POLL: Obstruction, or Smart Defense?

The Rays knocked off the Rangers by three Monday night, and the game, presumably, was not decided by a successful pick-off in the bottom of the first. However, it was a pick-off most interesting, given the actions of James Loney at first base. So while the pick-off is not what people will be talking about Tuesday, it seemed like this should be opened up for a poll, in order to gauge reader opinion.

Following, the play, along with the pertinent rules. Is this obstruction, or is this good defense on Loney’s part? Elvis Andrus was quickly erased, and the Rangers’ odds of winning dropped more than four percentage points. Who’s to say what the inning could’ve become? Do we even need to worry about the context or significance when talking about a rule-book gray area?

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From the rules:

 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.

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Up to you, now. Not really, I mean, it’s all already been decided. But, weigh in anyway.




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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

125 Responses to “POLL: Obstruction, or Smart Defense?”

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  1. That was just a “pause” in Loney getting out of the way.

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  2. Bryrob58 says:

    Third option: MLB told Loney to angle his foot for product placement purposes on behalf of Nike.

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  3. Nick O says:

    This was a not uncommon tactic in high school. In my memory, the coaches would complain, and then umps would usually tell the 1Bman to stop doing it.

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    • Neil says:

      I still vividly remember when our coach had the freshman scrimmage the varsity for god knows why. The first baseman was 6’3″ and probably about 230-240 lbs. He would block first base entirely and would routinely get pick offs on freshman who couldn’t get past him. Did I mention my coaches weren’t very good?

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  4. Elvis says:

    Check out Loney’s feet the entire time. They don’t move from the basepaths the entire time. I voted obstruction.

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    • JMo37 says:

      What about a catcher blocking the plate?? obstruction or smart D ?

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      • Baltar says:

        The rules give the catcher an exception. Why? I don’t know.
        This rule is another baseball rule that is about as clear as mud.

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        • Trey says:

          Same reason they can be taken out by a runner so that they might remove the ball. If you touch any other fielder that holds the ball, you are called out. But you can barrel your way right into the catcher and you’re fine.

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    • Capt_Science says:

      I recall a Baseball Digest trivia question that touched on this. The pitcher here, as in that question, was throwing to the fielder and not the base. The baseball rules say that he is to throw to the base. In this instance, Loney is close enough that it’s hard to prove he wasn’t throwing to the base, but because Loney never moved and was in the middle of the basepath, it should be obstruction.

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  5. pft says:

    He was obviously in the act of fielding the ball and applying the tag. It’s hard to know if the Loneys only reason for the foot movement was to impede the runner and not simply a movement needed to apply the tag. That it accomplished both may be luck or skill, who knows.

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    • Joe M says:

      I completely agree with this statement.

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    • Max says:

      I could be wrong, but I was under the impression that the “act of fielding the ball” applied to fielding a batted ball.

      The rule that Jeff quotes above supports this – it gives a special clause in which receiving a *thrown* ball can be considered the “act of fielding the ball,” but only if the fielder “must occupy his position to receive the ball.”

      In this case, I don’t think that Loney would qualify for that pass. He does not have to put his foot in the way of the base in order to catch the ball. And although it admittedly all happened very quickly, you can see in the video that the foot is moving into Andrus’ path before the ball arrives.

      My conclusion is that obstruction should have been called.

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      • chuckb says:

        He doesn’t have to put his foot in the way of the base in order to catch Price’s throw but neither does the rule state that he is required to move his foot out of the way in order to catch the throw. He’s standing where he’s standing and the ball is thrown his way. He remains there to catch the ball. The foot does pivot, but Loney does not move into Andrus’ way to catch the throw. He just pivots his foot and stays where he was.

        I can see the argument for obstruction but I voted that it wasn’t.

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        • Cliff says:

          So why can’t he squat in front of the 1st base bag like a catcher blocking the plate all the time? Then when the throw comes he’s receiving the throw and has to stay in his position to make the catch and apply the tag, so it’s okay, right?

          He’s in the middle of the base path blocking the runner from returning to the bag, that’s obstruction.

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        • Baltar says:

          You hit the nail on the head.

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        • Matt says:

          Cliff – I’m sure he could squat there like a catcher if he wanted to, but that’s a pretty horrible defensive position for fielding a batted ball. And if a 1B did that, the runner would clearly expect a throw over and act accordingly, as I’m sure the runner would be content if the pitcher actually threw a pitch with the 1B in such an awkward position. So no, you didn’t “hit the nail on the head” with that post.

