Interference by a Non-Runner: Who’s Out?

When offensive interference is called on a player who is not a base runner, who do you call out? For example, the on-deck batter could interfere with a fielder’s attempt to catch a pop-up, or on some fields pitchers warm up in live ball territory (on foul ground, of course), and can sometimes interfere with a fielder attempting to catch a fly ball.

This scenario came up on one of the umpire discussion boards this morning and it’s a really instructive exchange. This scenario is just rare enough to be unfamiliar, but not so rare that you won’t see it once or twice a season. Thanks go to Dave DeRosa (WA District 12) for the scenario.

Here’s the scenario

We have fewer than two outs and we have runners on second (R2) and third (R3). We have a wild pitch/passed ball and the runners attempt to advance – R2 advances toward 3rd and R3 is attempting to score. The catcher (F2) sprints to the backstop for the ball while the pitcher (F1) runs to cover home. F2 tosses to ball toward F1 to make a play on R3 who is coming in standing. R3 crosses the plate, but just then F2’s throw goes right to the runner who instinctively catches, then immediately drops the ball, which F1 goes to retrieve.

So what do we have?

Let’s start with what we know

  • We know we have interference. Definitions of Terms (interference)(a) gives us that.
  • We know that interference is an immediate dead ball, so the instant R3 touched the ball, the play was over.
  • We know someone needs to be called out for the interference. However, an offensive player who is not a batter or base runner cannot be put out, and R3 is no longer a runner because he crossed the plate before he interfered.
  • Once interference occurs, no runner may advance beyond the base they last touched prior to the interference. This puts R2 back on third base (probably).

Now what?

So now we actually have two decisions to make. First, does the run by F3 crossing the plate score? And second, whom do we call out?

  • Does the run score? Yes, it does. The interference occurred after R3 crossed the plate, so the run scores.
  • Who is out? Well, for this we turn to Rule 6.01(a)(5), where we learn that “Any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate.” Therefore, you call R2 out.

In other words, there is a presumption that had the interference not occurred, the defense had a play on R2, but that the opportunity was impeded by the actions of R3.

A caveat

During this morning’s discussion of this scenario, the rulings that I present were not unanimously held. A couple of those on the discussion board felt that the “catch” by R3 was probably inadvertent. We know from Rule 5.09(b)(3) that a runner struck by a thrown ball is not out for interference (unless the runner intentionally touched the ball), and some felt that our scenario falls more into the category of a runner struck by thrown ball than runner interfering. Everyone agreed that more information would help clarify, and that one really had to be there and seen it themselves to be 100% certain of their call. Nevertheless, I stand by my ruling that the “catch” and “step” by R3 is a determining factor in ruling interference.

 

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