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.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:52 PM EDT
Angels left-hander Tyler Skaggs was working on a no-hitter against the Orioles this evening before he left his start with an apparent arm injury.
Jul 31, 2014, 8:39 PM EDT
Cliff Lee has aggravated the flexor pronator strain that has already cost him two months. It’s safe to say that his season is over.
Jul 31, 2014, 7:45 PM EDT
Yoenis Cespedes t-shirt night is a little awkward now that he’s with the Red Sox, but the Athletics are going ahead with the giveaway anyway.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:58 PM EDT
For some reason, FOX 13 in Tampa Bay thought it was a good idea to make a classless joke about Detroit to console Rays fans following the David Price trade.
Jul 31, 2014, 6:16 PM EDT
Matt Cain’s ulnar collateral ligament has checked out fine, but he’s dealing with “loose bodies” in his throwing elbow and it’s unclear when he’ll pitch again.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:28 PM EDT
Once upon a time Andy Marte was one of the best prospects in baseball. He cracked Baseball America’s top 15 list in 2004, 2005, and 2006.
Jul 31, 2014, 5:15 PM EDT
You happy, Philly?
Jul 31, 2014, 4:52 PM EDT
The Braves get their lefty and a venerable super sub. The Cubs get an interesting catching prospect.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT
Shortly after acquiring Stephen Drew and Martin Prado in separate trades this afternoon the Yankees announced that starting second baseman Brian Roberts has been designated for assignment.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:30 PM EDT
Some pitching heading Miami’s way.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:20 PM EDT
All month the assumption has been that the Twins would either sign Kurt Suzuki to a contract extension or trade the 30-year-old impending free agent in the middle of his career-year.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT
A super sub at heart who can and will be used at multiple positions by the Yankees.
Jul 31, 2014, 4:15 PM EDT
Recapping all of Thursday’s dealings in one spot.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:59 PM EDT
How committed are the Red Sox to blowing up the roster? They just made a trade with the Yankees–the Yankees–sending shortstop Stephen Drew to New York just 39 games after re-signing him to a $10 million deal.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:55 PM EDT
With Price in town, a guy who one the AL MVP and Cy Young Award a couple of years ago is now the TIgers fourth starter.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:40 PM EDT
In search of infield help with Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list again, the Nationals have acquired switch-hitting shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera from the Indians in exchange for minor leaguer Zach Walters.
Jul 31, 2014, 3:19 PM EDT
Drip . . . drip . . . drip . . .
Jul 31, 2014, 3:13 PM EDT
This morning the Red Sox were reportedly close to trading left-handed reliever Andrew Miller to the Tigers, but that deal apparently fell through because now Jerry Crasnick of ESPN.com reports that Miller has been sent to the Orioles.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:21 PM EDT
A lefty masher is having a down year, but he can help out in Seattle.
Jul 31, 2014, 2:14 PM EDT
Parra’s offensive production has dropped off this season, falling about 50 points compared to his career norms, but he remains an excellent defensive corner outfielder capable of handling center field if needed.
- Cliff Lee exits start with recurrence of flexor pronator strain 6
- 2014 Trade Deadline Tracker 46
- ACES GALORE: The Rays trade David Price to the Tigers 128
- Red Sox trade John Lackey to Cardinals for Allen Craig and Joe Kelly 88
- The Lester trade is a win-win 112
- Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes heading to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes 165
- The State of the Trade Deadline: Yesterday was pretty sleepy. Will general managers wake up today? 40
- Cardinals acquire Justin Masterson from Indians 49
- “Caucasians” t-shirts are hot sellers on Canadian Indian reservations (199)
- Jon Lester, Jonny Gomes heading to Oakland for Yoenis Cespedes (165)
- ACES GALORE: The Rays trade David Price to the Tigers (128)
- Rangers’ retirement gifts for Derek Jeter: Yankees cowboy boots, signed George W. Bush photo (124)
- The Lester trade is a win-win (112)