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      • me says:

        The key is “must.” There were other ways he could have positioned himself to field (catch) the ball; it is clear he was only positioned this way to block the runner. Ergo, obstruction. I remember literally diving into a guy’s knee this way. Obstruction.

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        • Stuck in a slump says:

          looks to me that he was pivoting to apply the tag as he was receiving the ball. That’s just good defense and exactly what you see when the C throws to 2B

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    • TF12 says:

      IMO, his foot movement allows him to open his right hip, which in turn will allow him to let the ball travel and shorten the distance on his tag. Its nice footwork.

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      • David Sherman says:

        What TF12 said. Moreover, the low throw is reason enough to go to one knee and open enough stance so as to block the ball in the event he doesn’t catch it cleanly.

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    • Andy says:

      It also allowed him to not get his knee blown up. You instinctually try to get into a defensive position on a play like that. By movining his weight to his right foot, and lowering his knee, he is in a defensive position. It worked in his favor for sure, but I doubt he and David practiced throwing the ball 3 feet up the line just in case a 163rd game was played.

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      • wally says:

        But, he put himself in the position to get “his knee blown up” in the first place. That doesn’t give him the right to move to obstruct, just because you need to move out of the poor position you put yourself into in the first place.

        Its pretty clear Loney is already playing much closer to the basepath than a typical position with a runner on. While motives are irrelevant, he’s obviously trying to get as much in the way as possible from the beginning of the play.

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  6. Codylee says:

    If you watch the video, Loney could have easily broken some of Andrus’ fingers with that step. Aren’t the rules in place for safety measures? That’d be obstruction.

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    • Andy says:

      You are right. If Andrus goes in full speed however, he easily could have torn Loney’s ACL. Also, if Andrus goes in full speed, he is likely safe, because either Loney gets injured and misses the ball, obstruction is called, or he simply barrels Loney over.

      Couldn’t the same thing be said though for every baseruner that attempts to go around the catcher blocking the plate as opposed to just trucking him?

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    • Tim Hudson's Foot says:

      As much as I’d like there to be a rule, you can’t prevent all freak injuries.

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  7. pft says:

    Also, the runner would have been even if the foot did not block him.

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  8. noseeum says:

    Obviously his intent was obstruction, but he’s also legitimately fielding a ball. By the written rule, I say yer out!

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    • Andy says:

      No doubt about it. Loney could have caught the ball if he was standing in foul territory. He’d have had to dive for it though. Conversely, Loney could have caught the ball if he were 8 feet up the line, again though, he’d have had to dive for it. Loney put himself in the best position to make the catch,and the umpires should not ever rule that someone should have to dive over someone else in order to avoid obstruction.

      It was a ball put in perfect posistion for something so rare to occur.

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  9. Bip says:

    The rule should be made more specific by including language that specifies that they can only obstruct the runner with movements specifically purposed towards fielding the ball. So Loney can stand there, but the foot motion wasn’t part of making the catch, so it’s obstruction.

    Here’s another thing. Obviously a fielder with the ball can obstruct the runner, but he can’t, for example, grab the jersey of the runner during a rundown. Blocking the runner while not in the act of applying a tag seems questionable as well.

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    • wally says:

      Exactly. Its pretty clear to me that this added movement of Loney was not needed to catch the ball, but sure, he was “in the act of fielding the ball.” However, just because you’re fielding the ball doesn’t give you free rein to do what ever you like. In my opinion, it should only give you free rein to move as needed to get to the ball without obstructing the runner.

      Also, if you read the comment: “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.”

      So, he has the right to “occupy” his position to receive the ball. To me that pretty clearly means he doesn’t get to make extra moves not needed to field the ball to impede the runner. This doesn’t mean he has to get out of the way of the runner, but it does mean he can’t move into the runner as Loney did.

      Poor non-call, and I don’t really think its an opinion at all, given the rule.

      But as we see with the poll, clarification is need. This need to made explicit. We aren’t playing football. I don’t want to watch needless collisions that get people hurt.

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    • Matt says:

      Disagree vehemently Wally. It isn’t as cut-and-dry as you’d like to believe. He’s in the act of receiving the ball and positioning best for a quick tag. There’s nothing wrong with this play.

