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By Carl Childress

In my lifetime I have listened to the moaners and the groaners who claim that amateur organizations and their rule changes are destroying the national pastime of the United States.
We surely all recall the hue and cry when the National Federation abolished baserunning appeals in 1981. "That’s terrible!" the purists sobbed. I could never figure out what their objection was. We still call out runners who miss bases, and the unintended consequence was that baserunning techniques improved. I always grin when I hear some amateur umpire whine that now the runner had better miss the base a l–o–n–g way: "I’m not going to call him out unless everybody in the park saw him miss it." Does that imply that in those games where appeals are still required, the runner can barely miss the base, and on appeal our intrepid arbiter will fearlessly bang him out? If the umpire intends to call out a runner, what difference does it make if he calls him out on appeal from the defense or on appeal from his own eyes?

"Purists" again armed themselves with muskets and rallied to Paul Revere’s "one if by land" after the National Federation decreed in 1985 that the ball would be immediately dead when the pitcher balked. "How sad!" they sobbed. "High school has junked yet another tradition." They cleverly neglected to remind us the "tradition" was only 31 years old, for prior to 1954, the professional rules (OBR) also dictated a dead ball and a mandatory one-base award following a balk. I particularly remember the change from dead ball to delayed dead ball, for it was new the first year I umpired.

Some he-men (he-persons? s/he-persons?) even rail against safety rules. Recently on one of the Internet boards the issue was: Should we allow a Little League runner to lower a shoulder and crash the catcher? One dim bulb saw nothing wrong with that: "We’re raising a generation of wimps," he wrote, though he used a far more offensive and sexist term. It was blockheads like him who also bellyached that only cowards use gloves, and real men don’t wear batting helmets.

Lost in all the hubbub was the 1994 NCAA Approved Ruling that effectively redefined obstruction. If contact occurs between a runner and a fielder, the rules committee decreed, the umpire will call obstruction unless the fielder is in the "immediate act of catching the ball." I consider that the most significant departure from traditional baseball to occur in my lifetime.

This piece has three parts: (1) a table illustrating obstruction rules; (2) a brief discussion of deflections; and (3) an explanation of "making a play." I won’t include specific rule citations. All those numbers interfere with the flow of the prose. More importantly, most people familiar with me and my work trust me to get it right. Skeptical readers, though, may email me to receive full details.

Fed Obstructing Rules
ObstructingObstruction Table
ObstructingMaking a Play
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