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Obstruction of Justice?
2007-10-02 12:40
by Mike Carminati
He Missed The Tag!
—Bob "I Must Be in The Front Roooow" Uecker

Wha' 'appened
—Fred Willard's catch phrase from "A Mighty Wind"

I want someone to explain to me what Tim Mcclelland was thinking when he made the call that ended the Padres-Rockies wild card playoff marathon last night or rather earlier this morning.

The Rockies had just tied the Padres at 8-8 in the bottom of the thirteenth inning with a Matt Holliday triple. With Holliday on third and none out, closer Trevor Hoffman intentionally walked Todd Helton to face weak hitting utility infielder Jamey Carroll, who entered the game as a pinch-hitter in the seventh.

Carroll hit a fly to right and Holliday broke for home. The ball and the runner arrived almost simultaneously. Holliday slide headfirst as he approached the plate and saw an opportunity to score by tagging the back half of the plate. Catcher Michael Barrett's left foot slide out to the left as he received the catch, blocking the plate entirely. As Barrett tagged Holliday, he took out the runner's left hand and Holliday took a face flop in the dirt and then seemed to be stuck to the dirt. The ball came loose, however, and after a momentary hesitation, plate umpire Tim McClelland called the runner safe. The winning run scored and the Rockies were celebrating while Holliday tried to remove his face from surface of Coors Field.

Sound good, right? Late inning heroics for a hot team that won fourteen of their last fifteen, including the one-game playoff, to advance to the official postseason. It sounds like a great Cinderella story. Let's cast Scott Bakula as Holliday.

The only problem is that he never scored. Repeated replays showed that Holliday never touched the plate. McClelland initially made the right call waiting for the play to reach resolution, but grew impatient as Barrett attempted to retrieve the call and decided that, eh, thirteen innings is enough—let's call it a game.

There is no excuse for the call. If McClelland believed that Holliday touched home, then when the ball came free the ump would have called him safe. He did not. If he believed that Holliday missed the plate (as he did), McClelland would have waited for one of two things to occur: either Holliday reaching back to touch the plate, which never happened, or Barrett tagging Holliday, which came after the safe call.

There is actually one other thing that could have occurred: Holliday could have vacated the field believing that he had scored. However, this is covered by rule 7.08k:

Rule 7.08(k) In running or sliding for home base, he fails to touch home base and makes no attempt to return to the base, when a fielder holds the ball in his hand, while touching home base, and appeals to the umpire for the decision.
Rule 7.08(k) Comment: This rule applies only where runner is on his way to the bench and the catcher would be required to chase him. It does not apply to the ordinary play where the runner misses the plate and then immediately makes an effort to touch the plate before being tagged. In that case, runner must be tagged.

The only other thing McClelland could have been thinking was that Barrett interfered with Holliday and didn't allow he access to home, but Barrett according to the definition of obstruction was in the act of fielding the ball and was just doing his job:

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.

Barrett did not completely block the plate by sliding his left foot until the ball was at home. So even though obstruction is a judgment call, that would be a hard one to sell. Besides I saw no indication that McClelland called obstruction on the play. If he had, why would he have hesitated to call Holliday safe.

The only excuse is that McClelland blew the call and intentionally did so to avoid, as my friend Chris put it, the grief of calling the runner out. There was nothing in the rulebook that turned his hesitation into a safe call. It was McClelland's attempt not to become Don Denkinger.

In that respect, McClelland succeeded: everyone is talking about the Rockies instead of how he screwed up the call, everyone but a minutiae monger such as myself. He wasn't even mentioned in ESPN's recap of the game.

However, Dekinger, it should be remembered, was just doing his job. He missed the call in the 1985 World Series but he did it (apparently) with a clear conscience and no ulterior motives to the play one way or the other. Here, McClelland made a call that he must have know was the wrong one just to avoid controversy.

McClelland such be investigated, and if this is the case, he should be summarily fired. His excuse-me bow-out call does more damage to the image of the umpires than a gross miscall like Dekinger's.

