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Friday, August 06, 2004

Walk Off... Obstruction? 

In case you missed it tonight, the Mariners invented a brand new way to lose, this time on walk-off obstruction. On a fly ball to left fielder Raul Ibanez and with the speedy Tampa baserunner Carl Crawford on third base, Mariner shortstop Jose Lopez was, in the umpire's view, deliberately standing in front of Crawford in a way that interfered with Crawford's view of Ibanez and thereby impeded Crawford's ability to score the winning run on a sacrifice fly. Crawford was awarded home plate by the umpire, and as a result of the play the Devil Rays won, 2-1, in ten innings.

Lopez's ploy was not exactly in good sportsmanship, but was it against the rules? According to the Official Rules of Major League Baseball, rule 2.00, obstruction is defined as follows:
OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner. If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner.
The first sentence is the key here: OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner. According to the rules, no significance is placed on the obstructing player's intent, but just on his effect on the baserunner's progress.

Since Crawford, in the end, could evidently see Ibanez catch the ball, and since he didn't attempt to score on his own (he took a couple of steps toward home plate, then retreated back to third after seeing Ibanez's throw), I don't believe that he was obstructed by Lopez. What Jose Lopez tried tonight in the bottom of the tenth inning was certainly bush league, but I disagree that he was guilty of obstruction, I don't think he should have been charges with an error on the play (he was), and I don't think the winning run should have been awarded as a result of his actions.

You're wrong. The rule is written ambiguously so as to allow the umpire to use his judgment. If Crawford was delayed in taking off from third base after the catch by even the slightest fraction of a second because of Lopez's positioning, it's obstruction. Having seen the replay and having seen Crawford play on several occasions, I believe he did hesitate a little. Was it because his view was obstructed? I'm not so clear on that, but the umpire clearly thought that played a part. As such, he was obligated to call obstruction. And the rules of baseball dictate that any time a fielder is called for obstruction he must be charged with an error.

Frankly, if I was the Mariners' manager, I would have kicked Lopez's ass after the play. A player should never give even the appearance of violating the rules. That he did so in this case cost his team a game, and that is unforgivable.
After seeing the replay quite a few times, on both ESPN and FSNNW, it is evident that the supposed hesitation Crawford had was only a routine "fake going" type of a thing, breaking for home for a few steps and then retreating because he wasn't tryly trying to score on the not-quite-deep-enough-fly. He tagged up and took off from third the exact moment Ibanez caught the ball, which meant his view wasn't obstructed at all. That being said, I totally agree that it was a mental mistake by Lopez, who rushed over to third base from deep short while having no play at the ball and while there was already Bloomquist covering third base if the ball was to be thrown that way. It was inexcusable, just like the other scoring play in the game where he ran into left field to catch a ball that Ibanez would've gotten to routinely, and which Raul would've had the momentum towards home to make a decent throw to prevent the runner on third from scoring. I think our young shortstop was somehow trying too hard, so much that it crossed the line between hustling and thoughtless play....
I agree with you, Willy, about Lopez trying too hard. It's almost Mabry-esque. He's like that kid in high school that's trying so hard to be likeable that you can't stand him.

And I still don't think obstruction should have been called.
First of all nowhere in the rulebook does it mention blocking a runners line of sight as obstruction. Baserunners routinely pause in front of groundballs for the sole purpose of obstructing a fielders view of the ball, and I have never seen obstruction called on that. That said even if it was obstruction there was no way Crawford was going to score on that play. In order for the umpire to award Crawford home plate he has to judge that Crawford would have scored had obstruction not occured. Crawford clearly would not have scored. It was a bad call, plain and simple.
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