Preparing for the obstruction call
Obstruction is one of the toughest calls to make during a game. The entire crew must prepare for this by including it as a topic during all umpire pre-games and as part of their pre-pitch preparation, especially with runners on base. On every play, especially tag plays, be watching for obstruction during all phases of the play – primary position, adjusting as the play develops, and the calling position. An acronym to help you remember this – POP:
Primary position – get to your primary position
Observe for obstruction
Call the Play – obstruction or no obstruction, safe or out
Review the rules by reading the articles in the Rules Corner Section which cover obstruction. Review the mechanics by doing a search in the CCA Manual for this topic – it appears almost 30 times. Here is information on how to ensure you make the correct obstruction/no obstruction call.
As we revisit the changes in the obstruction rule the last few years, what changes do we need to make in our mechanics to successfully apply the rule as it is written? Since the fielder must now be in possession of the ball when she blocks the base/plate or base path, umpires must be aware of the defender’s location relative to the base/plate and runner’s base path at all times throughout a play.
For years, most of us would watch the flight of the throw and let it bring us to the play as we tried to determine where the tag was likely to be applied, while watching for obstruction. The basic factors remain the same – position ourselves in such a way that we are able to get a clear view of the foot and body placement of the defender, the base/plate, the runner’s path and ultimately the tag.
To borrow a long-standing adage from basketball officiating, we must “referee the defense.” On a play at the plate, this positioning will most often NOT be in the traditional first base line extended position. If we are able to use point of plate, our movement to obtain the best look at the fielder’s location will likely be a few steps to our right. If we also have 3rd base responsibilities, we must move as quickly as possible to get into a position to observe the fielder’s location.
In all cases, we must continue to adjust, using the “wedge” concept, and umpire subsequent action, including the tag and the runner’s actions. The following steps are to give us a better photographic memory of reading the play as it develops:
Positioning for the obstruction call
Umpires must position themselves for the play early enough to have time to observe all the action before the play will happen:
• Where is the ball and where is the runner establishing her base path?
• Where is the fielder positioned? Is she blocking the whole base/plate before the runner is not yet close enough to slide? This is obstruction (see mechanics clarification below in bold letters).
• Is she blocking the whole base/plate as the throw arrives – this is obstruction
• Is she in the act of catching the throw? This is obstruction unless she is quickly moving through the action zone to catch an errant throw and the runner’s progress is not impeded by her actions
• Is she straddling the base so the runner has some of the base? This is not obstruction.
• Is she straddling the whole base/plate with one or both feet in front of the front edge of the base/plate? This is obstruction.
• Is she straddling the whole base/plate with both her feet completely behind the front edge of the base/plate – this is not obstruction.
Umpires must become very alert when the whole base/plate is being blocked as this is obstruction. In past years, coaches taught their players to block the base, catch the ball, and make the tag. Now defensive players must catch the ball, block the base, and make the tag.
From SUP 3/21/2018 (some of this may be a repeat of the above; it is presented here as another frame of reference.)
• Initial set up of the fielder: Is the fielder blocking the whole base/plate or base path without the ball? If so, we need to stay attuned, but hold the obstruction call. If she stays there and the runner is not “clearly beaten by the throw,” call obstruction (see Vickie’s Interpretation of Rule 9.5 Note 3 – Obstruction – December 15, 2017).
• Subsequent movement of fielder: If the fielder’s initial set up is legal, but she repositions herself to catch the throw and it causes her to block the entire base/plate or base path without the ball, call obstruction. If the fielder’s initial set up is not legal, but she is able to realize it and adjust to a legal position soon enough, it is not obstruction.
• Runner’s path: The path chosen by the runner will have some relevance when we determine if the fielder is blocking the whole base/plate or base path. For example, if the catcher has her left foot touching the 3rd base line and her right foot in fair territory, but the runner takes a wide turn at 3rd base and heads home significantly in foul territory, her path to the plate may indeed be open. We must recognize the fielder’s set up and look to see if the runner has a clear path to the base/plate. Again, at home, this is probably more obvious from a position somewhere between the point of plate and 3rd base line extended.
