19th Century Baseball

The obstruction play provides a glimpse of the essence of baseball


Some people — maybe most people — look at last night’s game-ending obstruction play and feel some level of dissatisfaction. Even if they admit it was correct on the merits, there is some sense that it was wonky and weird.  I totally get that. But for me, the obstruction play and all of its weird wonkiness provided a glimpse at the essence of baseball.

I don’t mean “essence” in terms of drama, dynamics and aesthetics, of course. In those terms nothing beats a walkoff home run, the 27th out of a perfect game, a laser throw to the plate, a runner going first to third at top speed or a 99 m.p.h. fastball that leaves a slugger flummoxed and humbled. I wouldn’t dare suggest that an odd play that ends with Joe Torre waving a rule book during a hastily-assembled press conference is better in any sense of the word than an actually dramatic and exciting baseball play in which one player’s athletic prowess trumps that of another. I simply mean that the obstruction play helped distill what baseball is, by its very naturewhen it comes right down to it.

And what is baseball? A decidedly 19th century construct shaped by all manner of rules and conventions. A construct In which, unlike its 19th century contemporaries such as boxing, weightlifting or horse racing, physical prowess is nowhere as nearly close to everything. Rather, it’s about physical prowess being channeled alongside a set of ground rules and formalities that require the mind and discipline to work hand-in-hand with the body and its fast-twitch muscles. It’s a pursuit in which force being applied via instinct rather than calculation is almost always punished rather than rewarded.

In its effort to reign in nature’s impulses via these formalities, it reflects the time of its creation. A time in which man believed nature could be and should be tamed if only enough work was put into it. Often times — maybe most times — 19th century man totally bollocksed up that impulse. He decided that a raging river can be channeled in thus-and-such a fashion and be used to serve his will. That an impenetrable forest can be tamed and utilized for thus-and-such an industry. It was hubris that the world is still paying for.

But in baseball — at least in my mind — man got the balance right. He found a way to impose his will over something naturally occurring that resulted in an actual improvement: the athletic impulse reigned-in and set against challenges, but not defeated. The perfect blending of man’s primal and enlightened selves. Of might and mind working in tandem to accomplish something that is useful. Enjoyable. At its best uplifting. It’s as close as we get to a distillation of the Renaissance or Enlightenment mind in a sporting context.

The sports which came later all have a heavy dose of this as well. Football, basketball and hockey all have scads of rules, conventions and settings where the impulse to simply flatten the opposition via brute strength is channeled through formality.  Ask Ryan Leaf what a cannon arm does for you if you don’t have a brain and a plan. Ask any opponent of Michael Jordan how his mental game did just as much to defeat them as did his leaping ability. Ask anyone in the NHL why the biggest goons and the fastest skaters all get schooled by those who apply mind and body in equal measure. All modern sports, to some extent, owe their existence and greatness to that 19th century impulse.

source: Getty ImagesBut the other sports also have instances — often critical instances — in which it is agreed, tacitly or otherwise, that the rules should be dispensed with or relaxed and that the raw physicality should take precedence. Where the rules against, say, pass interference or hacking should be relaxed because it’s late in the game and some physical, emotional and dramatic climax should be allowed to the come to the fore. Whistles are swallowed. The call is made to “simply let them play.” In those cases it is understood and expected that the balance should swing back to the primal when the clock’s seconds wane.

Not in baseball. At least not when baseball is administered properly. In baseball the rules are the rules from start to finish and are not dispensed with simply because time is running out. Oh, wait, in baseball time never runs out. As Earl Weaver reminded us, there is no clock in baseball. There is no moment that is truly more critical and thus more demanding that formalities be dispensed with due to an incessant tick-tick-tick. “You’ve got to throw the ball over the damn plate and give the other man his chance,” Weaver said. “That’s why baseball is the greatest game of them all.”

