David Lennon has been a staff writer for Newsday since 1991, when he started covering New York City
ST. LOUIS - Consider yourself lucky. Rather than hide behind the rulebook and leave someone like me to interpret what happened at the end of Saturday night's chaotic Game 3, Major League Baseball allowed one of the most controversial plays in World Series history to perhaps be the best explained.
Officiating in any sport is a touchy subject these days. Just a week earlier, the Jets beat the Patriots in overtime with the help of a rule not many people -- including the NFL's own players -- even knew existed (it was put in during the offseason). On Saturday night, the Cardinals were awarded a walk-off victory by virtue of an obstruction call on Red Sox third baseman Will Middlebrooks, but that was only the beginning.
As soon as Allen Craig crash-landed at home for the winning run, Boston manager John Farrell rushed from the dugout for an explanation, which he initially got from plate umpire Dana DeMuth. Third-base umpire Jim Joyce, who signaled the obstruction, also showed up to describe what he saw.
"We're well aware of the rules," Farrell said Sunday afternoon. "And at that point, it's not so much a judgment call. It's pretty much a straightforward call. We don't like it, but that's the rule in which we play under."
But the rest of us, including the millions watching on TV, weren't privy to that discussion, and MLB was smart to go the complete transparency route by putting three of the umpires -- DeMuth, Joyce and crew chief John Hirschbeck -- on the podium to answer questions.
It sounds simple: Allow the referees and umpires, like the players, coaches and managers, to give their side of the story. But it's not as common as it should be, and MLB seized the opportunity, on the biggest stage of the season, to make Saturday's wild finish a memorable night instead of a potentially embarrassing sideshow.
From Hirschbeck's opening statement about Rule 2.00 to Joyce's eyeball account and DeMuth's final judgment on how the entanglement delayed Craig, everyone went to bed, or woke up the next morning, knowing the thought process of the personnel who made those critical decisions.
Bud Selig has had his share of upsetting moments during his tenure as commissioner, but this wasn't one of them. Selig felt it was crucial for the umpires to shed as much light as possible on a rule that few were familiar with.
"I believe that, absolutely," Selig said after Sunday's pregame presentation of the Hank Aaron Award. "I knew there were years ago where umpires were reluctant. But you have to go out there and explain yourself. We have that obligation. It's a rule, there was controversy. But I thought their explanation was terrific."
Selig joked that he had to read the rule himself another 25 times or so once he got back to his hotel room. Despite needing a refresher course on 2.00, the commissioner was fine with the letter of the law and didn't have a problem with how it was applied to the incident.
Farrell said before Game 4 that amending the obstruction rule to include intent would be a good idea, but Selig wasn't ready to go there yet.
"If I have an issue, it's something we'll discuss during the offseason," Selig said. "It was handled well. Given everything that happened, I think it was controversy-free, which is good. Just when you think you've seen everything, which I like to convince myself that I have -- on and off the field -- but I never saw this before. Never saw anything close to it."
A sympathetic Adam Wainwright described the Craig play as a "horrible way to lose a ballgame." But that doesn't take away from the fact that it was a historic moment, a never-before-witnessed type of walk-off in the World Series.
"Whatever the events are, those are the events," Selig said. "We can't change them. If that's the rule -- and it is -- I'm OK with that."
The important thing was how MLB responded to this event. Getting the umpires involved to provide insight and clarity to an obscure rule made a huge difference in how Game 3 was digested overnight. We got accountability when it was most needed, and regardless of how you felt about the outcome, this one doesn't deserve an asterisk.