The Cardinals Got Away With Another One

Oct 26, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; St. Louis Cardinals pinch hitter Allen Craig (left) slides into third base as the ball gets away from Boston Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks (16) in the 9th inning during game three of the MLB baseball World Series at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Scott Rovak-USA TODAY Sports

I intentionally waited on this for a couple of days after the conclusion of Saturday evening’s World Series Game 3.  I wanted to make sure that my knee-jerk reaction wasn’t just borne out of envy, bitterness, malice or …. I dunno:  insert your favorite of the Deadly Sins here.

Nope… none of that applies.

The problem here is that Common Sense and the MLB Rule Book are not entirely compatible with one another.

 

2012.

Let us review, from the 2012 National League Wild Card game between St. Louis and Atlanta.  The relevant section from the Official Major League Baseball Rule Book is reproduced here:

Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder—not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.
By the letter of this law, umpire Sam Holbrook was justified in making an Infield Fly ruling on the ball Andrelton Simmons popped up into Left Field, some 225 feet from home plate, and thus just about as close to the left field foul pole as it was third base.  But that said, what would Common Sense dictate in that situation?
  • The rule was enacted for one reason only:  to prevent infielders from ‘trapping’ runners on 1st base – or 1st and 2nd – into holding their position while the ball was allowed to fall to the ground:  turning an easy single out into an easy double play… a rather ‘undeserved’ double play, as rule-makers determined.
  • The conceptual premise of the rule requires a ball to fall to the ground in such a way that an infielder – or an outfielder stationed close enough to the infield – could trap a ball and then have the opportunity to start a typical double play within the confines of the infield.
  • The conceptual premise of the rule additionally recognizes that a fielder is using deception in the play – intentionally dropping a ball in order to seize the opportunity for a cheap double play.  Was that happening on that night in Atlanta a year ago?  Hardly.  It was a miscommunication between SS Pete Kozma and LF Matt Holliday.  In other words, the rule provided St. Louis a remedy for their own fielding error – something that rules should never do.

Common Sense:  how many third-to-second or second-to-first DPs have you seen initiated at a distance of 225 feet from home plate?

But wow – the language of that rule gives the umpires a lot of leeway to make that call.  Yes; yes it does.  But it also allows them the leeway to use reasonable judgment and not invoke the rule as well.  Common sense – had that kicked in – would tell reasonable people that the Infield Fly rule ought not to have been used in that case.
But the Letter of the Law bailed out the umpires that night:  they (and Joe Torre, who denied the Braves’ protest… sure wish they’d had the night to formulate an actual case to argue it better) can always point to the rule book and say “this rule allows the ruling that was made.”  Common Sense was denied.

 

2013.

Fast forward to last Saturday night.  Bottom of the 9th, 1 out.  Infield is drawn in with runners on 2nd and 3rd.  Grounder to second base.  Dustin Pedroia must have gone thrown 5 different extreme emotions on that play as it continued.  First he somehow snags the grounder, then pulls out his best Walt Weiss impression – easily nailing the incoming Yadier Molina at the plate.

If that had been the end of the play, then the Red Sox might have a 3-1 series lead this morning.  But Jarrod Saltalamacchia got greedy.  Wrecklessly greedy.

Salty decided to fire a ball to third base.  For catchers, this is risky on an ordinary day.  Will Middlebrooks was at least in the right position – at third base – which at least gave this play a shot.  But the video shows pretty clearly that Jarrod had no play on Allen Craig — even had the throw been perfect.  He was nonetheless careful in making sure of the out at home – but then threw the ball into left field.

That brings up the topic of what happened at third base as Craig tried to rise and get himself toward the plate.  Injury and all, he managed to scramble to his feet faster than Middlebrooks could… only to stumble over Middlebrooks one step later.

Let me now quote the rule book again – ironically from the same Definitions section (2.00) that was cited above.  Apparently the umpires have this memorized (and they should):

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 ballFor 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.

Brilliant.  In this case, the lack of Common Sense is institutionalized within the very rule itself.