So many people with Boston IP addresses are telling me this morning that, though the call on the Middlebrooks/Craig obstruction play was technically correct, it perhaps should not have been made. The play — with its collision and tripping and stumbling and dashing home — should have been “allowed to proceed” rather than having a rarely-thought-of rule invoked to determine the outcome. It was the ninth inning of a close World Series game, they’re basically arguing. It was too important to allow the imposition of a rule trump the running and throwing of men.

Baloney. That call went to the heart of what baseball truly is. A sport in which there is or at least should be no relaxation of the rules due to the exigency of a critical moment. Baseball does not and should not allow for times in which aesthetics or raw physicality excuse the relaxation of the rules. It’s, by design, a sport in which the beauty and glory of the entire pursuit is a product of the mixing of the two things. Dana DeMuth, whether he realized he was doing it at the time last night, was ensuring that this anachronistic yet eminently satisfying balance was maintained.

Refrain from calling obstruction on that play? To do so would be a betrayal of baseball’s very essence.

Report: Yasiel Puig started a fight at a Miami nightclub

Yasiel Puig
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When last we posted about Yasiel Puig it was to pass along a rumor that the best player on his team wants him off of it. If that was true — and if this report is true — then expect that sentiment to remain unchanged:

Obviously this report is vague and there has not been, say, a police report or other details to fill it in. Perhaps we’ll learn more, perhaps Puig was misbehaving perhaps he wasn’t.

As we wait for details, however, it’s probably worth reminding ourselves that Puig is coming off of a lost season in which he couldn’t stay healthy, so trading him for any sort of decent return at the moment isn’t super likely. Which leads us to some often overlooked but undeniable baseball wisdom: you can be a distraction if you’re effective and you can be ineffective if you’re a good guy. You really can’t be an ineffective distraction, however, and expect to hang around very long.

Are the Padres adding some yellow to their color scheme for 2016?

Tony Gwynn

We’ve written several times about how boring the Padres’ uniforms and color scheme is. And how that’s an even greater shame given how colorful they used to be. No, not all of their mustard and brown ensembles were great looking, but some were and at some point it’s better to miss boldly than to endure blandness.

Now comes a hint that the Padres may step a toe back into the world of bright colors. At least a little bit. A picture of a new Padres cap is making the rounds in which a new “sunshine yellow” color has been added to the blue and white:

This story from the Union-Tribune notes that the yellow also appears on the recently-unveiled 2016 All-Star Game logo, suggesting that the yellow in the cap could either be part of some  special All-Star-related gear or a new color to the normal Padres livery.

I still strongly advocate for the Padres to bring back the brown — and there are a multitude of design ideas which could do that in tasteful fashion — but for now any addition of some color would be a good thing.

Brett Lawrie “likely to be traded” by the A’s

Brett Lawrie

Oakland’s re-acquisition of infielder Jed Lowrie from Houston makes it “likely” that the A’s will now trade infielder Brett Lawrie, according to Susan Slusser of the San Francisco Chronicle.

Slusser says Lowrie’s arrival “all but ensures” both Lawrie and Danny Valencia are on the trading block, adding that Lawrie “is considered the better bet to be traded.”

Acquired last offseason from the Blue Jays in the Josh Donaldson trade, Lawrie hit .260 with 16 homers and a .706 OPS in 149 games while playing second base and third base. At age 25 he’s a solid player, but Lawrie has failed to live up to his perceived potential while hitting .263 with a .736 OPS in 494 career games.

At this point it sounds like the A’s plan to start Marcus Semien at shortstop and Lowrie at second base.

Gammons: The Red Sox could go $30-40 million higher on David Price than anyone else


Peter Gammons reports that the Red Sox are on a mission to sign David Price and that they will pay some serious money to get him. Gammons quotes one anonymous GM who says that he expects the Sox to “go $30-40 million above anyone else.”

The man calling the shots for the Sox is Dave Dombrowski and he knows Price well, of course, having traded for him in Detroit. But there is going to be serious competition for Price’s services with the Jays and Cubs, among many others, bidding for his services. It would be unusual for a team to outbid the competition by tens of millions as Gammons’ source suggests, but the dollars will be considerable regardless.