Runner Interference Call Changed to Fielder Obstruction
The Rays and Mariners played at T-Mobile Park on July 2, 2023. In the bottom of the third inning, the M’s had Ty France on second base and one out, when Teoscar Hernández hit a ground ball that Rays’ third baseman Isaac Paredes charged in on. France, on his way to third, collided with Paredes as the ball rolled into shallow left field.
Third base umpire Chris Guccione called France out for runner interference. But the umpires huddled and changed the call to Type 2 obstruction. France was protected to third base, and Hernández was kept at first base.
Rays’ manager Kevin Cash argued that France was running in a fashion that clearly interfered with Paredes.
Did the umpires make the proper decision in reversing Guccione’s call?
Was Cash correct that runner interference should have been called?
- Although one might argue that common sense dictates a fielder cannot be expected to disappear after he has attempted to field a batted ball, there is no language in the baseball rules that can substantiate the interference call made by Guccione.
- This is a fundamental “Right of Way” issue in the game of baseball.
- The runner must avoid the fielder when he is in the act of fielding the ball because the fielder has the “Right of Way.” Cash’s comment that France was running in a fashion that clearly interfered with Paredes” has merit but, by rule, the runner must be aware of the location of the ball and fielder when advancing and grant the “Right of Way.”
- However, once the fielder is no longer in the act of fielding the ball, the “Right of Way” switches to the runner and the fielder cannot impede the runner in any manner.
- In the above play, the ball went by Paredes when he collided with France. When the collision occurred, Paredes was no longer in the act of making a play. Therefore, by rule, Type 2 obstruction must be called on Paredes because he did not have possession of the ball, nor was he in the act of fielding the ball. Because France was obstructed when no play was being directly made on him, it is Type 2 obstruction.
- When Type 2 obstruction is called, the ball remains alive and there is no automatic base award per rule 6.01 (h) (2).
- The umpires judged that France could not have advanced farther than third base had there been no obstruction, so he was protected to third base.
- Assuming Guccione never killed the play by calling “Time,” if France got up from the ground and kept running to the plate, and was an easy out, the out would stand because the thinking is the obstruction had no bearing on the outcome of the play. If France was out on a close play at the plate, he should be protected and allowed to score because in that case, the obstruction would have impacted the outcome of the play.
- Is the rule as written a fair rule? One former umpire agrees that the above play was properly ruled but added, “I think the rule should be revisited and some new language added to protect the fielder. My argument has always been that the fielder cannot vaporize and disappear after he has made a legitimate attempt to field the ball; and consequently, in my opinion, I do not think he should be penalized.”
- The former umpire continued, “I’ll play Supreme Court Justice here and explain what I think the Rules Committee (the Founders) were hinting at in the last sentence of 6.01(h) Comment. It reads, ‘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 obstruction the runner.’ By using the term “continues to lie on the ground” and “very likely has obstructed the runner,” makes me think that they were not sold on the idea that a collision that occurs immediately, (a nanosecond) after the ball has passed the fielder that he should be penalized as obstruction. If it were up to me, I would add language to the obstruction rule that absolved the fielder of his responsibility to avoid impeding the progress of a runner in cases like that. I would treat that as a natural collision thereby discouraging the runner from colliding, and affect his thinking as he approached a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball.”
- I agree with the comments of the former umpire. It’s only common sense. When a runner is attempting to steal home, the batter is not expected to disappear because the play happens so quickly. So, why should a fielder be expected to “vaporize” the moment after he attempts to field the ball? There are other examples as well.
- The classic play where Type 2 obstruction was called immediately after a fielder attempted to field a throw, occurred on the final play of Game Three of the 2013 World Series played between the Boston Red Sox and St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. It involved Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks and Cardinals’ runner Allen Craig.
In the bottom of the ninth inning, the teams were tied 4-4 with runners at second and third for the Cardinals after Craig delivered a one-out double. With the Red Sox infield playing in, second baseman Dustin Pedroia dove for a Jon Jay grounder and threw home to retire the lead runner. Craig attempted to advance to third. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia fired a throw to third base that got by Middlebrooks who fell to the ground while trying to reach the ball. With Middlebrooks face down in the dirt, Craig tried to hurdle him, tripped, then staggered toward home. Third base umpire Jim Joyce pointed and yelled, “That’s obstruction.” The ball was kept alive because at the moment of the obstruction, the ball was rolling a good distance in foul territory past third base and no play was being directly made on Craig.
Craig never quite made it home, but home-plate umpire Dana DeMuth protected him and called him safe after he saw Joyce signal obstruction. Joyce used proper mechanics in making the call by pointing to the obstruction and making DeMuth, third base coach Jose Oquendo and Craig aware of it. The ball was kept alive, and the Cards won the game, 5-4.
According to figures supplied by MLB, prior to Game Three of the 2013 World Series, a total of 1,404 postseason games were played over the years and none had ever ended with an obstruction call until Game Three of the 2013 Series. And Middlebrooks was officially assigned a fielding error on that play, making Game Three the first in the history of the Fall Classic to end on an error since Game Six of the 1986 Series, when Mookie Wilson‘s 10th-inning grounder went through Bill Buckner‘s legs to give the Mets a 6-5 win over the Red Sox in 10 innings.
In summary, the Paredes/ France and the Middlebrooks/Craigs plays were proper obstruction calls.
But was this an obstruction of justice in the court of baseball public opinion?
Rules consultant/analyst: Angels, D’backs, Dodgers, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Yankees, Bally Sports, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.