The “obstruction” call and legal reasoning

As everyone in the world knows (or should know because baseball is a sacrament), the St. Louis Cardinals won a World Series game on Saturday night because the Boston third baseman “obstructed” the runner and consequently the runner was awarded home plate and the winning run even though the runner was tagged out at the plate.

During the play in question, Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia threw wildly to third base in an attempt to catch baserunner Allen Craig after a play at the plate in the bottom of the ninth inning. Craig, who had slid into third, got up and headed toward home, but tripped over the upwardly extended legs of Middlebrooks, who was face down on the third-base line after a futile attempt to catch Saltalamacchia’s throw. You can view the play here. (Give it a second to load and struggle through the short ad.)

I have reprinted the relevant rules below. Please read them.

The umpire who made the call said that the fielder’s intent to obstruct or not obstruct the runner did not matter under the rules. For a bit of fun, using the comment section, make your best argument that the umpire was wrong regarding intent, and, even if he wasn’t wrong on that issue, make your best argument that he blew the “obstruction” call anyway. Explain your reasoning. You may rely upon the rules cited below as authority but you may not cite any other rule. The facts are stated above, and you may rely only upon those as well. Don’t regurgitate “talking head” talk, please.

The best argument may garner a prize. Or not.

I have a another reason for pursuing this baseball question beyond my love of the game. I am entirely serious when I say that this real life event could profitably be used to quiz prospective federal judicial nominees on how they reason when it comes to applying text to fact.

Rule 2.00.

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.


Rule 7.06.

When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal “Obstruction.”

(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.

Rule 7.06(a) Comment: 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.


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