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  10. Wass says:

    It was obstruction, but it was also a smart play because it is rarely if ever called on a play like this. Catchers do this all the time at the plate, but it happens way too often at other bases too. Holliday hurt his hand diving back into third in the playoffs recently when a fielder blocked the base.

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    • Adrian Beltre says:

      I blocked Holliday. Game 6, 2011 Series. Tonight was karmic payback.

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    • Robbie G. says:

      Exactly. If a rule is not going to be enforced, whether you’re a landlord, or a bank, or a first baseman, or whatever, you don’t follow the rule.

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  11. Jason says:

    Obstruction at your own risk. Elvis Andrus (with his helmet on) could have easily ran right into Loney’s knee causing him to lose his balance or worse.

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    • brady says:

      He didn’t have nearly enough time to decide to do that. Once he sees that Loney is in the way, he is already mid-dive.

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  12. JS7 says:

    Almost a 50/50 split.

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  13. Stephen says:

    Is blocking the runner back to the bag considered “impeding the progress of the runner”? Seems to me this rule only applies when advancing or progressing to the next base, or am i just being to nitpicky?

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  14. Ryan says:

    Lonely had to replant his foot because his body instinctively knew he had to turn or he would over torque his knee. I vote it was entirely luck his foot was there. If you believe he involuntarily replanted because his brain in that microsecond said “oh crap lets not hurt ourselves!” Then you have to say NO OBSTRUCTION.

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  15. Thufir says:

    Can’t believe that’s not obstruction….

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  16. Bobulated says:

    Andrelton Simmons often does a similar move when taking pick-off throws and sometimes on steals and it has yet to have been called obstruction or even complained about that I know of. IMHO (and as an ex-collegiate 1B) it’s fair game within the rules if it’s done in the process of fielding the ball, just like at the plate.

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  17. hittfamily says:

    Loney shifts his as to not get Buster Posey’d. He happened to shift them into the runners line, but he shifted in order to adjust to the ball. The ball carried him up the line, so he moved up the line. According to the rules, this is perfectly acceptable.

    What I really want to know is why the 3rd base umpire had to jump over Fuld. Where the hell was he going?

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  18. scraps says:

    I figure that most everybody who rooted for the Rays saw it as smart defense, and most everybody who rooted for the Rangers saw it as obstruction.

    I thought it was obviously obstruction; he was lining up in the path, and went even farther when the ball arrived. He didn’t have to plant his foot sideways at all. All season, lots of pitchers’ throws went to the second base side, and lots of first basemen knew how to catch it without obstruction.

    (I rooted for neither team.)

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    • Andy says:

      I have seen a lot of balls end up in bullpens, so your statement is not accurate. Rather than trying to reach around a runner to catch the ball, he went for the ball. He had no way of knowing if Andrus was coming in standing, or coming in sliding. It was literally blind luck that his foot ended up where it did.

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      • chuckb says:

        I voted no obstruction but I think that your statement that it was blind luck is really naive. Loney recognized that he could catch the ball and block Andrus at the same time. It was clearly intentional but not obstruction, in my view, because he was in the process of catching the ball. Nevertheless, it wasn’t an accident that he kept Andrus from getting to the base.

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  19. Chase Utley says:

    I do this all the time at second base.

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  20. scraps says:

    In fact, I would be curious: If we had tapes of several (at least) pickoff throws, with many pitchers, with the ball ending up at approximately the same spot, where would the first basemen’s feet be?

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    • Shawn says:

      I’d say we also want to also note other first basemen’s starting positions. Loney’s stance when the ball is thrown dictates that he can’t field the ball and apply the tag without pivoting into the path of the runner. It looks very natural here, but I fail to see how anyone standing where Loney is could pivot to tag without interfering with the runner. It’s still a judgment call, but the umpire probably should have called obstruction.

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  21. Andy says:

    It was no different that what every catcher does during a play at the plate. It was obstruction, but if you aren’t going to call it at home, you can’t call it at first.

    Therefore, it is a grandfathered in clean, smart baseball move.

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  22. TheGrandslamwich says:

    On an accurate low throw to his right side it is faster for a IB to catch the ball as deep as possible and make a tag instead of catching it out in front and pulling it back. Opening up the right hip is a very common and recommended way to let the ball travel further. When he caught the ball his glove was so close to the runner that the mere impact of the ball forced his glove into Andrus.

