A Curmudgeon’s Take on the World Series

OK, so the best team won the World Series this year. Congratulations, Boston. This one’s especially meaningful, the sportscasters say, because this is the first time that the Red Sox have clinched *in Boston* since 1918! Yeah, that makes sense. Until now, I hadn’t realized how lame it was back in 2004, when the Red Sox ended the franchise’s 86-year championship drought with a four-game sweep way out in St. Louis. How painful for the fans, who bravely donned masks of unbridled, drunken euphoria! Likewise in 2007, when the Sox clinched even farther afield (after another sweep) in Colorado. Bo-ring. Only this 2013 team had an appropriate sense of destiny. Only this team had the power to lift the Curse of the Bambino once and for all, literally throwing two games away so that the fans could at last experience true joy after Game 6 in Boston.

Speaking of throwing games away, can we please return to our senses and agree that the obstruction call at the end of Game 3 was the right call? And that the obstruction rule is a good rule?

Let’s review: Game 3, in St. Louis, game tied in the bottom of the ninth. Cardinals runner Allen Craig is trying to make it from second to third base after the runner ahead of him was tagged out at home. Red Sox catcher Jarrod Saltalamacchia fires wide right to third, sending third baseman Will Middlebrooks sprawling. The ball careens off of Middlebrooks and Craig into foul territory, into a no man’s land light years away from any Boston fielder. Craig is about to score easily and win the Cardinals the game. Except he is being unnaturally obstructed by Middlebrooks, who is lying on his stomach at Craig’s feet after desperately trying to snag, or at least smother, his teammate’s wild throw. Craig gets up to run, trips over Middlebrooks, and goes down in a heap. The third base umpire, standing in perfect position right behind Craig and Middlebrooks, immediately calls obstruction. Craig will be awarded home plate. Right call. Game over. Cardinals win.

But nobody’s watching the third base umpire. In the heat and craze of the moment, Craig manages to regain his footing and lumber home. Meanwhile, Boston’s left fielder has had time to run about four miles to grab the ball and fire it back to Saltalamacchia just in time to tag Craig before he reaches the plate. Boston players and fans rejoice, as if this is somehow fair, and then they become confused and enraged when the home plate umpire calls Craig safe and points to third base. Again, right call. Game over. Cardinals win.

The most common complaint I hear is that obstruction should involve intent. After all, it obviously wasn’t Middlebrooks’s intention to keep Craig from advancing; he was simply making a play on the ball. But obstruction is almost never intentional. I have never, as a player, coach, or spectator, witnessed an intentional act of obstructing a baserunner–except perhaps by a bully in schoolyard kickball. No, obstruction invariably results from a fielder simply being out of position, in the way, when the runner has the right of way. In this case, Middlebrooks was in the way because of Saltalamacchia’s bad throw. To put it another way, this was a three-car pileup caused by Saltamacchia rear-ending Middlebrooks into Craig. Calling Craig out, or even making him go back to third, would be as senseless as denying Craig an insurance claim simply because Middlebrooks didn’t damage Craig’s car intentionally.

And don’t forget that there are counterbalancing situations where the fielder gets the right of way and the benefit of the doubt. When a batted ball hits a runner, or a runner otherwise interferes with an infielder’s natural ability to make play, the ruling favors the defense. And when a runner goes out of the baseline and gets hit by a throw, the runner is out.

As a result, our situation was remarkably and beautifully clear-cut. Calling it any other way would have robbed the Cardinals of a win. In the World Series.

There’s no reason to change or reform the rule, but apparently MLB is going to look closely at it anyway. I will concede: there could have been a real mess if, say, that ball had rolled only about 75 feet away, while Craig stumbled, ran half way home, and then retreated to third. Then, with the game on the line, the umpires would have had to determine whether Craig would have scored unimpeded, infuriating whichever team the call went against. But there’s simply no better way to deal with a situation like that than to let good umpires make a call that reflects their best judgment. No video review or hairsplitting about intent will solve anything here.

To summarize: Saltalamacchia threw the ball away. Craig clearly deserved to advance one base. Right call, good rule. If our certainty about this unravels, so does the fabric of the entire moral universe. In my humble opinion. 😉

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A view of the home field where I coach, from just beyond the third base coach’s box.

About Tom Simpson

Tom Simpson teaches religion, ethics, philosophy, and human rights at Phillips Exeter Academy in Exeter, NH. He is the author of *American Universities and the Birth of Modern Mormonism, 1867-1940* (University of North Carolina Press, 2016) and nonfiction essays about Bosnia for the Canadian literary magazine *Numero Cinq*. Born in 1975 in Olean, NY, he earned the Ph.D. in religious studies from the University of Virginia, where he specialized in American religious history. He writes, teaches, and lectures about religion in America, popular culture, Mormonism, and Bosnia. He lives in Exeter with his partner, Alexis Simpson, and their two children.
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