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.
Rule 2.00 (Obstruction) Comment: 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.
(a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.
Middlebrooks failed to field the ball. Section 2.00 says he's no longer in the "act of fieldling". It even clarifies that once he's attempted to field a ball and missed, that he cannot be in the act of. Even the example explains the "continuing to lie down and delays the progress" part. Then, Section 7.06 explains the result. He's awarded the base.
To me, "progress" is pretty broad. It was clear that Allen Craig in Game 3 was trying to make "progress" toward home plate. But maybe there's some technical argument about whether his progress was legal. Here's what I've found.
1) You cannot just declare literally *ANY* path to be your base path...
Section 7.08 has this to say:
Any runner is out when—
(a.1) He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely; or
(a.2) after touching first base, he leaves the base path, obviously abandoning his effort to touch the next base;
(i) After he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game. The umpire shall immediately call "Time" and declare the runner out...
On part (i), you could argue that the parsing should be "making a travesty of the game after legally acquiring a base and then running the bases in reverse order." I think the intent is clear, though, that totally random base-running is not allowed. So, no leaving the park for uptown Chinese.
Unfortunately, it also says that the bath path is not defined until a tag attempt occurs. By that logic, since there was no tag attempt--remember, once Middlebrooks failed to catch, he could no longer be in the act of fielding, meaning he could not be applying a tag. In fact, faking a tag and making contact is itself obstructions (but that's probably not relevant here, unless you think Middlebrook's contact was an attempt at a fake tag).
So, since there was no defined base path--due to there being no tag attempt--Craig's chosen bath path was legitimate. But, could there be more? It's baseball. Of course. Now, we've established that you cannot run the bases in reverse. So, does this imply that you cannot be on the 2B-side of 3B? This is possible. I cannot find it. If it's not legal to be on the HP-side of 1B, or the 1B-side of 2B, or the 2B-side of 3B, then this is moot, and Craig is out.
But, this happened immediately after he got up after sliding into 3B. Now, since he was safe at 3rd (due to the botched throw from home), does he have to begin his run literally on 3B toward home? In other words, does it mean that you must start your base-running literally on the base line (or on the base itself)?
There's no answer to this that I can find.
Additionally, the rules like to contradict themselves (as most rule-based systems do). Here's Section 7.09(j) in action:
Rule 7.09(j) Comment: When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called. "Obstruction" by a fielder attempting to field a ball should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases because the rules give him the right of way, but of course such "right of way" is not a license to, for example, intentionally trip a runner even though fielding the ball. If the catcher is fielding the ball and the first baseman or pitcher obstructs a runner going to first base "obstruction" shall be called and the base runner awarded first base.
So, yeah. It wasn't violent. And it certainly didn't look flagrant, though that's hard to say, because it seems subjective. This "clarification" seems to be contradicting the spirit of the obstruction definition. Unfortunately, this comment refers specifically to catchers running down batter-runners, and this seems like an edge case that didn't require clarification. It seems to say that catchers kind of have to be running hard, and might end up running over the batter-runner, and that this is inherently a collision, and should not be ruled obstruction. That's fine to clarify, and one should probably assume that the comment refers only to this special case. Otherwise, it flies in the face of the obstruction definition, which seems to cover the situation at 3B in last night's game.
So, you can probably be in one of two camps:
- Lying down where he did after failing to catch the ball thrown by the catcher, Middlebrooks clearly impeded the runner's progress, and it's textbook obstruction, with a well-defined outcome.
- Craig made a technical baserunning error starting not from 3B itself or the 3B-HP base-line. In fact, by being on the 2B-side of 3B, he was technically running the bases in reverse, and by making a travesty of the game (or in an attempt to confuse the defense), he's automatically out.
The concept of "base path" is clearly ill-defined. In so far as it's "defined", it can only happen on a tag attempt. To say that there was a tag attempt would be to look at the catcher's actual tag near HP. And, Craig certainly stayed within three feet of the straight line between his position at the tag attempt and the plate (all 2 feet of it). No part of the rules that I can see governs the "legitimate starting position of a base-run".
But, (2) is suspect. Because of precedent. In cases where a runner goes to first and overruns, followed by an errant throw to first that does *NOT* result in an automatic base (i.e., the ball leaves the playing field), the runner, having successfully taken 1B, does not retreat to 1B before advancing to 2B. He begins his route whenever--and, more importantly, wherever--he learns that the ball has been overthrown.
There is also no explicit clarification to this that I can find.
I did, though, stumble across this:
If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call "Time" and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.
Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.
I'm not sure how this works with 7.06(a), which talks about a situation when a play is being made on the obstructed runner. I mean, the ball in the air on a wild throw. There was obviously going to be a play. But, at the instant of the obstruction call, Middlebrooks had already missed the ball, and at the moment, cannot be fielding. Since he's not playing a batted ball, he must be obstructing. Which is to say, how can there be a situation where the ball is not dead on obstruction?
The comment for 7.06(a) tries to help...
When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls "Time," with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.
So, the ball is dead when the obstruction call is made unless the ball is in flight before the call. Okay. So, the ball isn't dead. And the runners are to be awarded "such bases on wild throws as they would have...had not obstruction occurred." Well, Craig had already taken 3rd. So, when the obstruction was called (post-slide), he should be immediately awarded the run. So, I think you can safely say that since Craig would have been awarded home at the instant of the call, then he does not advance "beyond the base he would have been awarded". This has to be true, since it's home.
So, back to the conclusion that there are only one of two reasonable camps:
- Craig's progress was impeded by Middlebrooks. He was obstructed, and awarded a won since he had already safely taken 3rd.
- Craig can't start his move toward home from a point between 2B and 3B. Since his position was illegal, he was out.
(2) seems unlikely. All is right. *whew* That was a close one.