The Last Great Call(s)

Please recognize that to make these calls, under any circumstances, requires a special level of umpiring genius. But now it's time to remember something important: You could go to 100,000 baseball games, and this is a play, and a call, you might never see in any of them. First, it's believed, according to our friends at Retrosheet, that this was just the second game in modern history - regular season or postseason -- to end on any sort of obstruction call. (The other, a Seattle-Tampa Bay game on Aug. 6, 2004, bore no resemblance to this one.) Second, you almost never see any sort of obstruction call at third base. So think of the knowledge, instincts and feel for the moment an umpire has to draw upon, in a pressurized October instant, to make this call in this setting. Where does all that come from?

Joyce: "We've been doing this -- me, John [Hirschbeck] and Dana -- have been doing this for over 28 years. And it's one of those things that we're trained to do, basically. We're trained to observe. And we're trained to have that timing. And in that brief timing period, you can't put a definition or a measurement on it. But it's a space where something happens; and in between there, everything starts clicking in your head on what you have in front of you. I like to say that, when we umpire, you can't do anything until something happens. And when that happens, I think, on a play like that, it's more instinct than anything else because I observe, I have a play, and then there's that period of time where I have to realize what just happened. And it clicks in your head: 'That's obstruction.' Boom. Automatic."

DeMuth: "I've had obstructions happen [in games] around second base. That happens a lot. I'd never had what happened to us in the World Series, except at umpires school. [Laughs.] ... You know, this is my 31st year. And that was my fifth World Series. And yes, I've had that call quite a few times. I instructed at the Wendelstedt [Umpire] School for 15 years. And we had it [long laugh] a number of times at the school. [Laughs again.] At the school, you always make these plays up for the students, to define what obstruction is and how you make the call and stuff. But in an actual game? No. No." "Really? Right there in the middle of a crazy play in a World Series game, you had a flashback to umpires school?"

DeMuth: "No. Not really. At the time, it's not a flashback. It's more of instinct."

Before we move on, let's not take that instinct for granted. To draw on that instinct, in real time, in the ninth inning of a World Series game, the way these men did, sums up the incredible skill of a major league umpire about as perfectly as any call, in any game, you will ever witness. So, does that one word, "instinct," truly describe it?

Joyce: "I've tried to find the words to explain. And it's hard to explain it, other than experience and instinctive. I wish I could find the words that would describe the feeling when it happens. But it's just instinctive. But if I say, 'instinctive' one more time, what is that, about 40 [times], just in this conversation?"

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