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.
Aug 21, 2014, 11:01 PM EDT
Padres closer Joaquin Benoit hasn’t appeared in a game since last Wednesday due to soreness in his throwing shoulder.
Aug 21, 2014, 9:51 PM EDT
Impending free agent Michael Cuddyer will almost certainly finish his season in a Rockies uniform.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT
Castillo could reportedly make his decision this weekend.
Aug 21, 2014, 8:15 PM EDT
Royals catcher Salvador Perez was scratched from Wednesday’s lineup with tightness in his right knee, but an MRI on Thursday revealed no structural damage.
Aug 21, 2014, 7:30 PM EDT
Here’s hoping Nationals manager Matt Williams has been practicing his Babe Ruth home run trot, because he has a promise to fulfill.
Aug 21, 2014, 6:57 PM EDT
Gomes was hit in the mask in the bottom of the fifth inning by a ball that deflected off the arm of Kurt Suzuki on a hit-by-pitch.
Aug 21, 2014, 6:14 PM EDT
But not the best among major league starters this season.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:42 PM EDT
Beckham had a very promising rookie season as a 22-year-old in 2009, but the former first-round draft pick has hit just .240 with a .658 OPS in 636 games since then while never topping a .700 OPS in a season.
Aug 21, 2014, 5:20 PM EDT
He heads to Triple-A tied for the Reds franchise record in relief losses with 10, which is especially remarkable considering he won his first decision of the season before dropping 10 straight.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:55 PM EDT
Richards’ leg buckled underneath him as he went to cover first base on a potential double-play ball last night and he was down for nearly 10 minutes before being carted off the field in obvious pain.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
A Tigers pitcher has dodged a major legal bullet.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
He hit a combined .312 with an .863 OPS in 328 games for the Cardinals from 2011 to 2013, but Craig’s production has plummeted to a .237 batting average and .639 OPS in 98 total games this season.
Aug 21, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
One unearned run was all he allowed against his old mates. Tough way to lose.
Aug 21, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
Work fast. Throw strikes. If anyone has come up with a better way to win games, I haven’t heard of it yet.
Aug 21, 2014, 2:54 PM EDT
That’s kind of the whole story, but there’s nothing else going on right now.
Aug 21, 2014, 2:24 PM EDT
Masahiro Tanaka’s attempt to avoid Tommy John elbow surgery with the rest-and-rehab approach has gone well enough that the Yankees right-hander will face live hitters for the first time Saturday.
Aug 21, 2014, 2:04 PM EDT
It’s better than no baseball in November, right?
Aug 21, 2014, 1:43 PM EDT
Texas not trading impending free agent reliever Neal Cotts before the July 31 deadline was surprising and now they’re going to hang onto the left-hander for the rest of the season.
Aug 21, 2014, 1:00 PM EDT
A nine game winning streak and a bunch of walkoff wins. Do they have a weakness right now?
Aug 21, 2014, 12:48 PM EDT
There’s only a week or so remaining in the minor-league season, so if Zimmerman wants to go on a rehab assignment before coming off the disabled list he’s running out of time.
- The Nationals extend their winning streak to 10 games with another walk-off victory 7
- Garrett Richards out 6-9 months with torn patellar tendon 11
- A pitch clock in Major League Baseball? No thanks. 88
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights 81
- Garrett Richards suffers ugly left knee injury 28
- Giants win protest, will complete rain-halted game at Wrigley Field on Thursday afternoon 46
- Royals might actually know what they are doing 33
- Curt Schilling reveals that he was diagnosed with mouth cancer, blames smokeless tobacco 72
- Mike Matheny addresses turmoil in Ferguson: “It’s a sad situation. It’s a tough situation for our city” (127)
- A pitch clock in Major League Baseball? No thanks. (92)
- Here’s today’s dose of barfy Derek Jeter sentiment (82)
- And That Happened: Wednesday’s scores and highlights (81)
- Let’s speed up the pace of play. But let’s not be gimmicky about it. Let’s just enforce the rules. (74)