Skip to content

The obstruction play provides a glimpse of the essence of baseball

Oct 27, 2013, 11:08 AM EDT

19th Century Baseball

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 naturewhen 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.

source: Getty ImagesBut 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.

Latest Posts
  1. Video: Salvador Perez walks off Royals in Wild Card Game

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:29 AM EDT

    salvador perez getty Getty Images

    In case you missed it, here is the replay of Salvador Perez’s walkoff hit from Tuesday night’s AL Wild Card Game …

  2. Small ball prevails … in a 9-8 game

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:25 AM EDT

    Wild Card Game - Oakland Athletics v Kansas City Royals Getty Images

    You get a bunt and you get a bunt and you get a bunt!

  3. Royals complete thrilling comeback to defeat A’s in the American League Wild Card Game

    Oct 1, 2014, 1:10 AM EDT

    eric hosmer getty Getty Images

    Salvador Perez was held hitless in his first five at-bats of Tuesday’s American League Wild Card Game at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City, but he smacked a walkoff RBI single down the left-field line in the 12th inning to give the Royals a 9-8 victory over the A’s.

  4. Coco Crisp exits Wild Card Game with hamstring injury

    Oct 1, 2014, 12:14 AM EDT

    coco crisp getty Getty Images

    A’s center fielder Coco Crisp was removed from Tuesday night’s American League Wild Card Game before the bottom of the 11th inning with an apparent hamstring injury.

  5. Royals tie AL Wild Card Game in bottom of the ninth

    Sep 30, 2014, 11:49 PM EDT

    jarrod dyson getty Getty Images

    We’ve got a brand new ballgame in Kansas City.

  6. Hyun-Jin Ryu will test his injured left shoulder with a simulated game Wednesday

    Sep 30, 2014, 10:53 PM EDT

    ryu getty Getty Images

    Dodgers left-hander Hyun-Jin Ryu will test his injured shoulder in a simulated game Wednesday. He’s hoping to start Game 3 of the NLDS in St. Louis.

  7. Brandon Moss slugs three-run shot, A’s jump back on top

    Sep 30, 2014, 10:18 PM EDT

    brandon moss getty Getty Images

    Oakland opened the floodgates on the Royals in the sixth inning.

  8. Video: Eric Hosmer hits go-ahead RBI single, Royals lead Athletics in AL Wild Card Game

    Sep 30, 2014, 9:45 PM EDT

    hosmer getty Getty Images

    Watch the host Royals take the lead in Tuesday’s American League Wild Card Game against the visiting A’s on this RBI bloop single from Eric Hosmer in the bottom of the third inning …

  9. Geovany Soto leaves Wild Card game with thumb injury

    Sep 30, 2014, 9:06 PM EDT

    Geovany Soto Athletics AP

    Derek Norris came off the bench to replace him.

  10. Matt Shoemaker throws another bullpen session, has “no doubt” he can pitch in ALDS

    Sep 30, 2014, 8:59 PM EDT

    matt shoemaker getty Getty Images

    Angels starter Matt Shoemaker hasn’t pitched in a game since September 15 due to a left oblique strain, but he is making steady progress behind the scenes and expects to be available for the ALDS.

  11. Braves hitting coach Greg Walker has resigned

    Sep 30, 2014, 8:04 PM EDT

    braves logo

    Braves hitting coach Greg Walker officially stepped down on Tuesday evening, as announced on the club’s Twitter feed.

  12. Travis Ishikawa will be Giants’ left fielder in Wild Card game

    Sep 30, 2014, 7:31 PM EDT

    ishikawa_travis AP

    Ishikawa is 31 years old and has started a grand total of three career games in the outfield.

  13. Clay Buchholz undergoes surgery on right knee

    Sep 30, 2014, 7:08 PM EDT

    clay buchholz getty Getty Images

    Red Sox starter Clay Buchholz underwent surgery Tuesday to correct a right meniscus injury that bothered him off and on throughout the 2014 season. He should have a fairly normal winter.

  14. Clayton Kershaw “likely” to pitch on short rest if needed

    Sep 30, 2014, 7:01 PM EDT

    Clayton Kershaw AP

    Kershaw and Greinke four times in five games?

  15. Cubs expect Javier Baez to be their Opening Day second baseman despite rookie struggles

    Sep 30, 2014, 6:20 PM EDT

    javier baez Getty Images

    Javier Baez hit just .169 with 95 strikeouts in 52 games as a 21-year-old rookie.

  16. Josh Hamilton declares himself ready for the ALDS

    Sep 30, 2014, 6:13 PM EDT

    josh hamilton getty Getty Images

    Josh Hamilton has played in just one game since September 4 due to shoulder, chest, and rib cage injuries, but the 33-year-old outfielder took batting practice, threw some long toss, and ran the bases on Tuesday afternoon and has declared himself ready for the ALDS, which begins on Thursday.

  17. The Cardinals have the Best Fans In Baseball

    Sep 30, 2014, 5:29 PM EDT

    old TV

    It’s all about how you define the term “best,” of course.

  18. Dee Gordon cleared to play for Dodgers after hip injury

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:46 PM EDT

    Dee Gordon AP

    Gordon led the NL in steals and triples this season.

  19. Manny Ramirez, Cubs assistant hitting coach?

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:16 PM EDT

    Manny Ramirez AP

    It’s not as crazy as it may seem.

  20. Marlins president says Giancarlo Stanton will be on the Marlins next year

    Sep 30, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT

    giancarlo stanton getty Getty Images

    Giancarlo Stanton is about to get expensive. But the Marlins are not inclined to deal him.

Featured video

Do Royals or A's have the edge tonight?
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. D. Jeter (3297)
  2. C. Kershaw (2408)
  3. R. Martin (2354)
  4. A. Rodriguez (2020)
  5. J. Altuve (1905)
  1. D. Gordon (1820)
  2. J. Hamilton (1772)
  3. I. Suzuki (1675)
  4. D. Ortiz (1664)
  5. E. Volquez (1588)