    Loney’s form is basically perfect on the play for a ball thrown where it was. He had to open up and and move his right leg in the path to get the tag there as quickly as he could. Honestly, even if it didn’t work out that Loney’s foot blocked Andrus, Andrus still would have been out.

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    • scraps says:

      “forced his glove into Andrus”? You can see — look, it’s right up there for you to see — Andrus’s hand contacts Loney’s foot when the ball is still three feet away. I can’t tell if Andrus’s hand would touch the base or not, because Andrus’s hand was stopped — =waiting for= the ball to force Loney’s glove into Andrus.

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      • scraps says:

        Shoot, looking at it ten or twenty times, it might be four feet.

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        • chuckb says:

          It certainly is not 3-4 feet. It’s, at most, the distance equal to the width between Loney’s thighs. A foot or 2 at most. More importantly, we’re talking about milliseconds of time between when Andrus’ hand made contact with Loney’s foot and when Loney caught the ball. For all practical purposes, they happened very nearly instantaneously.

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      • TheGrandslamwich says:

        Loney caught the ball inches from Andrus – you can’t quite see how close in the gif – but since Loney was already giving up distance with his glove, yes the ball will push a players glove a few inches into a tag. That’s how making a tag quickly is taught.

        Andrus’ hand may have hit Loney’s foot when it was more that 3 feet away, but the ball was wall traveling easily over three times the speed of Andrus’ hand and his hand was over 1 foot away.

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  23. Keith says:

    Can’t it be both?

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  24. DodgersKingsoftheGalaxy says:

    Obstruction

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    • Andy says:

      Shockingly the Dodgers fan thinks that the 25 mil per year player plays cleaner than the 3 mil guy he replaced, even though they were worth the same amount of wins to their ballclub.

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  25. Jeffrey says:

    Feels like smart defense.

    It’s a judgment call, and we know how those turn out. There is a line for obstruction. But since Loney did appear to be in the process of fielding a ball, I don’t much care where his feet are if he is trying to field the ball.

    I wouldn’t have considered obstruction on this play personally.

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  26. scraps says:

    (I wish everybody can say who they were rooting for. At least, it would be interesting.)

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  27. scraps says:

    I wonder if Andrus had not desperately got his back (left) hand into the bag far too late, but instead just stopped his front hand where Loney stopped it, and looked up at the umpire, clearly the bag, all of it, in back of Loney’s foot: would the umpire then call the obstruction? I don’t know, of course, but I think Andrus’s case would be better.

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    • Andy says:

      No. Remember the Pirates clinching? Remember Russel Martin holding the ball up? The throw didn’t beat the runner to the plate, but Martin’s foot sure as hell did a great job of blocking it. It happened a hundred times over this season. There’s a play at the plate, the catcher puts his kneepad or back foot down, the runner misses the plate, and the catcher tags them out. Difference? “Mr Umpire, the plate was blocked, and I had no way of scoring”.

      I don’t think Loney, in that 1/10th of a second between when he realized the throw would be up the line, and when he caught it thought “I can block his way to the bag too” . O think he shifted his body in case Andrus came in standing up, which runners often do, to be able to handle the throw without it going into the bullpen allowing Andrus to go first to third.

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  28. Bab says:

    I’d say not obstruction.

    If the obstruction call was actually made, this would appear upon review to be ticky-tack.

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  29. Brian McCann says:

    Obstruction, but it’s fine because Andrus was trying to show him up with that lead

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  30. Bryan says:

    50/50 call. That’s a great play by Loney – putting the pressure on the ump to call obstruction.

    Reminded me of Kent Hrbek pulling Ron Gant’s leg off first.

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qzH2sFArIwE

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    • That Guy says:

      I had totally forgotten about that play. What an awful call by the umpire.

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    • Bad Bill says:

      Interesting you raise this. My initial reaction on seeing the video was “Hrbek used to do this all the time.” Most of the time, he got away with it, too. It wasn’t just Gant.

      That said, this is a close one, which is the point. I don’t think an obstruction call would have been wrong, but I’m not sure the call in the game was either. To me, what this really is is an indictment of the notion of having a one-game playoff decide anything important in baseball. It can’t be avoided here; there have been one-game playoffs to break end-of-season ties for a long time. But when the whole season comes down to a judgment call by an umpire, and the judgment is on something as hard to pin down as obstruction, it’s contrary to the way baseball is supposed to work. I say this having no rooting interest in either team in this game.

