The Obstruction Penalty

There’s no excuse for Miguel Tejada giving up on the play when he was obstructed by third baseman Bill Mueller. But I can’t help but think that the penalty for obstruction should be more severe – there is no penalty unless the umpire thinks the obstruction changes the outcome of the play.

The problem is that the umpires see major leaguers play 162 games a year. They’ve seen them perform routine plays routinely. And they’re programmed to expect defensive plays to be correctly completed. For example, we all know not to assume the double play – but note how rarely major leaguers botch the double play. And as a result, I think that umpires are inclined to favor the defense over the base runner.

And that’s just not right. The defense obstructed the play and there should always be a penalty. Otherwise, the defense might be tempted to obstruct on purpose. Ties should go to the offended party and the umpire should make his decision not on what he thinks is likely to happen, but on what he is sure is going to happen. Don’t award a base if there is absolutely no chance, but award the base if there is going to be a play at the bag.

I just don’t get the idea that umpires are allowed to project what the defense is going to do but aren’t allowed to project what the base runner would have done without the obstruction. And is it fair to expect a base runner to look backwards to determine whether the umpire has stopped the play or is signalling to advance at your own risk?

But that’s all sour grapes. Major leaguers have to finish their plays. Byrnes has to make sure that he’s touched home plate and Tejada has to run hard until he knows time is called. And if the A’s lose to the Red Sox in game 5 tonight, they’ll have the entire offseason to think about it.