The NFL had an interesting rule involving the completion of a pass.  In that incarnation of the rule, a pass receiver did not become a ‘ball carrier’ until the football has been received, caught, and then the receiver has the opportunity to regain his feet (if airborne) and execute a ‘football move.’  Apparently, even this was too weak for them, as they continue to tweak that rule.  But this still makes sense:  a pass completion is a process, not necessarily an instantaneous event.

My point here is that baseball should look at the whole picture themselves as well:  when Middlebrooks dove for the errant throw, he was executing a fielding play – one he was clearly (by Common Sense) still involved with.  That ‘act’ should not have ended the instant the ball got past him as the rule book demands, because it was that very act of fielding that left him sprawled on the field.  He didn’t take a pratfall due to a desire to lay down for a rest – it was because he was directly involved in the active play.  It was because of that same act of fielding that Allen Craig slid into third base, and was thus in the position to trip over Middlebrooks.

Mandatory Credit: Eileen Blass-USA TODAY Sports

Oddly enough, had Craig been a tick or two slower in getting to third base, he might not have slid and thus likely would not have tripped over Middlebrooks at all while rounding the bag.

Common Sense should suggest that it is reasonable to allow Middlebrooks to – at the very least – be excused from an obstruction ruling since he was doing his job at the time of the ‘obstruction.’

Yes, sometimes players get tangled up as part of going about their business.  If this had been a NASCAR race, the ruling would have been “it’s just racing” – play on.  If this had been a cornerback in the NFL getting foot-tangled with a wide receiver, it would have been ruled “unintentional contact.”  But in baseball, it’s “obstruction” and the runner gets to advance.

We should be applauding the superior defensive plays made to save the game – well, not Salty’s, obviously – by Pedroia and LF Daniel Nava in throwing two runners out at home on the same play to save the game in the bottom of the ninth in the World Series… on the road, no less.  That scoring would have gone 4-2-5-7-2.  Awesome… assuming you believe that home plate umpire Dana DeMuth was going to rule Craig out at home on the play.

Instead, we’re quoting rule book definitions.

—————-

We will never know if an Infield Fly rule reversal would have led to a Braves victory in that game from 56 weeks ago (but who’s counting?).  We will never know if a non-obstruction call from Jim Joyce would have led to a Boston victory on Saturday night.  And we’ll never know because Common Sense isn’t in the rule book.  We’ll never know because it is far easier to point to a page in a book and say “I ruled it that way because this rule says I can interpret what I saw in this manner” rather than explain that you made a mistake in a ruling or that Common Sense failed you as an umpire.

Then again, maybe the ghosts created by Don Denkinger during 1985′s World Series Game 6 have finally been exorcised by these two calls.

Let’s hope so.  I’m getting a little tired of seeing important games decided by having somebody read definitions from the rule book to me.

Topics: Atlanta Braves, Playoffs, Rule Book

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  • Jeff Schafer

    wow…great points

  • fireboss

    I’m afraid I have to disagree. The intent of the rule for infield fly was exactly as you described it. That was a blown call and all the talk about umpire discretion was tap dance and BS to keep from admitting it. The Obstruction play was a clear obstruction, it was clear that the only reason the throw beat Craig – gimpy as he was – to the plate was that Middlebrooks tripped him; intentionally or not it makes no difference. If the ball had bounced to the SS and the throw had beaten Craig by 15 feet the umpire at home would have called him out. That part of the play is a judgement call. It is impossible to determine intent in most obstruction plays. All Middlebrooks had to do was raise up just enough to touch Craig’s show and slow him down. He was clearly in Craig’s path and a player cannot deny the baseline to a runner unless he’s holding the ball or fielding the ball. That’s why they teach players in a rundown to find and collide with a defender as a way out..

    I agree Middlebrooks was in a no win position after missing the ball. His mistake however was trying to hold the bag and reach for the ball instead of just stepping over and catching it. Craig was safe, the throw was not going to get him and Middlebrooks should have followed the first rule of defense. Before you do anything catch the ball. Middlebrooks and company should have known as soon as Craig fell over him at third that it was obstruction. He is after all a major league player all of that shock and surprise after is so much cow doody. They didn’t like the call and were trying to get it overturned but as usual that argument is lost before it starts.

