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.
Mar 4, 2015, 8:24 AM EST
Terrible news that will keep Joel Hanrahan off the mound for at least another year.
Mar 4, 2015, 6:54 AM EST
I wasn’t aware that one could “disagree” with facts. But there we are.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:57 PM EST
It was a successful afternoon in pretty much every way at Fenway South. Except maybe one …
Mar 3, 2015, 9:44 PM EST
The expectation is that he will have to sit out the entire 2015 season.
Mar 3, 2015, 8:31 PM EST
The deal does not include an invitation to major league spring training, so Beato won’t be under consideration for one of the spots in the Orioles’ Opening Day bullpen.
Mar 3, 2015, 7:28 PM EST
Yoenis Cespedes made his presence felt around Tigers camp with this fourth-inning grand slam in Tuesday afternoon’s Grapefruit League opener against the visiting Orioles …
Mar 3, 2015, 6:32 PM EST
He can be solid rotation depth for some team.
Mar 3, 2015, 5:46 PM EST
Kang hit .356 with 40 homers in Korea last season.
Mar 3, 2015, 4:15 PM EST
Because, if he does, David Wright and Bobby Parnell are gonna go kick his butt.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:54 PM EST
Unless someone gets injured, spring training game results don’t matter a bit. But they are a reminder that everyone starts from square one each season. No matter how well they ended the season before.
Mar 3, 2015, 3:15 PM EST
Johnson made the All-Star team in 1970 and went on to win the batting championship by hitting .329, marking his third straight season with a batting average above .300.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:48 PM EST
He was only 52.
Mar 3, 2015, 2:10 PM EST
Baseball has officially started, but opinions on pants vary.
Mar 3, 2015, 1:34 PM EST
Also: there is baseball — honest to goodness baseball — on TV right now.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:30 PM EST
As a man who knows from hanging around in loungewear all day, I can tell you: this is cool.
Mar 3, 2015, 12:06 PM EST
Not exactly a ringing endorsement, but whatever.
Mar 3, 2015, 11:32 AM EST
Will he be the same Tanaka this spring?
Mar 3, 2015, 11:03 AM EST
The million a year helped, but Chamberlain’s son provided the definitive push back to Detroit.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:48 AM EST
Mets general manager Sandy Alderson was asked about a Dillon Gee trade rumor that made the internet rounds Monday night.
Mar 3, 2015, 10:30 AM EST
Which would be a little ahead of schedule.
- Daniel Murphy on Billy Bean: “I do disagree with the fact that Billy is a homosexual” 48
- Blue Jays sign Dayan Viciedo to a minor league deal 8
- Chris Sale will be sidelined for three weeks with foot fracture 11
- Aramis Ramirez says 2015 will be his last year 32
- Francisco Rodriguez re-signs with the Brewers 9
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended 307
- Pirates open to massive extension for Andrew McCutchen 18
- Report: Josh Hamilton had a relapse this offseason that “involved at least cocaine” 86
- If addiction is an illness — and it is — Josh Hamilton shouldn’t be suspended (307)
- Curt Schilling lowers the boom on some men tweeting threats against his daughter (136)
- Ichiro is happy to be away from Joe Girardi (88)
- Report: Josh Hamilton had a relapse this offseason that “involved at least cocaine” (86)