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Full Nelson Uncle! I give.
2002-10-16 15:23
by Mike Carminati

Full Nelson

Uncle! I give.

After reading this post on Only Baseball Matters and consulting the always interesting The Rules and Lore of Baseball, I have changed my opinion of Jeff Nelson's invocation of the obstruction rule-though I still disagree with his judgment call but even though the majority seem to agree with me, that still is a judgment call.

I had been caught up on the phrase "If a play is being made on the obstructed runner" which invokes the first half of the rule and as I stated earlier would award Santiago home. But the OBM email got me thinking: what qualifies as a play being made? If there was no play being made on Santiago, then the second part of the rule would be invoked and Nelson would be correct. Here is the rest of the rule:

7.06 (b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call "Time" and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction. Under 7.06 (b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire's judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.

The rules make a distinction between non-fielder obstructors and those considered "in the act of fielding a ball":

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.

But it does not define what is meant by a play being made on the runner. Cairo was not in the act of fielding the ball. If I recall the replay properly, the ball was just getting to the relay man when the obstruction occurred. If Cairo did not possess the ball nor was he fielding the ball at the time of the obstruction, does that mean that no play was being made on Santiago?

Being thick-skulled, I was unsure. So as I said earlier, I consulted the ever-interesting The Rules and Lore of Baseball. This is a great resource for investigating rules since like a law book it contains all of the precedents in which the rules were used in the past. Under rule 7.06(a), I found a few passages about catcher's blocking the plate without the ball and this story about obstruction as it pertains to a rundown:

Boston and Washington played a night game on May 21, 1955, in which Boston outfielder Jackie Jensen and Washington pitcher Mickey McDermott were involved in an obstruction play and mild skirmish.

In the top of the twelfth inning, Jensen was on first base with two out. Picked off by McDermott and trapped, Jackie made a break for second, then returned to first base. On his way back to first, his progress was obstructed by [first baseman] Mickey Vernon. Obstruction was called by the second base umpire, Ed Runge, but he didn't make any gestures to go with the call.

Jesnsen was steaming about the obstruction as he charged toward McDermott, who was waiting to put the tag on him at first base. Jensen pushed McDermott down, and the ball was knocked out of the pitcher's hands.

At first base, umpire Hank Soar called Jensen out for interference. The Senators, believing the side was retired, walked off the field. However, senior umpire Bill Summers said Jensen was obstructed by Vernon and should be given first base. Today Jensen would be given second base, one base beyond the last base legally touched. On the play, Jensen and McDermott got into a scuffle, and both were ejected from the game.

And there's this famous tale:

John McGraw, the great ex-New York Giants' manger, used to pull the following stunt, which was an act of obstruction, when he played for Baltimore many years ago. When a runner was on third base and ready to leave third after an outfield fly, McGraw used to hold the runners [sic] belt to slow him down.

OK, so if the play is directed at the runner-a rundown or a tag-up-then it can be said that a play is being made on him.

Here's an example of the second half of the rule being invoked that I think is analogous to the Cairo-Santiago play:

Eddie Stanky when managed Chicago between 1966-1968...had a neat trick that would involve Pete Ward, his third baseman. When an opposing runner attempted to score from second on a hit, Ward would move into the path of the runner, and then step aside just before the runner got there. (This would obstruct the runner's path.) There would be no contact, but Ward's actions would cause the runner to break stride just enough to give the Chicago outfielders a chance to nail the runner at home. The umpires finally caught on to Ward's trickery and nailed him a few times. Once they realized the umpires were on to them, Stanky and Ward soon scrapped this caper.

I think that given this anecdotal evidence, I am ready to acknowledge Nelson's correctness and probity in this matter.

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