October 27th, 2013

Obstruction!

2013 world seriesLast night presented baseball fans with something they had never seen: a World Series game ending on an obstruction / interference call. Veteran observers instantly recalled Game 3 of the 1975 World Series when Ed Armbrister, pinch hitting for reliever Rawly Eastwick, was NOT called for interference with Carlton Fisk on a critical tenth inning play. Attempting a bunt, Armbrister paused in the batter’s box, leading to a collision with catcher Carlton Fisk, trying to reach the ball. In any event, the controversial play did not end that game.

Returning to my hotel after last night’s classic contest, I wrote on Twitter, “I can’t recall ANY game ending on an obstruction call, let alone a WS game.” My fellow tweeps were quick to fill in the blank spots in my recall.

D.J. Short reminded me of a game that I had seen only six years ago (the mind is the second thing to go, I replied to him, with thanks). The Phils defeated the Mets 3-2 on August 28, 2007, as Marlon Anderson’s hard take-out slide was ruled interference (not obstruction, which can only be committed by the defensive team) and became the final out of the game. [http://goo.gl/FKyQ07]

Jacob Pomrenke directed me to a game I truly did not recall, Mariners at Devil Rays on August 6, 2004. In the bottom of the tenth, with the game tied at one apiece, Carl Crawford was awarded home plate when third-base umpire Paul Emmel ruled that Jose Lopez obstructed Crawford’s view of a catch made in left field while Crawford tagged up; Lopez was called for obstruction. [http://goo.gl/q3riIp]

Adam J. Morris and Dan Wade pointed out a game from 2009 when the final out of the game was called for interference because third-base coach Dave Anderson helped runner Michael Young to retreat to third base after starting for home. [http://goo.gl/QGAx9o]

But surely, I thought, there must have been a game in baseball’s Pleistocene Era when such a thing occurred. Maybe when an umpire caught Orioles’ third baseman John McGraw holding onto the belt of a runner rounding the bag for home?

Checking the log of forfeit and no-decision games at retrosheet.org, I find these interesting denouements—not the same sequence of events as last night, but in the same ballpark, so to speak.

08/21/1876, Chicago at St. Louis (NL): With the score tied 6 to 6 in the 9th, St. Louis put a runner on third. The next batter hit a drive down the third base line that hit the runner. The runner was allowed to score. Chicago left the field in protest. The game was awarded to St. Louis. New York Times, 08/22/1876, p. 2 (St. Louis).

08/11/1884, Buffalo at Chicago (NL): In the first inning, with a runner on first, the Chicago batter hit a groundball to the second baseman, who ran the runner back toward first to tag him. The runner threw his arms around the fielder to prevent him from throwing the ball. The umpire called the runner and the batter out. Cap Anson of Chicago did not think the batter should be out and refused to continue. Washington Post, 08/12/1884, p. 1.

05/03/1899, Louisville at Pittsburgh (NL): Louisville was ahead 6-1 going into the home half of the ninth inning. Pittsburgh scored three runs and had two men on base when a strange play occurred. Jack McCarthy hit a ball down the right field line. It looked foul but the umpire called it fair. The ball hit a snag in the field and kicked to the right. The ball headed toward a small boy standing near a door to the dressing room. As the ball approached, the boy opened the door, the ball and the boy passed through it, and the boy closed the door behind them. By the time Charlie Dexter, the right fielder, opened the door and retrieved the ball three run had scored. Louisville claimed fan interference, but umpires Oyster Burns and Billy Smith thought otherwise. Louisville protested the game. It was later called a no-decision. Chicago Daily Tribune, 05/04/1899, p. 4.

Willie Keeler with New York

Willie Keeler with New York

08/22/1905, Washington at Detroit (AL): Detroit and Washington battled through 10 innings with the scored tied 1 to 1. In the Washington half of the 11th inning with two out, two on, and a three-and-one count on batter John Anderson, Hunter Hill, the runner on third, bolted for the plate as George Mullin wound up to deliver the pitch. Jack Warner, the catcher, brushed past the batter, caught the ball and tagged the runner out by at least 10 feet. Umpire Jack Sheridan ruled the runner safe because of the catcher’s obvious interference with the batter. Anderson was awarded first on a walk. The Detroit club objected and started to argue. Sheridan calmly waited the required two minutes and called the game. The crowd then rushed the field to confront the umpire. The Tigers team surrounded the umpire and escorted him to safety. The police were called to quell the riot. New York Times, 08/23/1905, p. 4; Washington Post, 08/23/1905, p. 9.

09/03/1906 , Philadelphia at New York (AL): With two outs in the ninth inning of the second game of a doubleheader, the New York team was awarded a forfeit win after tying the game at 3. With runners on second and third (Willie Keeler and Wid Conroy), Jimmy Williams came to the plate. Plate umpire Silk O’Loughlin called two strikes before Williams hit a ground ball toward third baseman John Knight. Knight took a step backwards to field the ball and stepped into the path of Keeler. Keeler fell flat on his face while the ball rolled into left field. Keeler got up and scored. Several Philadelphia players stormed the umpire demanding that he called out on runner’s interference. Two of the players, Harry Davis and Topsy Hartsel, were very vocal and kept arguing. O’Loughlin finally had enough and called the game. After the game he said that the third baseman clearly obstructed the runner. Washington Post, 09/04/1906, p. 9.

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