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  31. Todd says:

    Lots of comments about Loney’s intentions (whether he was trying to avoid getting hurt, etc.), but I don’t see why that matters. What matters, I would think, is whether he needed to block Andrus in order to gain access to the ball- not whether he THOUGHT he did. And it seems entirely clear that he did not need to block the base to catch the ball.

    Did blocking the base make catching the ball easier? Probably. Did it make applying the tag easier? Almost certainly. But the rules aren’t giving fielders the right to block runners if it makes their job easier. It’s only out of necessity. Loney could certainly have, say, taken a step forward and then swung the tag back behind him, so blocking was NOT necessary. Of course, then Andrus would probably have been safe…

    Full disclosure: I’m a Cardinals’ fan, so I don’t have much of a rooting interest in this. But I’m definitely on the side that wants to see home plate collisions done away with, and to me this feels somewhat related. To the extent there’s ambiguity in the rules, I’d want to lean towards intepretations that keep fielders out of runners’ paths. To the extent that the rules do allow fielders to get in the way of runners, I’d like to see that minimized.

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    • Requiem says:

      This.

      I hate all the collisions at the plate. There’s already enough problems with injuries. Why do more things to encourage more injuries?

      For the Rays’ fan, just imagine if it were Desmond Jennings going in, and he broke his hand and was out for an extended amount of time.

      For the other fans who support it, imagine your best speedy player having the same issue.

      Or as a baseball fan, just remember losing Buster Posey for a season because of crap like this.

      Baseball needs to stop thinking that it’s football.

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      • wally says:

        Seconded, or third-ed…

        Senseless injuries stemming from unspecific rules leading fielders to “force the ump to make the call” is not “in the best interest of baseball.”

        I don’t need debate about the rules or controversy regarding calls, and certainly don’t want to see players get hurt in the process. I want simple, clear rules called constantly.

        If you like watching collisions and people getting hurt, go watch football.

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  32. Gyre says:

    “in the act of fielding the ball”

    clearly just a smart move

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  33. Andy says:

    According to that rule, it is pergectly legal. According to my view of how the rules are perceived, and therefore interpreted, this is always a legal play. Andrus, or any runner for that manner, is not guaranteed the right to lead off a bag. Instead, they are guranteed an opportunity to go to a bag free of impediments, provided the throw does not lead a potential catcher into his basepath. The rule is what it is. Loney was attempting to catch a ball that was in play. Andrus was attempting to advance (by leading off). Loney attempted to catch a thrown ball, which impeded the path of the baserunner. Too bad for the baserunner.

    Dude is out!

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  34. Jim Garman says:

    Andrus has to be aware of what Loney is doing. As mentioned above this is learned(or not) in high school. Runner needs to fight through this move and get back to bag by any means. He is out because he got blocked.

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  35. FeslenR says:

    definitely obstruction, Loney was in the way.

    A little off topic but sort of correlated: Is it me, or do a lot of batters these days obstruct the catchers when they’re attempting to throw out runners trying to steal 2nd?

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    • chuckb says:

      It’s you.

      That hardly ever happens. Cardinal fans were enraged a couple of weeks ago thinking that Frazier interfered with Molina when he tried to throw out Hamilton but watching the video several times demonstrated pretty clearly that there was no interference. I can’t remember seeing 1 instance of interference on a play like that all season and I watch Cardinal games every night.

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  36. The Stranger says:

    That looks like a natural fielding motion. Could he have caught the ball in a position that impeded Andrus less? Probably, but it would have been a more difficult catch and tag. Loney isn’t required to contort himself to stay out of Andrus’ way, or make an awkward tag to keep the basepath clear; if that’s where the throw takes him, that’s where it takes him. Good non-call.

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    • chuckb says:

      I think this is the right answer here. Loney could have made it easier for Andrus to get back to the base but he’s not required to do that. He stood there and caught the ball. It was a good defensive play.

      I think the fact also that it’s 50-50 here and that even people with whom I’ve disagreed have made pretty good arguments should tell us that the umpire probably got it right.

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  37. Nick says:

    C. All of the above

    if you’re not cheating you’re not trying

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  38. Coach Joe Wood says:

    I taught that to George Bush at Yale a long time ago.

