Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Obstruction Calls Are 2024's Point of Emphasis

Obstruction calls are set to increase in 2024 thanks to a new MLB point of emphasis of Official Baseball Rule 6.01(h), according to an ESPN source. Succinctly, the league office will instruct umpires to rule a runner safe in the event a fielder blocks a runner's path to the base while preparing to receive a throw.

This point of emphasis brings OBR 6.01(h) into greater alignment with 6.01(i)(2), the Collisions at Home Plate rule for fielders that functionally employs a similar penalty to the existing obstruction rule, but only applies at home plate and is also much more strict in its standard for violation.

Home plate collision rule OBR 6.01(i)(2) states, in part, "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as they are attempting to shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw."

Meanwhile, the existing definition for Obstruction (at any base), as found in the rulebook's Definition of Terms, states: "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 definition of obstruction predates the home plate collision rule by a number of decades and is plainly not as detailed. Although OBR and the MLB Umpire Manual both make reference to "the act of fielding" relative to obstruction, the phrase "legitimate attempt" is nowhere to be seen in this particular rule relative to a fielder preparing to receive a throw who might use their leg to block a runner's base path.

Over the past few years, runner's lane interferencea rule since changed prior to the 2024 season by expanding the width of the runner's lane—has received emphasis, which in turn resulted in a handful of additional arguments and ejections.

Will obstruction suffer this same fate? | Video as follows:

Monday, February 12, 2024

Clint Vondrak and Ryan Wills Hired to Umpire Staff, Guccione Promoted to Crew Chief; Pawol on List of 24 Spring Invitees

Now-former Triple-A umpires Clint Vondrak and Ryan Wills are MLB's two newest full-timers MLB also promoted Chris Guccione to full-time Crew Chief and invited Jen Pawol to Spring Training, the first woman set to umpire a major league exhibition game since Ria Cortesio in 2007, following Pam Postema in the 1980s.

Clinton "Clint" Vondrak joins MLBU at the age of 34 after 12 years in Minor League Baseball, joining MiLB in 2012 and officiating the Pioneer, Midwest, California, Southern, and Pacific Coast Leagues on his way to the majors. Vondrak officiated the 2016 Southern League All-Star Game and has had his MLB debut during during the COVID-shortened 2020 season, on August 10, 2020. He has 286 games of MLB experience.

Ryan Wills is 36 years old to begin the 2024 season and has been hired after 13 years in MiLB. Since starting his minor league career in 2011, Wills has officiated in the Gulf Coast, Appalachian, South Atlantic, California, Carolina, Texas, Eastern, Florida Instructional, and International Leagues prior to his August 22, 2020 debut. Wills might be one of the last MLB new-hires to have graduated from the Jim Evans Academy for Professional Umpiring, which closed in 2012. Wills has worked 402 MLB games.

Chris Guccione has been promoted to Crew Chief after 17 years of major league service (over the course of 24 seasons starting in 2000). He has 3,021 major league games of experience during the regular season, in addition to 9 Wild Card Rounds, 7 Division Series, 5 League Championship Series, and 2 World Series. Similar to Dan Bellino last offseason, Guccione did not work the 2023 postseason prior to his 2024 promotion.

2024 Spring Training Invitee Umpires: Returning sleeve-numbered umpires for Spring Training in 2024 are David Arrieta (100), John Bacon (70), Brock Ballou (119), Paul Clemons (104), Tom Hanahan (69), Edwin Jimenez (75), Emil Jimenez (82), Alex MacKay (105), Dan Merzel (107), Jacob Metz (94), Charlie Ramos (111), Jeremy Riggs (112), Derek Thomas (106), Nate Tomlinson (114), and Brian Walsh (120).

Rounding out the list of 24 Spring invitees are Matt Brown, Steven Jaschinski, James Jean, Austin Jones, Tyler Jones, Dexter Kelley, Chris Marco, Johnathan Parra, and Jen Pawol.

Video as follows: