Tuesday, May 25, 2021

Did Shoemaker Obstruct Wilkerson's Arrival at First Base?

As Twins first baseman Alex Kirilloff tagged first base to retire Orioles batter Stevie Wilkerson on a groundout, a third party entered the fray as the odd man out in the form of Minnesota starting pitcher Matt Shoemaker, leaving 1B Umpire David Rackley to not just rule on the issue of who tagged first base first, but whether Shoemaker's presence posed an obstructive influence on the play.

After the leadoff groundout call to start the 3rd inning of Monday's Orioles-Twins game, Baltimore manager Brandon Hyde approached Rackley and Crew Chief/HP Umpire Larry Vanover to advocate for an obstruction call, alleging that Shoemaker's out-of-place presence impeded Kirilloff's attempt to reach first base.

The Rule
: The Official Baseball Rules define obstruction as "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, OBR 6.01(h)(1) states that, "If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base they had last legally touched before the obstruction."

Premise: Thus, Shoemaker, by virtue of being a fielder not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball (or taking a throw from another fielder, as Kirilloff took the ball to the bag himself), could qualify as a fielder who, if ruled to have impeded the progress of any runner, might be guilty of obstruction, the penalty of which would be to award obstructed batter-runner Wilkerson first base.

Analysis: To determine whether or not Shoemaker obstructed Wilkerson is to consider whether Wilkerson's progress was impeded. Because Kirilloff did not touch first base until a fraction of a second before Wilkerson's arrival, one can not state that the out negates the potential obstruction: Shoemaker's potential impeding act occurred prior to the moment of truth at first base, so to speak.

This is also not a nullify the act obstruction play (as it would have been had obstruction occurred while no play was being made on a runner other than the batter-runner on a ground ball before touching first base) and leaves no further room for interpretation: If Shoemaker interrupted Wilkerson's progress negatively—thus impeding it, even by a fraction of a second—then obstruction is the proper call.

If Shoemaker's unprotected presence did not have any influence on Wilkerson's progress, then there is no obstruction.

Gil's Call: Ultimately, it looked like Shoemaker obstructed his own first baseman more than Wilkerson in real-time, but there is no such rule as a fielder obstructing a teammate while there is very much a rule about a defensive player obstructing an opponent on offense.

In real-time, I didn't see Shoemaker's act as obstruction, but on replay (noting that this play is not eligible for Replay Review), and especially given Kirilloff's failure to tag first base on his first jab at it (thanks, in large part, to Shoemaker, but, again, the defensive team cannot obstruct itself), this does strike as a potentially obstructive act. The complication is that Wilkerson would have slowed his run to first base with or without Shoemaker's presence, due to Kirilloff's presence (which is protected as Kirilloff had the ball and was making a play). Accordingly, this is a 50-50 call that I could see both justifications for: a no-call or a ruling of obstruction.

What's your call? | Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Did Shoemaker's Leap Over First Base Obstruct BR Wilkerson? (MIN/CCS)


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