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  39. Sparkles Peterson says:

    I absolutely hate that the rule is applied such that obstruction isn’t called if a throw is en route. If MLB wants to solve their problem with home plate collisions, they just instruct umpires that a fielder in the basepath without the ball is obstructing.

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  40. Nate says:

    I voted no obstruction. That play happens at other bases all the time, it’s just less common on pickoff throws to 1B.

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  41. Well Bearded Vogon says:

    I’m surprised no one mentioned the educational tale of Eric Byrnes costing Oakland the 2002 ALDS when he stopped to yell at the umpire about this rule after he was aggressively blocked off third base by a fielder who neither had the ball nor was expecting it any time soon. If Andrus had the same strategy last night he’d have seen Loney’s position, stopped diving, and stood up to file a complaint.

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    • Aidan says:

      That was Tejada. Byrnes was out at a play at the plate w/ Veritek’s leg blocking Byrnes off the plate and Byrnes stood around whining while Veritek ran and got the ball, which had rolled behind home plate. Thx for the crappy memory.

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      • wally says:

        yeah, that was a fun game. Both Brynes and Tejada could have safely scored if they just didn’t argue. Terrible calls both but they didn’t help themselves.

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      • Sean T says:

        The way that rule reads (or read…don’t know if they’ve changed it since), if Tejada hadn’t pulled up and then come up complaining about obstruction after the play, he’d have had a much better chance of getting the call. Pulling up to argue means you’re no longer making an attempt to advance and makes it a much harder call for the umpire to make in your favor.

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  42. TKDC says:

    3 points:

    1. He might have been out anyway.

    2. This is a dangerous play by a first baseman from a tactical standpoint. Getting into the runner with any part of your body makes it a lot harder to catch the ball, and the amount of benefit you get varies, but is only fractions of a second (which as we know are important).

    3. Are the people calling this obstruction of the mind that Loney’s intent (i.e. he did this on purpose) is important, whereas if Andrus dove into his foot, technically in the base path, but it was clearly just coincidentally there, it would not be obstruction? While I believe it is highly likely that Loney did this on purpose, asking the umpire to make that call is asking a lot. In real time, it definitely could look like his movements had nothing to do with attempting to block Andrus. Maybe he’s just clumsy? He’s not the best baseball player, after all.

    Disclaimer: not a fan of either team; didn’t give a shit who won.

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    • wally says:

      1. Sure, but doesn’t matter.

      2. Good point, if this throw isn’t pretty close to where it is, Loney’s position makes it much more likely the ball gets away from him, as there is a good chance he collides with Loney trying to adjust to the poor throw. And guess what, greater chances someone gets hurt…. And its definitely to the benefit of baseball that ever throw over to first comes with a health amount injury risk….

      3. Intent is irrelevant. He clearly moved into the basepath without the ball. Per the rule, he’s only allowed to “occupy” his position without the ball to field a throw, not move to get in the way.

      4. Even “occupy” is not enough to prevent this type of obstruction and collisions. The rule needs to be you simply can’t be in the way of runner without the ball. Otherwise it leads to fielders put themselves in the way of the run first, then when the throw comes they can just just say they were “occupying” their position. And with so many plays, the ball never even beats the runner and the collision happens while the fielder doesn’t even have the ball. If you look, this is the case above as well. Andrus’ hand hits Loney’s foot while the ball is still a few feet away (people above are quibbling if it was 2 or 3 feet, but its something like that). If this was home plate, it might not have been a relatively safe dive back to a bag, but rather a tackle of Loney without the ball. This is the kind of thing that baseball doesn’t need.

      Also, if fielders consistently make these kinds of plays, runners will start being more aggressive as well. They won’t make nice cute slides, allowing fielders to block them off the bag while they complete the catch and tag. Next time you’ll see runners leading with shoulders, elbows or spikes. Its the only logical conclusion a runner can make if this type of obstruction is allowed.

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      • TKDC says:

        It that is the rule, how often would runners just intentionally run into the fielder? How much space is required?

        I disagree with your third point though. Something like this is never called, so it is not the rule. You have good points for why it should be the rule, but it seems a lot of people are trying to create their own definitions for what occupy means in this instance when decades of baseball says it means something entirely different. It’s definitely not even open and shut just based on the text alone.

