Lost in the excitement, and chaos, of Thursday’s game six were two plays that major league baseball needs to seriously address in the offseason. The first involved a hard takeout slide by Matt Holliday, while the second featured the left fielder as the victim when Adrian Beltre blocked his retreat to the bag during a pickoff attempt. The umpires’ ruling on both plays, which each had a big impact on the game, completely ignored the rulebook, which is something the Commissioner should address before making any other changes to the game.
Rule 7.09 (e) It is interference by a batter or a runner when…Any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate.
In the bottom of the fourth inning of game six, the Cardinals had runners on first and second when David Freese hit what looked like a tailor-made double play. The only problem was Holliday (who has a history of questionable slides into 2B) slid high and hard into Elvis Andrus without even making an attempt to touch the base. Ironically, many applauded Holliday for his hard takeout slide, usually referencing the non-existent rule about having to be within arm’s length of the base, when, in fact, they should have questioned second base umpire Greg Gibson for failing to call interference and award the automatic double play.
As Rule 7.09(e) clearly states, a runner may not purposely interfere with a fielder who is trying to turn two, even if he is able to touch the base while doing so. Although the section of the rule on interference provides an exception that allows a runner to continue his path after being put out, it doesn’t excuse actions above and beyond an attempt to reach the next base. In this case, Holliday’s target was Andrus, not second base, and so two outs should have been awarded. Instead, Gibson let the play stand, and the Cardinals benefitted when a run scored on Yadier Molina’s ground out to third base.
Rule 7.06 (b) Note: The catcher, without the ball in his possession, has no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score. The base line belongs to the runner and the catcher should be there only when he is fielding a ball or when he already has the ball in his hand.
Rule 7.09(j) Comment: “Obstruction” by a fielder attempting to field a ball should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases because the rules give him the right of way, but of course such “right of way” is not a license to, for example, intentionally trip a runner even though fielding the ball.
Two innings after benefiting from an umpire who turned a blind eye, karma caught up to the Cardinals and Holliday when the right fielder was picked off third base with the bases loaded in the sixth inning. At first glance, it appeared as if Mike Napoli’s strong throw caught Holliday napping, but as was revealed on replay, the real culprit was Beltre’s right foot. By blocking Holliday from sliding safely into third, Beltre’s tactic short circuited a Cardinals’ rally and eventually knocked the outfielder out of the series with a injured hand.
Once again, Beltre was lauded for a heady play, when he should have instead been called for obstruction. Although the rulebook is less clear on this kind of play, the two excerpts above clearly state that a fielder may not block a base, nor use their right of away to flagrantly impede the runner. The example for a flagrant abuse is tripping, but blocking isn’t that far behind. Some interpretation is required, so Alfonso Marquez can’t exactly be criticized for ignoring the rules, but it still seems clear that this was another blown call. As the photo below indicates, Beltre’s right foot was planted in front of the base even though the throw did not require him to take that position. Based on that evidence, it seems pretty clear that his intention was to impede Holliday.
If the rule book doesn’t provide a sufficient basis for calling this kind of play obstruction, then further clarification is needed. Otherwise, you could take the act of blocking to an absurd extreme and simply instruct fielders to lay across the base until the throw arrives. That might seem like a silly suggestion, but it’s pretty close to what catchers do now. Instead of importing the spate of concussions and serious injuries endured by catchers to other positions, MLB should eliminate this practice from every spot on the diamond by more specifically outlawing it in the rule book.
The two calls described above basically cancelled each other out, so neither side can complain too much. However, that doesn’t mean baseball should continue to abide the kind of plays that not only violate the code, but needlessly put its players in harm’s way. It’s time for MLB to either play by the rules or draw up some new ones.