I await the rampid miscalls in the true postseason. More camera time for Steve Palermo

By the way, can we disabuse the media of this believe that Trevor Hoffman is the greatest closer of all time just because he is the career leader in saves, baseball's most dubious stat. Again they made this obligatory reference when Hoffman entered the game. He left with just one batter out, Carroll on the sac fly, three runs allowed, and a loss. If Hoffman is among the top ten best relievers all time that would be quite magnanimous. He is probably not even better than third today with Mariano Rivera, the true "greatest closer", and Billy Wagner both active.

Finally, I have to update the table from yesterday for the least days in first for a division/league winner. The numbers I ran yesterday included all playoff teams and all days that they held a playoff spot, including wild card, not just in first place. Here's the updated list and the Phils drop to a third-place tie:

YrLgTm# DaysFirstLastWLPCTWon Div?Won Lg?Won WS?POSGBGA
1871NAPhiladelphia Athletics31871070418711030217.750 Y 102
2006ALMinnesota Twins420060928200610019666.593YNN101
1964NLSt. Louis Cardinals619640929196410049369.574 YY101
1951NLNew York Giants719510417195110039859.624 YN101
1938NLChicago Cubs1119380418193810028963.586 YN102
1934NLSt. Louis Cardinals1219340417193409309558.621 YY102
1981ALMilwaukee Brewers1319810408198110056247.569YNN101
1959NLLos Angeles Dodgers1419590426195909298868.564 YY102
1942NLSt. Louis Cardinals16194209121942092710648.688 YY102
1935NLChicago Cubs17193504161935092910054.649 YN104
1956NLBrooklyn Dodgers1819560423195609309361.604 YN101
1967ALBoston Red Sox1819670412196710019270.568 YN101
1883NLBoston Beaneaters1918830904188309306335.643 Y 104
1973NLNew York Mets2019730405197310018279.509YYN101.5
2005ALNew York Yankees2020050403200510029567.586YNN100
2007-10-02 13:02:12
1.   Xeifrank
how about this scenario. The throw comes home. Runner (thinks he does) but doesn't touch the plate. Catcher doesn't tag the runner. Runner heads to dugout. Catcher gives the ball back to the pitcher. Umpire doesn't make a safe or out call. What rule is that covered in?
vr, Xei
2007-10-02 13:06:14
2.   dianagramr

that depends on whether or not A.J. Pierzynski is involved in the play ...

2007-10-02 13:15:54
3.   dianagramr

"The question will long linger whether Holliday actually touched the plate. Even Holliday, who scraped his chin and was spiked by Barrett on the left hand, wasn't sure." (emphasis mine)

If Holliday was spiked on his left hand, it would have had to have been at the point when Barrett had his foot on home plate, and Holliday's hand would very very likely been under it.

(btw, John Marzano of offers up an opinion on the call on the front page.)

2007-10-02 13:37:13
4.   Cliff Corcoran
Indeed, the replays were inconclusive. You can no more say Holliday missed the plate than you can say he touched it. His left hand did get under Barrett's foot, so it's possible that Holliday caught the plate with a finger tip. If he did, McClelland was the only man (or camera) in position to see it. I would argue that his hesitation was caused by the fact that he was watching Holliday's hand, not the ball, and that it took him a moment to notice that the ball had trickled away. Indeed, if you watch the replay you can see that he doesn't react to the loose ball until Barrett goes to retrieve it, which suggests that he didn't see it. Throw in the fact that McClelland is famous for his delayed calls and I see no funny business going on here. I'm still not sure Holliday was safe, but I do think it's possible that he was, and that only McClelland (not even Holliday or Barrett) would know.
2007-10-02 18:40:09
5.   Mike Carminati
I thought the replays were quite conclusive. I saw no replay in which Holliday got within 6" or home. Whether he was spiked was inconclusive, but Barrett's left foot was well beyond home, not on home. Therefore, I see the potential spiking as meaningless.

I'm still convinced that McClelland screwed the pooch.

1 I know I've read about a play like this. Let me see what I can find. My inclination is that he's safe since he was never tagged out, but I have nothing to back it up.

2007-10-02 22:17:43
6.   roughyed
Missing a base is an appeal play.

If Holliday misses the plate but no one appeals or tags him then he should be safe.

I'm not an expert on the baseball rulebook but as a Softball umpire I'd do what McClelland did, wait to see if anyone appeals and if they don't then call the runner safe.

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