        I am all for removing unnecessary violence (intentional or unintentional) from baseball in any way possible, but unintended consequences should be examined as well.

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        • wally says:

          Just because something isn’t called, doesn’t mean its allowed by the rules.

          Take for example the strike call when a hitter attempts a bunt at a pitch out of the zone. That is almost never called a strike and should be. Runner interference during a double play around second is almost never called, but should be. I reject that just because they aren’t called they aren’t rules…

          Like those, the rule clearly states “occupy”, which means you’re already there. There is no twisting of meanings going on here.

          Its also a very bad idea to have rules in the books, but have the game slow morph away from calling them as in the rule book. Those reasons are maybe beyond this topic to a degree. But anyway, I don’t think your point of something never being called = not the rule holds much water.

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        • TKDC says:

          The point is it is not interpreted the way you say it is, so it is not the rule. Nobody in the Commissioner’s office or the anywhere in baseball is going to rebuke this.

          Your examples don’t hold water. Those things are called. Sometimes they are missed, but they are called. And if you sat down with the folks in charge, they would say “yes, the rules say such and such.” That isn’t the case here. The rules allow you to be in the path if you are in the process of catching the ball. No one has ever called a play remotely like this obstruction in the history of baseball (citation needed, but it is very hard to prove a negative, I’m all ears if you have an example of it ever being called ever. And I mean ever).

          If you don’t think “occupy his position” is open for interpretation, you clearly have never even met a lawyer or even someone who plays one on TV.

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  43. FredG says:

    If this same play were made by a catcher this would be full of praise and adoration

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    • JMo37 says:

      True, I don’t see why people are thinking it is different because it was a pick off play to first.

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      • wally says:

        That’s not true at all. A great many fans, especially the kind that populate fangraphs, don’t like this kind of play at home either.

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  44. Reggie Jackson says:

    If Andrus just froze there, and then stuck his hip out to deflect the throw into the first base dugout, he would have made it to 3rd base instead of being picked off.

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  45. eddiegaedel says:

    Both!? It’s obstruction but if the league isn’t going to call it, good for him for playing smart defense!

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  46. lexomatic says:

    I see this as clearly obstruction. His right foot is blocking the path to the base from the first frame shown. The pivot has nothing to do with it. His position in the first place is obstructing the runner’s path to the base.
    If the majority of his foot isn’t behind the outside edge of the base closest to home, then he’s blocking the base, and the act of fielding or anything is irrelevant. He didn’t need to be there.
    But I agree with an earlier poster, the rules need to be made explicitly clear, and then rules enforced.

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  47. Joe says:

    Let’s say a shortstop fields a ground ball. He throws it to first, but the throw is a little errant. The first baseman has to take a step towards home plate to catch it, and with that step, he is now directly in the line of the batter who hit the ball, who continues on and collides with the first baseman. I’ve only ever seen this called Fielder Interference and the batter is awarded first base, because the fielder wasn’t fielding a batted ball.

    I’m not sure how this is different. A fielder positioned himself to catch the ball directly in the runner’s path, and the collision potentially affected the runner’s fate. I don’t see how that’s not obstruction.

    I didn’t root for either team in this game.

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  48. baseballbaseball says:

    thats just bad baserunning. firstbaseman is in front of the bag, the runner should try for the back of the bad. look where his lead is. fielders block the base all the time, you gotta find a way around it.

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  49. Devin says:

    Are the two mutually exclusive? I think it is obstruction, but it’s also smart defense.

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  50. Devon says:

    I don’t like that kind of playing, but I see that as smart D. He’s fielding the ball as it’s his role to hold the runner on. Plus, a smart runner knows to reach for first with the other hand to make it harder on the first baseman to tag you. This is nothing compared to Hrbek pulling Gant off the bag.

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  51. hamjenkinsIII says:

    Lames Joney

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  52. Andy S says:

    Can’t it be both?

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  53. A says:

    I’ve seen secondbasemen/shortstops block 2B when trying to catch a runner stealing, and no one in the games I’ve watched has ever complained about it, nor was obstruction ever called. Who knows, it could be one of those ‘I won’t complain if your pitcher uses foreign substances because I want my pitcher to have the same advantage’ type things, where it’s technically against the rules but everyone does it anyway. But if that’s the case and we want it changed, game 163 would be an odd place to start. If it’s a problem, have a meeting in the offseason for umpires to enforce obstruction more.

