Oct 27, 2013, 11:08 AM EST
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.
Dec 9, 2013, 11:57 PM EST
After accepting minor league deals in seven straight years, free agent reliever Jamey Wright appears primed to receive a major league contract this winter. According to FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Wright is currently deciding whether to return to the Rays for another season or sign with the Dodgers, who he pitched with in 2012. The…
Dec 9, 2013, 11:27 PM EST
We have seen some conflicting reports in recent days about whether the Rakuten Golden Eagles will post much-hyped right-hander Masahiro Tanaka this winter, but Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports brings word on why there could finally be some clarity on the situation this week: The will-he-or-won’t-he question may find resolution in the next couple of…
Dec 9, 2013, 10:23 PM EST
It was reported last month that Justin Masterson was open to a long-term deal with the Indians, but FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal hears that the team is willing to listen to trade offers. Masterson is just one year away from free agency, so the Indians would prefer pieces that they can control for the long-term.…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:35 PM EST
Mark Prior has attempted numerous comebacks in recent years, but the oft-injured right-hander told Mike Berardino of the St. Paul Pioneer Press earlier today that he has officially retired and could accept a front office position with the Padres. Prior, now 33, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2006. He made seven relief appearances with…
Dec 9, 2013, 9:13 PM EST
Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times has been checking in all day with updates from the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Earlier this evening, he unleashed this interesting little nugget: There are rumors that free agent outfielder Nelson Cruz turned down the Mariners’ offer of 5-years, $75 million. That’s a lot of money for a guy…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:33 PM EST
It’s been suspected all offseason that the Mets would shop second baseman Daniel Murphy and Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports hears that they are pushing “very hard” to move him at this week’s Winter Meetings. Nothing appears imminent, but Joel Sherman of the New York Post reports that the Orioles are among the teams who…
Dec 9, 2013, 8:16 PM EST
Matt Gelb of the Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Phillies reliever Mike Adams recently required surgery to repair a sports hernia, which is a fitting end to a disappointing year. Adams joined the Phillies last offseason on a two-year, $12 million contract, but he made just 28 appearances prior to undergoing surgery in July to repair…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:50 PM EST
There was renewed chatter over the weekend about the Red Sox possibly making a play for Dodgers outfielder Matt Kemp, but Rob Bradford of WEEI.com hears from major league sources that there’s “nothing to” the reports. In fact two sources said the two sides have “barely touched base.” Kemp’s agent, Dave Stewart, told Dylan Hernandez…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:35 PM EST
This is Giants third baseman Pablo Sandoval as he appeared last season. This is Pablo Sandoval now, courtesy of a pic he posted on twitter this afternoon. Now, the shirt is a kinda baggy. There’s probably still some flab hiding under there. But at the rate he’s going, there might not be for much longer.…
Dec 9, 2013, 7:17 PM EST
With Robinson Cano and Jacoby Ellsbury off the board, Shin-Soo Choo is the biggest name remaining in the free agent market. And it sounds like he could find a new home during this week’s Winter Meetings in Orlando, Florida: Sources: Choo talks appear to be reaching critical stage. #Rangers, at least one other club in.—…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:59 PM EST
ESPN’s Buster Olney reports that free agent right-hander Jason Hammel is looking for a three- or four-year deal in free agency. This is an excellent market for starting pitching, with Phil Hughes and Scott Feldman both recently receiving three-year deals, but it’s not that good. While Hammel was one of the Orioles’ best starters in…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:43 PM EST
Angels general manager Jerry Dipoto has routinely downplayed a potential trade of Mark Trumbo so far this offseason, but things are heating up at the Winter Meetings in Orlando. Sources: Chances of Trumbo trade increasing. #Angels more open. #Dbacks pushing. Other teams in, all with improving offers.— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) December 09, 2013 The Diamondbacks…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:29 PM EST
The Cubs are one of a handful of clubs without a closer and it appears that they could turn to the trade market to fill the role. According to Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times, the Cubs are eying deals for Nationals relievers Drew Storen or Tyler Clippard among other possibilities. Adam Kilgore of the…
Dec 9, 2013, 6:15 PM EST
Danny Espinosa lost his starting second base job to Anthony Rendon this past season and now he could be on the move. According to Jeff Passan of Yahoo! Sports, the Nationals are listening to offers on the 26-year-old infielder. Espinosa attempted to play through wrist and shoulder injuries in 2013 while batting just .158/.193/.272 with…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:49 PM EST
According to FOXSports.com’s Jon Morosi, the Blue Jays and Rangers were involved in a three-team deal last month that would have sent reliever Sergio Santos to Texas, but that the deal fell apart because another player failed his physical. Santos would have helped make up for the loss of Joe Nathan to Detroit. He missed…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:30 PM EST
A’s starter Brett Anderson is the subject of a lot of rumors lately. Brett Anderson is also a pretty heavy Twitter user. That leads to things like this: .@Joelsherman1 so I’m like the morning-after pill? — Brett Anderson (@BrettAnderson49) December 9, 2013 Pretty slick, Brett. I also feel like if I were the subject…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:15 PM EST
After two seasons as a below average starter, Wade Davis broke through as a reliever for the Rays in 2012, amassing a 2.43 ERA and striking out 87 in 70 1/3 innings. The Royals plan after picking him up in the James Shields-Wil Myers trade? Move him back to the rotation. Luke Hochevar was a…
Dec 9, 2013, 5:03 PM EST
The guy works for George Steinbrenner’s son and, I assume, he also happens to believe it. But know that Yankees president Randy Levine says that The Boss should be in Cooperstown. From Andrew Marchand of ESPN New York: “I think it was a mistake,” Levine told ESPN New York by telephone. “I congratulate Joe Torre, Bobby…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:50 PM EST
Eric Thames was once a decent prospect for the Blue Jays, but he’s bounced around with four different teams in the past two seasons and now the Astros have released the 27-year-old outfielder so he can go play in Korea. Thames hit .262 with 12 homers and a .769 OPS in 95 games for the…
Dec 9, 2013, 4:33 PM EST
First the good news: Three managers, all deserving and perhaps even overqualified, were elected into the Hall of Fame on Monday. If you are going to have managers in the Baseball Hall of Fame — and you are — then Bobby Cox, Tony La Russa and Joe Torre are all obviously deserving Hall of Famers.…
- Roy Halladay is retiring 53
- Tony La Russa Bobby Cox, Joe Torre all unanimously elected to the Hall of Fame 43
- Tony Blengino says recent report on Seattle front office is “just the tip of the iceberg” 60
- Rakuten Golden Eagles appear likely to allow Masahiro Tanaka’s departure to MLB 49
- 2013 Winter Meetings Preview 23
- Robinson Cano agrees to $240 million deal with Mariners (260)
- Yankees agree to seven-year, $153M contract with free agent outfielder Jacoby Ellsbury (160)
- Report: Mariners willing to offer Robinson Cano a 10-year, $240 million deal (143)
- Report: Yankees have agreed to a three-year deal with Carlos Beltran (125)
- Brett Gardner is drawing “significant” trade interest (112)