 1985.
Sep 19, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT
It’s not as scary as what our friend Alex had to endure, here, but it’s still pretty cool.
Sep 19, 2014, 11:32 AM EDT
Come for the cool video. Stay for a way-too-long explanation of why I hate Rush. And the inevitable comments from Rush fans about why I’m wrong about this.
Sep 19, 2014, 10:34 AM EDT
Imagine being a person so awful and sour that you feel this is something reasonable to say.
Sep 19, 2014, 9:16 AM EDT
After a good night last night he’s 12 for his last 30.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:53 AM EDT
That’s right: for the 2,559th time, Barry Bonds is gonna walk.
Sep 19, 2014, 8:27 AM EDT
I’m an old man who goes to bed early, so I couldn’t see all of this. If you’re like me, enjoy.
Sep 19, 2014, 7:17 AM EDT
It’s not dark yet for the Brewers, but it’s getting there. It’s absolutely pitch black for the A’s, though.
Sep 18, 2014, 11:15 PM EDT
Rizzo won the award in recognition of his community work with pediatric cancer patients.
- Why are so many people acting like Bryce Harper is a bum? 52
- It certainly looks like Barry Bonds’ criminal conviction is going to be overturned 74
- And That Happened: Thursday’s scores and highlights 68
- VIDEO: Derek Jeter hits first home run at Yankee Stadium this season 11
- Ron Washington claims he resigned because he cheated on his wife 99
- No, baseball does not need to “announce a domestic violence policy ASAP” 52
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 48
- Video: Rusney Castillo notches his first major league hit 7
- Ron Washington claims he resigned because he cheated on his wife (99)
- Chris Davis suspended 25 games for amphetamine use (92)
- Giancarlo Stanton diagnosed with multiple facial fractures and dental damage (91)
- Bud Selig can’t remember the last domestic violence incident in Major League Baseball (91)
- Geddy Lee’s baseball obsession makes it really hard for me to hate Rush (89)