    The rule is clear and it’s fine as it stands. There’s no ambiguity at all. Obstruction – like catcher’s interference – doesn’t have to intentional, it just has to occur.

    • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

      My point has nothing whatsoever to do with intent – it has everything to do with the definition of the ‘act of fielding’, which I argue is a distinction that should not leave Middlebrooks.the instant the ball is missed.

      Suppose he had caught the ball and Craig thought he’d missed it and thought he could go home. If Craig then trips over Middlebrooks, then there’s no interference since the ‘act of fielding’ would have remained with him.

      The best baseball analogy I can come up with it in the overrun of first base. A batter-runner is safe running through the bag. He becomes liable to being put out if he makes any secondary move (even a flinch, which is also a little silly) toward second base. But normally, a batter-runner is permitted to complete the ‘run-out’ past first base and remain safe.

      I am arguing that Middlebrooks – any fielder – should be permitted to complete a dive, a catch, a throw… whatever… as a part of their ‘act of fielding’ without being liable for an obstruction call. That would include a dive and any resulting consequence (excepting any _intentional_ tripping, of course) should be considered part of that motion. When you [attempt to] do your job, you ought not be penalized for it.

      I agree – the rule IS clear… but the notion that he ceases to become a fielder the *instant* that the ball passes him is silly and counter to reasonable common sense. Thus I suggest that both rules go too far. Unfortunately, the example given in that rule book definition for obstruction suggests that this one was meant to be exactly the way it is. I don’t believe that was the case for the Infield Fly definition.

      • fireboss

        I understand that Middlebrooks momentum took him into that position. You say that if attempting to make the play takes him into an obstructive position he shouldn’t be penalized. So let’s move it from third base WS.
        I steal second – okay I’d need a gun but bear with me – and the throw gets there when I do. The second baseman dives to catch it but misses and lands across my legs so that even though the ball went 150 into the outfield with no one near it I’m unable to get up and run to third. Today i get interference but under your definition since the the second baseman landed there trying to field the ball I’d be stuck at second. Right?

        There’s no way to determine intent to obstruct and that’s why the rule is the way it is.

        Middlebrooks did the instinctive thing instead of the pragmatic one when he reached for the ball instead of recognizing that Craig would be safe and stepping over to at least block it. I admit that there are probably 3 or 4 players who would think quickly enough to do that but like coming off first to pick a bad throw instead of holding the bag and letting it go by it is the right move.

        • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

          Yes – that’s essentially my position: you _do_ sometimes have multiple people going for the same space at the same time _in_the_process_of_trying_to_make_a_play. The notion that you can do that and cause interference if you whiff on the ball, but not if you catch or perhaps even knock it down is kinda absurd.

          Oh, and don’t even get me started on Beltran’s HBP in the 7th inning.

          • Jeff Schafer

            Can we all agree that we are rooting for the Red Sox??

          • http://tomahawktake.com/ carpengui

            THIS

          • fireboss

            Well no. I don’t actually care who wins as long as the baseball is played well. Pushed I always take the NL team. And I do not understand all the animosity towards the Cardinals. They play solid baseball top to bottom and the pitchers aren’t wussies too fragile to bat or run the bases lest they expose themselves to the same dangers the other players face.
            Anyone that says the Braves wouldn’t have taken advantage of that infield fly call had it gone against the Cards is living in La La Land. The hate of Yadier Molina would vanish in a puff is he had a tomahawk on his chest. They’re every bit the blue collar team the Red Sox are this year without any posers or egos. And they do it every year. Hate them because they’ve upset the Braves little red wagon in recent history? The Braves controlled their destiny both times and weren’t good enough.

