Was Obstruction the Right Call?

Last night’s obstruction call is getting a lot of attention, but I don’t get it.

First, let’s look at the definition of “obstruction”, according to the MLB Rule Book, section 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: If 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.

Go to this video to see for yourself (skip to the :20 mark).

Or just look at these three frames provided by MetsBlog:

obstruction

Whether you look at the pictures or watch the video, it’s evident that Jose Reyes is in the baseline without the ball. Unless a fielder is making a play on a BATTED ball, the baseline belongs to the runner. The runner is allowed to flatten the fielder if he is in the way — with or without the ball. You may have seen this happen back in the 1970s when runners attempting to score would “barrel over” the catcher.

So, unless I’m misinterpreting something, the umpire made the correct call of obstruction on Jose Reyes, because Reyes was in the basepath, impeding Shane Victorino.

On the other hand, Victorino’s shoulder-throw into Reyes may or may not be illegal. It doesn’t look good, that’s for sure. There’s a slight possibility the umpire had grounds to eject Victorino for unsportsmanlike conduct — though, I *think* he’d still be entitled to second base.

The rule was invoked against Alex Rodriguez during a Yankees – Red Sox game a few years back, it’s Section 6.1 of the MLB Umpire Manual (which I can’t locate online):

“While contact may occur between a fielder and runner during a tag attempt, a runner is not allowed to use his hands or arms to commit an obviously malicious or unsportsmanlike act.”

The only other possibility is that the umpire might have called Victorino out for running out of the baseline, prior to elbowing Jose Reyes. But he didn’t.

So for everyone whining that Victorino is a “cheater” or that Jerry Manuel is justified for arguing the call, I’m not sure I agree — though I’m open to changing my mind if someone can point us to a rule that I missed somewhere.

Regardless of the what call was correct, it was a hardnosed, mean move by Victorino (some identify this as “edge” or “grit”). Earlier in the game, David Wright was nearly beaned, seemingly intentionally, by Clay Condrey. Both actions were unanswered by the Mets in the contest, but that doesn’t mean someone won’t get buzzed in the next meeting between the two clubs, igniting a good old-fashioned rivalry and perhaps a brawl (I know, I know, wishful thinking).

Joe Janish began MetsToday in 2005 to provide the unique perspective of a high-level player and coach -- he earned NCAA D-1 All-American honors as a catcher and coached several players who went on to play pro ball. As a result his posts often include mechanical evaluations, scout-like analysis, and opinions that go beyond the numbers. Follow Joe's baseball tips on Twitter at @onbaseball and at the On Baseball Google Plus page.
  1. isuzudude May 8, 2009 at 6:31 pm
    (Ditching the Manny conversation…)

    I agree with you, Joe. I think fans who are hot at Victorino after last night’s game are funneling their anger at the wrong target. The correct call was made by the umpire in that Reyes was in the basepath of Victorino without the ball, a clear example of obstruction. So do not be mad at the ump for making the call. The thing to be upset over is the blatant flying elbow Victorino threw at Reyes, purposely making contact with Reyes to either ensure that the obstruction call was made, or to injure Reyes. Either way it’s a cheap move by Victorino, and if the Mets haven’t been completely neutered yet they’ll send a high-and-inside message to Victorino the next time these teams lock horns.

    I did enjoy seeing Jerry get into it with the umpire, though. Whatever his motivation or reason, it’s a sure crowd pleaser to see the manager get his money’s worth. The contact he made with the ump while jawing might cost him a couple games down the line, though.

    Also got a kick out of the highly audible “Jayson Werth-less” chants in the late innings. Although I’m not sure how appropriate that nickname is of a player who went 4-for-4 at the dish.

  2. David W. May 8, 2009 at 11:08 pm
    To make contact with Reyes, Victorino altered his angle towards second base by approximately 30 degrees. At the point of contact, Victorino’s shoulders are well to the right of his feet. I think he had an unobstructed path to second base and, recognizing that he would be tagged out, leaned to the side to elicit an obstruction call. Had he run on a straight line, he might barely have brushed against Reyes. Throwing the elbow was a gratuitously cheap shot.
  3. wally May 9, 2009 at 10:07 am
    Too many weenies in this f’ing game … Victorino played it exactly as I would’ve 20 years ago.
  4. joe May 9, 2009 at 10:18 am
    David, Victorino may have altered his angle, but it was altered directly toward 2B. As I said in the post, MAYBE he was out of the baseline prior to that.

    Throwing an elbow could be perceived as a cheapshot, or hard-nosed. Depends on who you ask. Either way, that is the brand of baseball the Phillies play. The Mets remind me of a bunch of ballerinas on the basepaths.