Justice, Unobstructed

There’s already been a large amount of figurative ink spillage about this, but I wanted to throw in a couple of thoughts. The first is that I’m of the opinion the call is unimpeachably accurate, though one can probably make a reasonable argument that a no-call would also have been correct. The rest of the thoughts are more about the reactions to the call.

An awful lot of people have been criticizing Saltalamacchia for throwing to third. While it (obviously) didn’t turn out well, I don’t think it’s quite as unambiguous as others do. Craig was safe by a pretty small margin, and if Salty had had a bit of a quicker release I think he could have had him. Middlebrooks probably should have caught it, also. Rob Neyer has a more thorough breakdown of all of this.

While the process was not perfect, though, I’m fairly certain that if Craig had been out at third or Middlebrooks had caught it, nobody would have said anything about the throw. I know that we can’t (and shouldn’t) ignore results entirely, because that’s why they play the games, but I’m pretty sure nobody would have ever said anything about that throw if Middlebrooks makes the catch, and that’s a shame for Saltalamacchia, who’s the goat in this scenario.

Also in the process/results bucket: from a baseball standpoint, Molina should have clobbered Saltalamacchia, which I haven’t seen anyone point out. (I say from a baseball standpoint because I can see broader philosophical objections to home plate collisions, even if they’re legal.) Sliding, he’s guaranteed to be out, and there’s a slight possibility that Craig is out and the inning is over. (There’s also a veeeeeeeeery slight possibility that the ball gets thrown away and Craig scores on obstruction. Baseball’s weird.) If he does the full charge into Salty, he scores with a dropped ball, and either way he definitely prevents a throw to third, functionally guaranteeing that Craig gets in safe. He got really lucky, but it’s still a baserunning error.

Finally, a bit of philosophical musing. There’s a healthy undercurrent of people saying “let the players decide the game, not the umps,” though less in this case than in other games. Not to put too fine a point on it, but that’s a crock of shit. For one, not making a call has just as much of an effect as making a call. For another, that philosophy rewards teams for going a little over the line with the knowledge that the penalty can’t match the crime, which usually degrades the quality of play and is unfair to the rule-abiding team. This leads to things like the holding on the Ravens intentional safety in the Super Bowl, endless moving screens in basketball, and defenders’ mugging forwards in the box on restarts in soccer because they know the ref won’t call the PK. It’s unsightly and unfair, and we shouldn’t encourage it.

The only time I can think of that the rules should maybe be called differently at crucial times is when the rules are intended to govern a part of the game that’s not really related to who wins and loses. The best example of this is the Pine Tar Game, where the rule was so clearly unrelated to Brett’s home run that it was moronic to alter a game outcome because of it. Other examples are things like time wasting and decorum calls in tennis (though those are hazier), the Jim Schwartz rule, and potentially broader safety rules like the pushing penalty in last week’s Pats-Jets game. If there’s no competitive advantage derived, then maybe don’t call the foul.

All told, it’s pretty hard to say that the Red Sox didn’t derive a competitive advantage, so I’m damn glad Joyce and DeMuth made the call. Maybe the NBA refs can take a hint.


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