The Two Types of Obstruction
Type 1 Obstruction
On July 30, 2023 the Marlins hosted the Tigers at loanDepot Park.
In the bottom of the sixth, Marlins’ baserunner Jon Berti stole second and advanced to third when Brendan White’s pitch got by catcher Jake Rogers. Berti continued to run to third but Rogers’ throw to third put Berti in a pickle between second and third. As the play progressed, Berti was obstructed by Zack Short after the two collided. Third base umpire Jason Visconti called “Time” and Berti was allowed to go to third base because Type 1 obstruction was ruled.
Definition of Obstruction
Visconti made the proper call. Obstruction is a fancy term for defensive interference. It is defined as “The act of a fielder (Short) who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner (Berti).” Also, contact and intent are not required for the rule to be invoked. If a fielder impedes or hinders a runner in any way, the umpire can rule obstruction. There are two types of obstruction: Type 1 and Type 2 as covered in rules 6.01 (h) (1) and 6.01 (h) (2). In Type 1 the ball is dead, and the runner receives a one base award. in Type 2 the ball remains alive and there is no automatic base award.
This type of obstruction normally occurs when: (1) there is a play being DIRECTLY made on the runner. The word DIRECTLY is not defined in the Official Baseball Rules. Anecdotally, examples of DIRECT plays would include: (1) a rundown such as the play above; or (2) when the batter-runner is obstructed by the pitcher who is covering first on the 3-1 and does not have the ball in his possession, nor is in the act of receiving the throw; or (3) a fielder blocks a base without the ball, nor is in the act of receiving a throw when a runner is about to reach the base.
A runner only has a restricted baseline when he is avoiding a tag or is in a rundown. In the above play, Berti had a restricted baseline because he was in a rundown. His baseline was a straight line to the base he was going to, and he could not exceed 3-feet to either side of the line. Therefore, he had 6-feet of real estate to deal with. The baseline changes on every throw as the runner changes direction. Fielders must be aware of the space offered the runner in a rundown.
When Type 1 occurs, the umpire will raise his arms vertically to call “Time” and point to the fielder involved in the violation. The ball is dead, and the runner is awarded one base after the last base he legally touched. For instance, if a runner is in a rundown between home and third and is obstructed on his way back to third base, the ball is dead, and he is awarded home. If a runner is obstructed in a rundown between first and second, or second and third he is awarded the next base regardless of the direction he is going when the obstruction occurs.
Runner Initiate’s Contact in Rundown
A wise runner might initiate contact during a rundown to pick-up the obstruction call. In the above play, it’s quite possible that’s what Berti did. The umpires will normally protect the runner in such plays unless the runner goes out of his way to head-hunt or target the defensive player. Shane Victorino, the “Flyin’ Hawaiian,” was a master at this technique.
Defensive players must be aware that if they do not have possession of the ball or are not in the act of receiving the throw, the runner has the RIGHT OF WAY. Therefore, the defensive player must quickly vacate when rotating to give the runner the 6-feet he is allowed when his baseline is restricted in a rundown.
A few years ago, following a presentation I made in spring training, I went out to the field to watch a workout. The team was practicing defending the rundown. I couldn’t believe my eyes.
The team was using an older coach as the runner in the middle of the rundown. They were going half speed and getting nothing out of it.
Game 3: 2003 ALDS: A Clinic in the Obstruction Rules
You can make an argument that the A’s lost the 2003 ALDS because of failure to distinguish between the Type 1 and Type 2 Obstruction rules. The A’s went into Fenway Park with a two-games to zero lead over the Red Sox in a best of five series. If the A’s had won Game Three, they would have advanced to the ALCS.
In that contest, third base umpire Bill Welke gave everyone a clinic in the two types of obstruction. I covered this in a report some time ago. Since then, there are many new faces who read these reports and have never seen or heard of this classic lesson concerning the two types of obstruction and how it affected the outcome of the 2003 ALDS. So, I will repeat it OK- let’s go to Game Three of the 2003 ALDS between the A’s and Red Sox.
