June 6, 2022

Batter-Runner Interference

Batter-runner interference examples from MLB 2022

Batter-Runner Interference

Play No. 1

The Rangers and A’s played in Oakland on May 26th.  In the bottom of the seventh, Christian Bethancourt was batting with the bases empty and no outs facing Martin Perez. Bethancourt bunted the ball between the mound and the first baseline. Perez fielded the ball and tossed to first baseman Nathaniel Lowe. The ball got by Lowe and Bethancourt ended-up on second base.

But plate umpire Mark Ripperger called Bethancourt out for batter-runner interference. A’s manager Mark Kotsay argued the call to no avail.

Ruleball Comment

  1. This was a classic batter-runner interference call for running out of the 45-foot long, 3-foot wide Runner’s Lane and interfering with the fielder (Lowe) who was taking the throw. I support the call.
  2. If the putout was completed there would have been no call.
  3. Bethancourt ran out of the lane the entire distance from home to first.
  4. The only argument that Kotsay could have made is if the throw wasn’t a quality throw to retire the runner. In plays like this, umpires envision if the first baseman could have completed the play with the same throw if there had been no batter-runner. I agree with Ripperger that the throw was good enough to retire the batter-runner if he had not interfered with the play.
  5. One of the broadcasters really butchered the interpretation of the rule. This was a disservice to his viewers. Let’s break this down.

Broadcaster: “The call is made because the ball hit Bethancourt in fair territory. I didn’t see the ball make contact with Bethancourt. The ball doesn’t even touch Bethancourt.”

Fact: A throw must be made but it makes no difference whether or not the batter-runner is struck by the throw. If the umpire judges that the BR impeded the first baseman (or second baseman) from making the play, that’s the bottom line. Sometimes the catcher or pitcher will purposely throw at the batter-runner to encourage the interference call, but even if the batter-runner is hit by the throw, there is no guarantee the call will be made.

Broadcaster: “For a runner coming out of the box his right-hand side, his natural path takes him through fair territory to first base which is also in fair territory.”

Fact: The broadcaster is defending the position of Bethancourt because he is expected to touch the base at the end of the play. But Bethancourt ran the entire distance from the plate to the base out of the Runner’s Lane. If he ran the last 45-feet in the lane, he would be permitted to exit the lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate area of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.

The other broadcaster said that first base umpire Phil Cuzzi did not make a call.

Fact: Batter-runner interference is primarily the responsibility of the plate umpire. There might be a situation where the plate ump has to make a call at the plate as the batter-runner is headed to first. In that case, the first base ump can help.

Notice that the first baseman (Lowe) was positioned square to the base which is the way most first basemen set-up when taking a throw from the bunt area. The argument is that it gives the thrower a wider target. I know I am in the minority but in LATE DEVELOPING PLAYS, if first basemen stretched like they do at any other base, there is a better chance the play will be completed. It is also safer as it will prevent serious injury by reducing collisions between the batter-runner and the fielder taking the throw, which is usually the first baseman.

Play No. 2

The Cubs and White Sox played at Guaranteed Rate Field on May 29th. The Sox were batting in the bottom of the 11th inning with the score tied, 4-4. Leury Garcia was at bat with Adam Engel on second base and no outs when Garcia bunted in front of the plate. The ball was fielded by Cubs’ pitcher Robert Gsellman, who tossed to second baseman Andrelton Simmons who was covering first base. Both Garcia and Simmons collided at the base and the ball squirted toward the second base area. Engel came around to score the apparent winning run.

But wait.

Plate umpire Ted Barrett ruled that Garcia was out for batter-runner interference for violating the Runner’s Lane rule. Engel was sent back to second because runners cannot advance when batter-runner interference is called unless there is an intervening play at the plate before the throw to first base.

White Sox manager Tony LaRussa argued the call but got now nowhere.  Despite the violation, the Sox won 5-4 in 12-innings.

Ruleball Comment

  1. Like the Bethancourt play, Garcia ran the entire distance from the plate to first base out of the Runner’s Lane.
  2. In this play, Simmons was almost seriously injured like Max Muncy was last year as a result of the collision because his glove hand was in direct line with Garcia.
  3. Again, I’m probably spitting in the air, but if Simmons set-up in the stretch position instead of being square to the base, there is a better chance the out would have been recorded and the collision would have been avoided.
  4. The other option is for right-handed first basemen, or second baseman to set-up square to the base and then step out to catch the ball before stepping on the base.
  5. One can argue that if the out was recorded Engel would have advanced to third base. But we’re talking about Risk vs. Reward here-the risk being the health of the fielder taking the throw at first base.
  6. The broadcasters in this play did a better job but one erroneously stated, “That’s not really egregious.”
  7. How egregious the play is at first base is a moot point. Simply stated, if the batter-runner is running out of the lane and is judged to have interfered with the play at first base, the batter-runner is out.

Rule Summary

  1. The 45-foot long, 3-foot wide Runner’s Lane, was designed in 1881 (not a typo) to protect the fielder taking the throw at first base. At the time, the foul lines ran through the center of the base which caused multiple collisions. The objective of the lane is to keep the batter-runner away from the first baseman.
  2. The rule has merit but is not practical because the batter-runner is always going to run to first base in the same direction to get to the base ASAP. Most of the time the BR will not be in the Runner’s Lane where he is protected from being called for interference.
  3. The rule is unfair to the right-handed batter runner such as Bethanccourt in Play No. 1 because he would have to cross-over to get into the lane. This is not a natural move and obviously slows his advance to the base.
  4. In Play No. 2, Garcia, a left-handed batter, had a straight path to the Runner’s Lane, yet he ran on the fair side of the lane because this is how he always runs to first base when the ball is hit anywhere in the infield.
  5. Also, should a runner be called out for running to a base in a straight line?
  6. I understand this cannot be mandated but if right-handed first basemen and second basemen would take throws from the stretch position in LATE DEVELOPING PLAYS, or step out and receive the throw before tagging the base, batter-runner interference plays would be greatly reduced, and first and second basemen on all levels of the game will be protected from serious injury. THIS IS THE MOST DANGEROUS PLAY IN THE GAME TODAY.  In addition, by taking the throw from the stretch position, the ball will meet the glove sooner and there is a better chance to record the putout.
  7. Left-handed first basemen as well can take the throw from the stretch position, but because their glove is away from the batter-runner, there is less chance for injury even if they square to the base.  

 

Rich Marazzi

Rules consultant/analyst:  D’backs, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Rays, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, Bally Sports, ESPN, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago.  

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