Ethics Hero: Umpire Jim Joyce…Again

Obstruction play

Last night, a close and exciting Game #3 of the baseball’s World Series ended in the most unsatisfying manner possible, especially for Boston Red Sox fans. The winning run in the bottom of the ninth inning scored because of an obstruction call at third base, made by umpire Jim Joyce, giving the victory in a tense battle to the St. Louis Cardinals. Although fans saw baserunner Allen Craig tagged out at home for the final out of the frame, sending the game into extra-innings, or so they thought, Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks was ruled to have obstructed Craig from getting up and scoring from third on an errant throw, though both runner and fielder were caught in a tangle after a collision at third due to no fault of their own. The relevant rule says that if in the umpire’s judgement a fielder, regardless of fault or intent, impedes a runner trying to reach the next base, and that the umpire also concludes that the runner would have reached the base safely without the fielder’s impediment, then the runner will be awarded the base. This meant that Craig was awarded home plate, his team was awarded the winning run, and the game was over.

The obstruction was clear and undeniable, but in many sports, such a technical call would never be permitted to decide a crucial or championship game, and even in baseball, there are umpires who might not have the courage to make such an unpopular call. Rules, however, are rules, and a sport that suspends or alters its rules for entertainment value lacks integrity.

Baseball was fortunate to have an umpire at third base who has proved his integrity before, veteran Jim Joyce. Millions of Boston fans hate him ( though not quite as much as they hated umpire Larry Burnett, whose failure to make an interference call in Boston’s favor cost the Red Sox Game #3 of the 1975 Series) this morning, but the game they care about so passionately, in my view, has never looked better.


Pointer: Craig Calcaterra

Facts: NBC Sports


7 thoughts on “Ethics Hero: Umpire Jim Joyce…Again

  1. I’m glad this one was indisputable, I love that Joyce is willing to make the call on the field rather than the call for a more exciting game (even if he was a bit TOO eager to make the unpopular call during Gallaraga’s no-hitter… grrr)

  2. While you say “rules are rules,” there is a problem here in that the rule calls for subjective judgment on the part of the ump. Granted, some do, some don’t (pop-out: no; infield fly rule: yes; runner tagged/thrown out: sometimes; balls and strikes: almost always). However, I think this falls on the other side of the botched double-play post you recently did. There, it was a bad call and should have been corrected. here, the ump (or whichever official made the call) could have easily said, “in my judgment, I did not think it was an obstruction sufficient to grant the runner the next base and he got thrown out.” he could have justified it either way, but, when the rule contemplates the official making a judgement call like this, it is difficult to justify the call with the mantra, “rules are rules.”

    • I don’t see how you can watch that play and conclude this. If Craig had not gotten tangled in Middlebrooks’ feet, there is no way he wouldn’t have scored, even limping as he was. A wild throw to the outfield always scores the runner if he can get up and run. There are those who have criticized the rule, but almost nobody has disputed that Joyce called it correctly.

      • Corrected (sorry, my computer does not like your comment box and does not always let me see what I am typing.):

        I think I have only seen a highlight shot (and my work computer does not like it when I view videos). I thought the ball beat him by a step or two; I thought the catcher was in front of the plate. At any rate, I have NO problem with the call (especially with the clarifying rule about running outside the baseline).
        But, the facts of this play are less important to my comment than your justification. At some point, the rule calls for judgment. You could take ever closer and closer throws to the plate and different levels of obstruction and you are going to have cases that two officials will disagree on. Both officials will say the Rules are the Rules and reach different conclusions. Better to simply say: this was a good call.

        • The rule in this case doesn’t call for judgment, except in the “recognize what’s right in front of your face” sense. Ruling whether a baserunner would get to third or score when a fan obviously interferes with a ball in play requires judgment. Ruling that there is obstruction when a baserunner is tangled up with a fielder while the play is ongoing and then trips over the fielder’s legs when he tries to run to the base is res ipsa loquitur, as it would be if the fielder tacked him.

          • So, I do not see why he is an ethics hero for: a) knowing the rules (the finer points of which I did not know offhand, but that is not my job); and b) applying the rules as he judges appropriate (again, his job). Not an ethics hero; just an astute and conscientious worker.

  3. Jack: I instantly thought of you when I saw the play go down and was going to make my own blog post about the call.

    I firmly believe that the officials in other sports should take note of what happened here. A penalty in the first inning should be treated no differently than a penalty in the bottom of the ninth. A penalty at 1st and 10 to start the 1st quarter should be treated no differently than a penalty with 4th and goal with 5 seconds left at the game. A foul committed in the act of shooting in the middle of the first quarter should be treated the same as a foul committed in the act of shooting in the middle of the last second buzzer beater shot to end the game.

    I have never understood the logic of not calling obvious penalties/fouls/rules infractions just because it is late in the game. The Sox/Cards game ended as it should.

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