What is it that we’re looking at up there?
In the fifth inning of yesterday’s game from the, if nothing else, eventful Battle of Ohio series between the Cleveland Indians and Cincinnati Reds, Chris Heisey came up to the plate with runners on first and third. He grounded a ball to Indians third baseman Jose Lopez.
Unfortunately for the Reds, their baserunner on third, Devin Mesoraco, was running on contact. As he headed home, Lopez threw the ball to catcher Lou Marson. Then, caught in a pickle, Mesoraco made up for his earlier brain cramp by waiting for Marson to throw the ball to Lopez before diving into the catcher before being tagged. The move was the equivalent of drawing a foul in basketball because sure enough, Mesoraco was awarded home plate because Marson was said to have obstructed the base runner’s path.
Here it is from another angle via Baseball Nation.
According to Major League Baseball’s rule book:
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.
Furthermore, a baserunner is entitled to three feet on either side of the direct line between bases. So, if we look at this within the confines of those rules, the umpire made the right call and Mesoraco should certainly be awarded home plate. However, there’s something to be said about intent. And Mesoraco clearly intended to crash into Marson, as he saw it as his only opportunity to avoid an out.
Aside: I like Mesoraco’s thinking here quite a lot. It’s probably an incredibly low percentage play, and you can tell by his reaction to getting the free pass home, if you watch the entire highlight, that it was unexpected. Thinking on the fly like this is an incredible skill in any field, but especially in sports where the ability to take stock of multiple options and then make a split second decision offers such an enormous advantage.
However, there is most definitely something to be said about intent, and I would suggest that an umpire’s duty extends beyond merely enforcing the rules of the game to also properly interpreting those rules on a situational basis. There is simply no way that the collision between Marson and Mesoraco was in the spirit of the rules which are to guard against a base runner being impeded.
In fact, an aware umpire might have called Mesoraco immediately out for interference on Marson, as again, it was the Reds baserunner who dove into the Indians catcher. I don’t think that a rule needs to be changed to protect against this sort of thing, rather umpires need to properly interpret the rules that are already in place.
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