Umpiring Obstruction and Collision

This article is taken directly from the SUP Staff News and Announcement section of the SUP Home Plate website, posted on March 21, 2018.
We are now in week seven, season is moving right along.! Today we want to continue educating “umpiring the obstruction and collision rules.” Our goal is for the calling umpire to make a proper ruling on these plays and rarely have to seek help from the crew to “Get the call right.”  We have asked officials that have had positive experiences with these calls to share techniques that are working well for them – please study carefully their responses below:
Umpiring Obstruction and Collision rules
As the season has progressed, we’ve had many challenging situations with the revised obstruction rule on a thrown ball. As we revisit the definition of the rule, what changes do we need to make to successfully apply the rule as it is written:
“It is obstruction if a defensive player is blocking the whole base/plate or base path without the ball and/or the runner does not have a clear path to the base/plate” and 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 ball 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.
As the teaching of our craft has advanced, our positioning can be dynamic as the plays dictates, but the basic factors remain the same: we must 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:
  • 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.”
  • 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.”
Be a great crewmate!
SUP Staff!