            The Cardinals are the organization the Braves were and think they are. they grow their own starters and reinvent cast offs to fill teh holes until their guys are ready. The minor league system is deep and strong and the fans are as good as you’ll find in baseball. Do I wish the Braves were there instead? Sure Is it the Cardinals fault they aren’t? No.
            I would love Ross to get his ring and I’ll be happy if he does but I’d still rather an NL team wins . . .as long as there is an NL and that won’t be all that long.

          • fireboss

            You’d have more defenders going for the same space if they could claim it was continuation of a play.
            What about catcher’s interference? The catcher isn’t trying to hot the bat just catch the ball so, no penalty?

            Hitters who don;t try to move shouldn’t get their base but until MLB wants to enforce that rule – and clearly they do not – it won”t happen.

  • brad

    This is an unbelievably difficult topic to debate on. The case here is very well represented. Would it be reasonable to to allow a fielder to maintain his status of “in the act of fielding the ball” for a few seconds after he stopped attempting to field it? Maybe… but one of the fundamental rules of baseball is that the runner has the right to the baseline regardless of whether or not the fielder is “doing his job” unless that fielder is in a position to make a play on the runner(i.e. has the ball or is waiting to receive it…. in an aside, i think it’s ironic that the “act of fielding” the ball doesn’t, and shouldn’t, include the actual act of fielding a ground ball). The note in the rules is not to allow the fielder to do his job but to prevent the runner from manipulating the play(on himself) at the bag (ie. would it not be reasonable for a runner to run into a fielder catching a ball for the interference call?).

    In your (quite informative) dialogue with ‘fireboss’ you use the analogy of a base runner passing first base. I think I have a better one. The base runner’s job is to run between the bases. If he gets hit by a batted ball while doing his job he is out….. because he interfered with a fielder doing his job.

    That’s not even mentioning the fact that it was a full 3 seconds between him missing the ball and Craig tripping over him. He could easily have(had he known the rule) rolled out of the way(…made some sort of attempt to roll out of the way at the very least) or prevented himself from being in that position in the first place…. instead of staring into the outfield and putting his feet up.

    Maybe the rule could be rephrased to say that a fielder is exempt in these types of circumstances but I think it is more than reasonable to add a provision that the fielder needs to make an effort(in the judgement of the umpire) to get out of the way as well.

    • fireboss

      Bud did away with the league presidents and consolidated the umpires as part of his centering power in the commissioner’s office. It was done to consolidate the brand and oh by the way turned the commissioner’s office from rule enforcement as the primary function into more of a commercial ceo brand manager. His primary job is to make money for the owners everything else is subservient to that goal. The umpires weren’t necessarily better back then we just didn’t see their mistakes in replay after replay. Heck in one Dodger Giant game the umpire ejected the whole bench of one team – Dodgers I think – because they were giving him hell for missing a call. I doubt that having 2 leagues and two sets of umpires would make any difference. They have an extremely high accuracy rate, that only the jerks 4-6 of them are well know sort of says that. They do get disciplined it just isn;t public knowledge often. Last year a crew chief was suspended for screwing up a Houston game. Others go missing for a game and no one notices except their paychecks.
      The new replay thing will make it worse, challenges are just stupid and it all comes down to money not accuracy.

  • Matthew Jones

    Can I say something a bit off-topic, but still on? I’m sick and dang tired of the umpires essentially having no backlash against them for calling terrible calls (although I do think the obstruction was the right one – I’m more referring to the blown infield fly ruling, plus many others throughout this season that cost the Braves wins, namely dealing with strike zones and whatnot).

    Ages ago, there were two sets of umpires, one in the NL and one AL, both I believe reporting to the NL and AL Presidents (another thing that I think baseball should bring back, actually). Because of the competition between umpires in both leagues, I feel that there was actually a reason for the umps to get more plays right than wrong. Furthermore, there was more control it seemed by the league office to punish or reprimand umps because it wasn’t just the commissioner’s office attempting to watch over the umps, plus all the teams, plus the merchandising, etc etc.

    Realistically, what we’re seeing is not a question of how the game is being affected by one or two plays, but rather the lack of control by MLB to actually make sure that the umpires call good games. That’s my opinion at least.

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