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    • Sean T says:

      One difference? You block a runner trying to advance and he might decide to go in feet-first. The shortstop on my high school team had so many tears in his uniform pants that I’m surprised he didn’t get new ones midway through the year. If a runner is coming back to a bag, it’s much less likely you’re getting the business end of things.

      Not that spiking is a good thing and as far as the game being self-policing goes, it’s not one of the things I’m fondest of.

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  54. pudieron89 says:

    Lots of sour Texas fans voted in this poll huh

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  55. yf223 says:

    To further the comparison to a catcher blocking the plate, what would/should the call be if Andrus tried to run through Loney, like a runner decking a catcher on a play at the plate? I’d imagine the umpire would call Andrus out if he did it, but I’m not sure about the rationale for such a call.

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  56. DNA+ says:

    It obviously was not obstruction. It is not Loney’s fault that Andrus dove for a spot three feet short of the bag. Whether Loney’s foot was there or not is beside the point since he obviously would have been out either way. I don’t get to see him often, but when I do I’ve often thought Andrus is a pretty poor base runner for such a fast guy. Reminds me of Brett Gardner in that way.

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    • Spit Ball says:

      No obstruction, I agree. But the Rays should not think they will get away with this again and again. Pedroia or Victorino will stuff their helmets on Loney’s knee cap if this happens with them. The rule does not state the runner must avoid the fielder if the fielder is fielding the ball on their direct path to the ball. Crack, ripped ligaments; last time I try that.

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  57. Ruki Motomiya says:

    I kinda wish there was a “both” option. To me, it was obviously obstruction, but it was a “smart defense” kind of obstruction: It is probably not going to be called, as it rarely is, and he is able to do it in a way that lets him skirt into a grey area of the rules.

    So it’s obstruction, but done in a way he won’t get called, which makes it smart.

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  58. Nivra says:

    I really don’t get all the arguments for obstruction. The comment on the rule makes it very clear.

    ” 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.’”

    (1) He was receiving a thrown ball. Check.
    (2) The ball is in flight directly toward or near enough the fielder. Check.
    (3) As many have pointed out, opening the hip like that allows him to field the ball optimally. Fielding the ball optimally should be the prototype definition of “act of fielding a ball.”
    (4) Since fielding the ball optimally requires him to open up his hips, it absolutely satisfies the second condition: “he must occupy his position to receive the ball.”

    You only think it’s obstruction if you think one of the following:
    (a) This is not fielding the ball optimally.
    (b) “must occupy his position to receive the ball,” precludes fielding the ball optimally, and instead means fielding the ball by any means possible. This argument, of course, lends itself to the silly examples above wherein the fielder can’t be anywhere near the bag, and must dive 5 ft to field the ball in order to avoid obstruction, which is ludicrous.

    All other arguments, including, “he shouldn’t have been there in the first place,” don’t make sense from a reading of the rule, IMO.

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  59. Zubin says:

    At first I thought this was smart defense as by the letter of the law, Looney was fielding the ball. I would expect most umpires would call him out. However, upon closer review and looking at how obstruction is interpreted, it is pretty clear that this is obstruction.

    I know this isn’t in the official rules, but the way the rules have always been interpreted is that a fielder may not completely bock a base until he is in possession of the ball. This is why a catcher will always yield part of the plate when they are receiving a throw but before they have control of the ball. In the instant case Looney clearly doesn’t have the ball before he blocks first from the diving runner. Ergo by the common interpretation of the rules Looney has obstructed the runner.

    Now, if you want to stick to the verbatim rules, they state the Looney would be in the act of fielding the ball if “…he must occupy his position…” The replay shows that he pivoted sub optimally to receive the ball– if he were to optimize his reception of the ball, he would have squared his position to the pitcher. Of course such a position isn’t optimal to tag the runner, but neither is his right foot slide towards the outfield side of first. Optimal position for him to tag a runner would be to move his right leg to the infield side of first. This all means his right leg/foot didn’t have to be where it was and it is pretty clear it served no purpose for him to field a ball. Therefore his right foot and Looney himself did not have to be in that position. Therefore it is obstruction.

    Bottom line, this is smart defense that any umpire would call an out without replay. With replay, the play is definitely obstruction and it is not particularly hard to see. Although I’m unsure if an umpire would invoke the rule.

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