• Subsequent actions: If we rule obstruction, our job on the play is not over. If the runner is apparently put out, the ball is dead, the obstructed runner is awarded the base and other runners are placed according to whether they are “halfway to the next base” (Rule 9.5.3 Note: 1). If the runner is safe, the ball remains live. If the runner violates Rule 12.13, the enforcement of a deliberate crash would take precedence over the obstruction. The ball is dead, and the runner is out, possibly ejected, and runners must return to the base occupied at the time of the collision.
• Collisions/crashes: If the runner is apparently out, or if you call obstruction and there is subsequent contact which could be ruled a deliberate crash, and you have doubt, this is a good time to bring the crew together after the ball is dead to discuss. The questions to the crew should be, “Was there a violation of the collision rule? If so, was the act a flagrant infraction?
• Tools: Obstruction and collisions are big plays, so consider the following words to ask yourself as the play is developing: “Is she in the way? I must see the whole play.” And “If she blocks, don’t let her get clocked.”
Making the obstruction call
If you are sure there was obstruction, call it and continue umpiring.
• The verbal “obstruction” should be loud enough for a participant from both teams to hear it but not so loud that it causes a reaction which affects the play.
• The delayed dead ball signal should be held for at least two seconds so a coach who saw the action will have time to look at you.
This signal may prevent an argument from the defensive coach, which sometimes happens even before the play is over. Do not hold it any longer as you have made the call and now have other responsibilities; it is not good mechanics or body language to be running more than a few steps with the left arm extended.
A soon as you have made the call, decide how many strides (or seconds) the obstruction slowed the runner. As the playing action is just about over, take a quick look at any other runners to see their positioning in relation to their closest bases. If you are not the calling umpire, watch your runners closely as the play appears to be ending.
• Were the runners half-way or more to the next base?
• Were the runners affected in any way by the obstruction of the other runner?
Here is a mechanics clarification from the SUP – blocking the base without the ball is obstruction but we will not call or signal obstruction until the ball and/or runner are both in the action zone (defined as the area near the base/plate where the runner is running, and the fielder will catch the throw and tag the runner).
End of playing action
The two most common ways that playing action will be completed during a play which involved obstruction are:
• When the ball is in possession of the pitcher while in the circle at the end of the play
• The obstructed runner is called out or may apparently be out
Once playing action has stopped, the calling umpire should get big and loud while moving toward the middle of the diamond and calling “TIME, I have obstruction.” Once this is done, one of two things should happen:
• The obstruction call was relatively obvious, and the positioning of all runners is evident – the calling umpire can announce in a voice slightly louder than normal – “(PU name, if not the PU), I have obstruction on (fielder) at (base).” Example: “Sue, I have obstruction on #15 at first base. She would not have reached 2b, so she stays at 1b.” If a warning needs to be issued, make sure the PU has recorded it.
• The obstruction call may lead to questions about warnings, awards, positioning of the runners, etc. – the crew must come together to discuss the play and make decisions on any appropriate factors.
Guidelines for going for help on an obstruction call
The SUP posted a document in 2018 which stated that if an umpire calls obstruction (especially a blocking-the-basepath obstruction), the call should not be changed by the crew. An email received from Craig Hyde on October 20, 2020 clarifies this. His wording: “Only if calling official realizes he may have erred and quickly brings crew together before coach intervenes – my point was I wanted the calling umpire to make that judgement.”
If you do not call obstruction but have doubt about possibly missing it at one of the bases for which you are responsible, either because you had other responsibilities or just might have missed it, and you think you may be questioned, ask yourself:
• Were you so focused on the imminent play that you did not observe the fielder blocking the whole base/plate or runner’s actions as she approached the base?
• Was there another umpire with a good angle to see these elements of the play?
• If you feel confident that another umpire can give assistance, then call all umpires together.
Remember, two of the core philosophies of college mechanics are
• Get the call right
• Call in your area; observe in all areas
On all plays, and especially for the plays at the plate, it is important for the other umpires on the field, with no immediate responsibilities for other runners, to watch the imminent play and observe the runner’s action as she approaches the base/plate. Here are three examples of how an umpire not making the call can assist:
• With a runner on first base only who steals, U1 should step into the baseline and watch the fielder’s and runner’s action as the play unfolds. Did the runner move to the outfield side of second base because the fielder taking the throw was blocking the base?
