|Most fake tags do not qualify as obstruction.|
OBR/Professional: Like most monikers in baseball nomenclature, Obstruction is described in the Definition of Terms section of the rules 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."
A fake tag certainly satisfies the "not in possession of the ball" (and potentially the "not in the act of fielding the ball") criterion, but the key consideration here concerns impediment: did the fake tag impede the progress of any runner?
Under professional rules and standards, this impediment generally must be physical in nature: the runner's progress is physically affected by the fielder's illegal actions. The most often case, of course, is a runner colliding with a fielder without the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball (see "Reviewing Jim Joyce's Game-Ending Obstruction Call" from the 2013 World Series for an example of this type of obstruction, and an explanation of what "in the act of fielding the ball" actually means).
|A classic case of Obstruction.|
The final case of obstruction concerns an even smaller part of the definition: "progress of [a] runner": what is progress, anyway?
Progress is a runner's attempt to advance (or retreat): we're looking for a bona fide illegal action on the fielder's part that plainly inhibits the runner's ability to engage in this voluntary activity. For this voluntary action to occur, the runner must intend to progress (or stay put, as the case may be). This principle is very similar to that discussed in Case Play 2017-2 - Stealing an Extended Walk: in pro ball, it is up to the offensive player to know the situation, unless the defense's illegal actions obstruct him/her from acquiring that knowledge.
The MLB Umpire Manual specifies the specific case of obstruction when a "fielder's actions are a deliberate effort to block the runner's view." This may occur during a fly ball if the third baseman intentionally attempts to block the baserunner (R3)'s view of the play in the outfield or a first baseman jockeying in front of the baserunner (R1) so as to block his view of the pitcher on a pickoff play: the key is that the runner is hindered from engaging in the voluntary activity of timing the tag-up, or seeing the play in front of him/her. If the play is ordinarily accessible or visible to the runner, but the runner "bites" on the fielder's fake and looks at the phantom tag instead, there can be no obstruction as the runner was not physically impeded from seeing the ball/play.
If the runner, due to a fake, does not attempt to advance or retreat, then that runner's progress cannot possibly be impeded. In the attached play (Rangers-Angels, Andrus/Maybin), had baserunner Maybin attempted to advance to third base and been impeded by fielder Andrus' actions, only then would obstruction have been the proper call. A deke or fake on its own, however, is entirely legal in MLB.
For more on obstruction, see "Rule 7.06 [now known as Rule 6.01(h)]: Obstruction, What a Pickle!"
For more on A vs B obstruction, see "Type A: BR Overlay Obstructed on Ground Ball to Infielder."
|Table of Obstruction Rules Differences.|
NFHS: The biggest difference at the high school level is that in addition to the above obstructions, a fake tag is considered obstruction (Rule 2-22-2). Nearly all other fakes (e.g., simulating a caught fly ball, faking a throw [other than pitcher/balks], etc.) are legal; the phantom tag, though, isn't. Federation also outlaws verbal obstruction, whereas NCAA and OBR do not. As interpreted, "offensive players [in NCAA and Pro] are expected to know the difference between their coaches' voices and the voices of their opponents." In high school, however, that's verbal obstruction.