Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Tempers Flare as Baez Face-Guards LeMahieu in Colorado

A heated moment between Chicago's Javier Baez and Colorado runner DJ LeMahieu during Sunday's Cubs-Rockies game occurred after Baez attempted to block LeMahieu's vision, prompting umpire intervention. Is this obstruction, unsportsmanlike conduct, or is it even illegal?

SS Baez stands in front of R2 LeMahieu.
The Play: There's a reason for everything, and Baez was convinced that LeMahieu was stealing signs in the midst of a 6-0 ballgame at Coors Field. In response to his suspicion, Baez opted to approach LeMahieu as he prepared his lead near second base, stand in front of the runner, and then jockey left and right in response to LeMahieu's movements and in order to prevent him from seeing the catcher and pitcher's signals.

LeMahieu objected to the accusation, and 2B Umpire Vic Carapazza stepped in the middle to prevent a bigger issue.

The Rule: Baez's actions approached the bounds of illegality, as jockeying in front of a baserunner in order to block his view of the pitcher is an example of visual obstruction.

Though obstruction at the professional level is generally reserved for instances of physical hindrance, the cobwebs of baseball's playing rules—and a key interpretation of the obstruction rule—do allow for visual obstruction when a fielder purposely attempts to block a baserunner's vision.

The definition of obstruction, for instance, makes no explicit reference to physicality: "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."

The MLB Umpire Manual (MLBUM) thus includes the following interpretation relative to visual obstruction, and a fielder who deliberately approaches a runner and jockeys back-and-forth in front:
If the umpire deems the fielder's actions are a deliberate effort to block the runner's view of the pitcher, it is illegal and clearly not within the spirit of the Rules. The [fielder] should be warned to stop, and if he persists, he is subject to ejection.
2B Umpire Carapazza warns Baez to stop.
In other words, if the illegal act occurs during relaxed play (e.g., pitcher holding ball on the mound), the proper recourse is to warn the fielder to stop and eject the offender if the warning is not heeded.

If the illegal act occurs during active gameplay (e.g., during a batted or thrown ball), the proper recourse is to call obstruction, which most likely will be of the Type 2 / Type B variety.

Analysis: 2B Umpire Vic Carapazza properly addressed the Baez-LeMahieu situation by approaching the offending player (shortstop Baez) and warning him not to obstruct the vision of baserunner LeMahieu. If Baez failed to comply with Carapazza's instruction, he would be subject to ejection.

SIDEBAR: This rule is related to Unsportsmanlike Conduct Rule 6.04(c), which states, "No fielder shall take a position in the batter’s line of vision, and with deliberate unsportsmanlike intent, act in a manner to distract the batter. PENALTY: The offender shall be removed from the game and shall leave the playing field, and, if a balk is made, it shall be nullified."

Naturally, the principal difference is that the Baez/LeMahieu play concerns a runner, not a batter, and a batter, unlike a runner, cannot be obstructed until such time as the batter becomes a runner.

See the following UEFL University Video, as follows:

Alternate Link: Analysis of visual obstruction, "Blocking My View" (UEFL)
Original Video: Javy blocks DJ's access to the battery, interrupting play (COL)


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