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Umpires offer their explanation for ‘great call’ on obstruction ruling

10.27.13 at 1:36 am ET
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ST. LOUIS — The World Series umpiring crew offered its explanation of what may become one of the most controversial rulings in baseball history. Crew chief John Hirschbeck, third base umpire Jim Joyce (who made the obstruction ruling that ended up resulting in Allen Craig being awarded home plate for the 5-4 Cardinals walkoff victory in the bottom of the ninth) and home plate ump Dana DeMuth, along with MLB executive vice president of baseball operations Joe Torre, addressed the media following the game.

First, the obstruction rule as defined:

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 ‘€œin 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 ‘€œact 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.

Some highlights of the press conference — which featured Hirschbeck proclaiming the ruling a “great call” by Joyce:

HIRSCHBECK WITH AN EXPLANATION OF THE OBSTRUCTION RULE

“Obstruction is the act of a fielder obstructing a runner when not in the act of fielding a ball. It does not have to be [the] intent [to obstruct], OK? Once he has the opportunity to field the ball, he can no longer in any way obstruct the runner.”

JOYCE ON WHAT HE SAW THAT LED TO THE OBSTRUCTION CALL

“When the play developed after [catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia] threw the ball at third base, after the ball had gone straight through, and [Craig] had slid into third and stood up to attempt to go to home plate, everything was off right there. And when he tried to advance to home plate, the feet were up in the air, and he tripped over [Will Middlebrooks] right there, and immediately and instinctually I called obstruction.”

“[Middlebrooks' feet being up in the air] didn’t play too much into [the ruling] because he was still in the area where the baserunner needs to go to advance to home plate. And the baserunner has every right to go unobstructed to home plate, and unfortunately for Middlebrooks he was right there. And there was contact, so he could not advance to home plate naturally.”

JOE TORRE OFFERED AN EXAMPLE OF THE INFRACTION IN THE RULEBOOK

“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.”

TORRE ON WHETHER ‘VERY LIKELY’ MEANS THERE’S INTERPRETATION

“International or not intentional. He just has to clear the path. I know sometimes it’s unfair because he’s laying on the ground, but that’s the way the rule is.”

ON WHETHER MIDDLEBROOKS COULD HAVE DONE ANYTHING TO AVOID VIOLATING THE RULE ONCE DOWN

Hirschbeck: “Just to get out of the way quickly and not obstruct the runner. It’s really as simple as that.”

Joyce: “Really, that doesn’t play into that play. With the defensive player on the ground, without intent or intent, it’s still obstruction. You’d probably have to ask Middlebrooks that one, if he could have done anything. But that’s not in our determination.”

More Joyce: “The rule is that the runner has every right to home plate at that particular play unobstructed without any liability — he doesn’t have to get out of the way, he just has the baseline, and unfortunately the defensive player was there.

Torre: “The fact that he impeded the runner, again, didn’t mean to, but it still doesn’t matter, according to the rule.”

HIRSCHBECK ON WHETHER THE UMPIRES CONFERRED ON THE CALL

“I was on the left field line. Immediately after we got off the field into our locker room we congratulated Jim and said “great call.” I could see it all in front of me as it happened. That was our first reaction when we got in the locker room. Mark Wegner made the comment he could see it developing from right field. We’re trained to look for these things. It’s out of the ordinary, but when it happens, and it’s the World Series, you expect to get it right.”

ON WHETHER CRAIG WAS IN THE BASELINE, AND IF THAT WAS RELEVANT

Joyce: “He was right on the baseline. He was right on the chalk. And so that never played into any decision, at all, because he was — he had slid, stood up, and he was literally right on the chalk.

Hirschbeck: “Don’t forget, the runner establishes his own baseline. If he’s on second on a base hit and rounds third wide, that baseline is from where he is, way outside the line, back to third and to home plate, it’s almost a triangle. So the runner establishes his own baseline.”

ON WHETHER THE RUN WAS AUTOMATIC ONCE OBSTRUCTION WAS RULED

Joyce: “Our determination is whether or not he could have scored or not. And [DeMuth] immediately came up with, he saw me make the call. And as soon as Craig slid into home plate, Dana immediately pointed down at me knowing that we had obstruction and it impeded [Craig] to score the run, essentially. [DeMuth] did a great job on installing that right away.

Hirschbeck: “And that’s the last, most importantly part of this rule, is that the umpire has to determine — if what you saw tonight happened and he’s out by 20 feet, then the umpire determines that if the obstruction had not occurred, he would have been out, OK? But since it was right there, bang-bang play, obviously that’s obstruction, definitely had something to do with the play.”

Torre: “You remember a few years ago I think [in the 2003 ALDS between the Red Sox and A's, Miguel Tejada] ran into a fielder and then stopped running, and even though he was pointing back, he’s obstructed, but he stopped running, so he was out.”

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