Sunday, May 16, 2021

Obstruction Scores Andrus After Elvis' Embellishment

HP Umpire John Libka awarded A's baserunner Elvis Andrus home plate on an obstruction call after Andrus ran into Twins catcher Ben Rortvedt, leading to complaints ranging from "he's on the grass" to "he flopped"...but what does the rule actually say and, by rule, was the umpire's ruling correct?

Play: With one out and two on (R2, R3) in the top of the 5th inning of Sunday's Athletics-Twins game, A's batter Ramon Laureano hit a ground ball to Twins shortstop Andrelton Simmons, who threw home as runner R3 Andrus ran toward the plate. Catcher Rortvedt caught the ball and began chasing Andrus back to third base, eventually throwing the ball to third base to continue the rundown.

: At this point, Andrus turned back toward home plate and collided with Rortvedt, falling to the ground as HP Umpire Libka called obstruction on Rortvedt, awarding Andrus home as a result, scoring a run for Oakland and charging an error to Minnesota's Rortvedt. Even more consequential? The A's ultimately won the contest by one run, 7-6.

Rule: To determine whether this was the correct call or not, we first must consult Official Baseball Rules 6.01(h)(1) pertaining to obstruction ("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"): "If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before they touch 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. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out."

: We review the play and observe Andrus, throughout the course of the rundown, has chosen a base path on the edge of the infield grass in fair territory.* We use this information as a guide to conclude that because Andrus makes contact with Rortvedt on the edge of the infield grass in fair territory, it is reasonable to say that Andrus did not run significantly out of his way solely to contact the fielder.

That said, it is apparent that Andrus appears to stick his arm out in exaggerated fashion to heighten the level of contact and that Andrus appears to embellish this contact by falling onto the ground in a similar exaggeration. However, as much of a potential flop as the falling might be, we are restricted to considering OBR 6.01(h)(1) and the definition of obstruction: Rortvedt is a fielder not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, having thrown the ball to another player. Accordingly, this is obstruction, because at the time of the interaction, Andrus was running toward home plate and even if he was impeded ever so slightly, the fact remains that he was impeded and, thus, is entitled to an obstruction call.

*Remember, a runner choses their own base path and is not out for being outside of this base path (not baseline, see OBR 5.09(b)(1) and our series on Base Path situations for further information) unless the runner deviates by more than three feet from a direct line between the runner and the base the runner is attempting to achieve, in order to avoid a tag.

Finally, this is an example of obstruction type 1 (Type A OBS) because a play was being made on the runner at the time: After Libka calls "Time" (type 1 causes the ball to become dead), the obstructed R3 Andrus gets home plate and all runners behind him get whatever bases the umpires believe they would have achieved had obstruction not occurred.

In hockey this perhaps would be a two-for-interference / two-for-embellishment coincidental minor penalties situation, but in baseball, it is only obstruction on the defense. The rules do not allow for a diving call in this play.

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Libka rules obstruction as Andrus flails for call during rundown (CCS)


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