It's Your Call —
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The basis for this
play comes from Howell, Michigan and deals with the actions of the fielder
when a runner attempts to steal of a base.
With one out and a R2 on second
base, R2 is stealing on the pitch. The third baseman (F5), while watching
the catcher’s actions, moves toward 3rd base. He arrives and drops
to one knee as the throw is arriving. R2 arrives just before the ball
but is blocked from the base by the F5’s knee and calf as the F5
receives the throw and applies the tag. It’s your call.
Regardless of how this play is described by words, it is something that
must be seen to be ruled on. Different umpires will have different impressions
– the same umpire may have a different ruling on an almost identical
play one inning later. There are many nuances that come into play. Pure
and simple it is a judgment call. (This answer and ruling below are based
on the Major League [Official Baseball Rules] and may vary in other proprietary
brands of baseball.)
The rule that is weighed on this play is
obstruction – 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
Be certain, it is the phrase “in
the act of fielding a ball” that causes 99% of the controversy with
perceived obstruction. No matter which way you rule, one team will be
unhappy. In determining obstruction, these points should be considered:
- Obstruction can occur at a
base (or plate) or in the baseline, and going or returning to a base.
- All fielders are bound by the
same rules. There seems to be a general acceptance that the catcher
is allowed to block the plate when there is a play there. Remember,
fielders have the same latitude as the catcher.
- The runner need only be hindered
in his base running effort – contact is not a requirement.
- The mechanics of applying obstruction
and awarding bases vary depending on whether a play in being made on
the obstructed runner (or another runner) and are covered in rule 7.06.
- Attempt to gauge the intent
of the fielder. Was the intent to 1) acquire a strategic position in
preparation of the play (such as a catcher setting his left foot at
the outside corner of the plate and then causes a blockage by the location
of the throw) OR take a position to block the base in an effort to delay
the runners approach to the base or plate. (example: I had a pitcher/first
baseman duo that apparently practiced their pick-off play at first base.
The first base always dropped to his knee on the pick-off [just as the
ball was being released] and the pitcher would help sell the play by
always throwing low.) Gauge the intent.
With R2 on second base, a wild pitch get behind the catcher and goes o
the screen. R2 advances and rounds third as the catcher retrieves and
fires a ball to 3B and retires a surprised R2. After the play, you (the
umpire) notice that the ball used to record the out was a practice ball
and not the ball in play at the time of the pitch. It’s your call.
This is a play not specifically addressed in the rulebook and therefore
requires the umpire to rule on the play in a manner that is fair. Someone
will certainly be unhappy but you need to get the call right. You cannot
assume what might have happened if the correct ball was picked up –
you are not even sure where that ball is. The out was made with an improper
ball so the offense should be disadvantaged – the out cannot be
allowed. The catcher apparently just picked up the first ball he saw (not
an intentional switch) so the defense should not be penalized. R2 had
seemingly acquired third base while the correct ball was in play –
I would place R2 on third base and let play continues from that point.
The umpire is responsible to assure the field
is safe, including being free of any extraneous gear and equipment. When
(infield and outfield) practice ball are thrown in at the start of an
inning, the umpire must assure they go to the bench area. The pre-game
inspection should uncover any leftover batting practice balls.
As awkward as this month’s play seems, it
is much better than having a player discover the misplaced baseball by
injuring an ankle.
9.01 (c) Each umpire has authority to rule on any
point not specifically covered in these rules.
With R3 on third base and one out, the batter hits a high pop up in the
infield to the third base side of the pitcher’s mound. R3 believes
there are two out and crosses the plate where the on-deck hitter reminds
him there is only one out. R3 retouches the plate and is running back
toward 3B when the wind blown fly ball falls uncaught. F4 picks up the
ball and relays to F5 who tags R3 as BR pull into second base. It’s
R3’s run counts and BR remains at 2B. The ball remained live throughout
the play so BR’s advancement was legal. R3 had legally scored and
cannot “unscore” a run by retracing his steps back to third
base. (Had the fly ball been caught, the defense could have “unscored”
the run by appealing R3’s failure to tag-up or retouch the base
5.06 When a batter becomes a runner and touches all bases legally he shall
score one run for his team.
Comment: A run legally scored cannot be nullified
by subsequent action of the runner, such as but not limited to an effort
to return to third base in the belief that he had left the base before
a caught fly ball.
copyright 2010, Mark Swiss / Central Maryland Umpires
Office of Training and Umpire Development. All rights reserved.