Chavez Commits Type 1 Obstruction
In the bottom of the second inning of the third game, Boston had Jason Varitek on third and Gabe Kapler on first and one out when Damian Jackson hit a ground ball to Eric Chavez at third. Chavez threw to catcher Ramón Hernández placing Varitek in a rundown. Hernández ran Varitek back to the bag where he collided with Chavez who was standing in front of the base without the ball.
Welke ruled obstruction on Chavez and killed the play by yelling, “Time” and raising both arms. He then pointed to Chavez indicating that he had obstructed Varitek, who was allowed to score even though he was headed back to third when Chavez committed the violation. If you look carefully, you will see Varitek extend his elbow into Chavez, possibly to influence the call. Welke had properly invoked Type 1 Obstruction and scored Varitek which gave the Red Sox a
1-0 lead into the sixth inning. There was no argument on the play as it was clear that Chavez had impeded Varitek in the rundown.
- Varitek had a restricted baseline the moment the rundown began. He was not able to exceed 3-feet on either side of the straight line to the base he was going to.
- Varitek, therefore had 6-feet of real estate or space. Chavez should have been aware of this and vacated properly allowing shortstop Miguel Tejada to take the throw at third base.
- Because Chavez did not have possession of the ball, nor was he in the act of receiving the throw from Hernández, he was required to grant the “Right of Way” to Varitek which he failed to do.
- Vartiek was awarded home by rule even though he was returning to third base.
Type 2 Obstruction
Type 2 obstruction occurs when a defensive player without the ball and not in the act of receiving a throw impedes or hinders a runner when no play is being directly made on the runner. The ball remains alive and there is no automatic base award. This normally occurs when the ball is in the outfield and a runner is obstructed while circling the bases, or when a runner and a fielder become entangled as the ball evades the infielder. In this situation the ball remains alive and in play. The umpires will decide whether or not the runner is protected to the next base or further. If the runner goes beyond his protected base, he does so at his own risk. Unless the play is a close play following the obstruction, the runner can be called out despite the obstruction if he runs beyond his protected base.
Let’s fast forward to the sixth inning with the Red Sox leading 1-0. Here you will see Red Sox third baseman Bill Mueller commit a Type 2 obstruction on Tejada.
With one out in the top of the sixth, the A’s had Erubiel Durazo on third, Tejada on second, and Chavez on first when Hernández’s slow bouncer skipped under the glove of Boston shortstop Nomar Garciaparra who was charged with an error. Durazo scored to make it 1-1. Tejada, in rounding third, collided with Mueller, who had retreated to the bag and bumped Tejada off stride. It was a classic Type 2 obstruction. Welke pointed at Mueller indicating obstruction and yelled, “That’s obstruction.” Since there was no direct play being made on Tejada at the moment of the obstruction, the umps did their job by keeping the ball alive.
Tejada apparently believed that he had a “free ticket” to the plate once Mueller had hindered his path. Tejada (and the third base coach) apparently were thinking that since Varitek was awarded home when he was obstructed earlier in the game, he expected the same treatment. So, he jogged home while verbalizing and gesturing toward Mueller or Welke. By this time, the ball came in from outfielder Manny Ramirez and Varitek tagged out Tejada a good distance from the plate. The out stood with the thinking that the obstruction did not impact the outcome of the play
A’s manager Ken Macha screamed about the call to no avail. The A’s rally was thwarted, and the Red Sox won the game in 11 innings and subsequently the ALDS.
- Players, coaches and broadcasters need to understand the difference between Type 1 and Type 2 obstruction.
- If Tejada kept running hard and was out by one or two steps he would have been protected and allowed to score. Because he was out by such a large margin, he was not protected.
- Mueller’s violation occurred because he was fixated on the location of the ball and took his eyes off Tejada who had “The Right of Way.” Because he did have possession of the ball, nor was he in the act of receiving the throw, he was guilty of obstruction.
- In retrospect, the A’s gave up a run in the first inning because of Type 1 obstruction and one or more runs in the sixth because of a Type 2 obstruction that they did not properly execute.
- The lack of a proper understanding of the different types of obstruction literally proved costly for the A’s. One member of the A’s staff said, “If we won that series, I would have made an extra $100,000. It would have paid my daughter’s tuition to UCLA.”
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.