During the broadcast of Game 4 of the World Series on Sunday night, Ken Rosenthal of Fox Sports reported on-air that MLB plans to review the obstruction rule over the winter in the wake of the dramatic ending to Game 3. As you know, Allen Craig was allowed to score the winning run on an obstruction call after tripping over Will Middlebrooks at third base.
Specifically, Rosenthal said the league will review the "intent" portion of the obstruction rule. Under the current rule, the defender does not have to intentionally impede the runner -- it certainly looked like the contact between Middlebrooks and Craig was accidental -- for obstruction to be called. Rosenthal indicated the league will look into limiting obstruction calls to intentional contact only and "forgiving" accidental contact.
Obviously, the plan to review the obstruction rule is the direct result of the Game 3 call. It occurred when all eyes were on the World Series and whenever something like that happens, some kind of action is expected. If the play happened in say, Game 2 of the NLDS, it wouldn't have been that big of a deal. I'm sure the fact that the Cardinals and Red Sox -- two of the most popular teams in the game -- were involved only added to scrutiny.
My question is this: Why are they reviewing the rule? Obstruction has been around since the dawn of time and frankly, it doesn't happen all that often. A handful of times each year -- I honestly couldn't even remember the last time I saw an obstruction call before Saturday. Suddenly now it's a problem? Just because it happened to end a World Series game doesn't mean the rule is suddenly invalid or in need of an overhaul. The last obstruction controversy was when, exactly?
As it stands, the obstruction rule is very black and white, and that's exactly how it should remain. By changing the rule to cover intentional contact only, the league would effectively be asking the umpires to read the players' minds. They would have to make a judgment call regarding intent and that will be far more controversial than what happened in Game 3. Just look at how umpires appear to arbitrarily warn benches following a hit by pitch. Judging intent is ridiculously hard.
By leaving the rule as is, the league removes any sort of judgment. It's yes or no: Did the fielder impede the runner? If yes, then obstruction. Simple as that. The players and coaches and fans and everyone else know what to expect in that situation. If you get in the way, even by accident, you will be called for obstruction. No guesswork, no nothing. That's the way it should be. Take as many variables out of the equation as possible.
Rosenthal reported MLB will simply review the obstruction rule, not that any changes are forthcoming. I hope they look at it for a few hours and decide to keep everything the way it is. It's both the easiest solution and the fairest solution. Putting the burden of judging intent on the umpires opens a much bigger can of worms and would likely create unintended consequences. Baseball has a lot of weird and quirky rules that should be revised, but obstruction is not one of them. Game 3 ended in a weird way, not a problematic way.