You have probably seen the YouTube video of the play in the girl’s softball game where the base runners advancing to home are knocked to the ground by the catcher, who is not only not in possession of the ball, but is also blocking the plate. That’s obstruction, of course, but that’s the least of the problems with the play. First, though, in case you haven’t seen it, here’s the clip. Watch the catcher.
This is clearly unsportsmanlike conduct (“malicious contact”) and the umpire should have ejected the catcher on the spot. Why didn’t he? That’s difficult to say. In the first instance, he was clearly looking at the play. He even turned his head to see the runner fall to the ground. But he did nothing. On the second instance, we do not see the umpire in the frame but we can assume that, with a runner scoring, he was in a position similar to the first instance.
Let’s count the ways the umpire blew this one big-time. We might learn something.
- First off, he’s out of position. He’s on the first baseline extended when he should be on the third base line extended. This is a high school game, so it’s surprising that an umpire at this level would make such a rookie mistake. Had he been in position, the play would have been coming right at him (and the runner falling at his feet) rather than the play passing him.
- The umpire fails to note or signal the obstruction. It was right in front of him, so it’s hard to believe he didn’t see it. The runner scored without a play on her, so he would have waved off the obstruction regardless. Nevertheless, he should have signaled it.
- He failed to react to the blatant malicious contact. This is not a difficult call. The elbow is conspicuous, as is the blocking of the plate. The base runners go flying, for crying out loud.
- Finally, he appears to have fallen into that mysterious umpire coma that some blues fall into for inexplicable reasons. (I once heard a story about an umpire who went down to his partner on a checked-swing appeal, but then didn’t see his partner where he should have been near first base. He noticed him then, over at the fence, trading pins.)
While we can rail at the catcher’s poor behavior (which is what most of the public shouting is about – some of the shouting revoltingly crude, I should add), in my view this cluster-flip lies squarely on the umpire, and on the catcher’s coach as well. While the latter are to blame for the first instance, the umpire is to blame for not fixing the problem, ejecting the catcher, and getting the game back on track.
But no matter, I suppose, The video clip has gone viral so not only is the catcher probably suffering a social penalty far greater than an ejection, but the umpire, too, whomever he is, has landed smack-dab in the bull’s eye of every umpire critic on earth (and then some).