• With a runner on second base only who steals, U1 should move toward second base and watch the fielder’s and runner’s action as the play unfolds. Did the runner move to the outfield side of third base because the fielder taking the throw was blocking the base?
• On any play at the plate, especially when U3 is on the third base line, U3 should watch the runner to see if she has to go further into foul territory because the catcher is blocking the plate.
From the SUP 3/21/2018
Perspective of U3 when a play is made at the plate:
Often, U3 is in a position to provide help for the blocking of the base/plate or base path. However, U3 should not come in unsolicited with any information. If the Plate umpire rules obstruction, then he/she has viewed an obstruction infraction has occurred and must stay with the call. Remember, this is an absolute call – we do not make this call unless we are 100% sure of an infraction.
If the plate umpire had doubt of his call once the play is completely over, he/she may seek help from their crew to “Get the Call Right.” The discussions in the crew huddle should be, “I could not determine if obstruction occurred. During the “action of play,” where was the runner? Where was the fielder? Was the fielder blocking the whole path ahead of possession?” If any crew member answers yes, ask “Are you absolutely sure?
As earlier stated, we are ALL learning how to officiate the new changes and we will continue to provide as many tools as possible to help assist all of us on “Getting the Call Right.”
Unusual Obstruction Call Situations
Obstructed Runner Put Out in Another Umpire’s Calling Area
This article was originally written before this mechanic was put back into the CCA Manual in 2021. It had been in the manual in earlier editions of the manual. It has now been revised to reflect the new wording which appears in the 2021 manual.
If obstruction is called by one umpire (we will call him/her Uobs) and a subsequent play on that runner is made in a different umpire’s area of responsibility.
• The umpire making the final call (Ucall) on the obstructed runner should make that call according to what happens on the play (out or safe).
• If the obstructed runner is called out and is not beyond the base she would have reached, in Uobs’ judgment, or she is between the two bases where she was obstructed, Uobs must immediately call dead ball, move aggressively toward the play, announce the obstruction and make the appropriate base award.
• If the obstructed runner is safe but has not reached the base, she would have reached in Uobs’ judgment, then Uobs will wait until the end of playing action, and 1) use the same mechanics in the above bullet and 2) award the base(s).
• If the runner is safe at the base she would have reached had obstruction not occurred, play continues and no action is required by the UObs. Exception: If the obstruction violation is for rounding or returning, Uobs will issue a warning or base award as appropriate.
• If the runner is safe or out at a base beyond the base she would have reached had obstruction not occurred, play continues and no action is required by UObs. Exception: If the obstruction violation is for rounding or returning, Uobs will issue a warning or base award as appropriate
• Any questions about the obstruction, warnings or awards necessitated by the obstruction should be handled by Uobs.
Interference/Obstruction Call Between Umpires
This article was originally written before the mechanic was put back into the CCA Manual in 2021. It had been in the manual from its inception in 2006 through 2011 and then reduced to one bullet point under the section Additional Guidelines in the 2012 and 2013 manual. It has now been revised to reflect the new wording which appears in the 2021 manual.
• In most cases the umpire closest to the interference, obstruction, or contact should make the call – unless that umpire has other more urgent duties and does not see or recognize the interference, obstruction, or contact.
• In such cases, the next closest umpire is responsible for making the call.
• If you are the next closest umpire to the interference, obstruction, or contact and see the incident, look first at the closest umpire to determine if he/she saw it.
• If you determine the umpire saw it, then do not signal or call it.
• If you determine the other umpire did not see it, signal and/or call it yourself. Be assertive and aggressive and prepared to explain your judgment.
If the infraction is about equidistance between two umpires and both see it, the call defaults to the umpire the action is coming toward. Eye contact between partners before making this call will usually prevent a double call. Use of the safe signal to indicate no infraction is an excellent tool for letting your partner know you have seen the action and made a judgment on it and will take the heat if it is questioned.
Obstruction and Collision on same play
We have had a number of interpretations, clarifications, and notes from the SUP on obstruction and collision. They cover both rules and mechanics. To avoid having duplicate articles on our Locker Room website, these interpretations/clarifications/notes have been combined into one article, posted in the Rule Corner on the Defense/Obstruction page as Umpiring Obstruction and Collision.