On Sunday the Kansas City Royals and Houston Astros played at Minute Maid. In the bottom of the second, Tony Kemp was batting with the bases loaded and one out when Kemp’s swing made contact with the mitt of Royals’ catcher Drew Butera. Plate umpire Lance Barrett ruled the ball dead because it was a foul ball. Barrett sent Kemp to first and awarded all runners one base because they were all forced to advance. Kemp’s presence on first base created the force for all three runners.
You can view this play by going to the link below:
or go to MLB.com, June 24, KC@HOU: “Gurriel comes home on catcher’s interference”
Catcher’s Interference: Rule 5.05 (b) (3)
The catcher can interfere with the batter in different ways. The most common is when the batter’s bat makes contact with the catcher’s mitt. When this occurs, the ball remains alive and in play unless: (1) the ball settles in foul territory; (2) the batter misses the pitch; or (3) continuous action stops if the ball is hit in fair territory. The rule allows the batter to be awarded first base and runners on base advance only if forced. In the above play, all runners were forced to advance one base because the bases were loaded. If there were runners on first and third, the runner on third would remain on third because he wasn’t forced on the play. The runner on first would be awarded second because he was forced to that base.
The interference is nullified if the batter and all runners advance at least one base on the play. In the above play, let’s say Kemp singled to center following the interference and all runners including Kemp advanced at least one base on the play. In that case, the interference is negated.
When catcher’s interference is called with no runners on base, if the batter advances at least one base, the interference is nullified. If the batter is thrown out at second or any other base, he is out. If the batter-runner rounds first base and the fielder throws behind him and he is tagged-out, the out remains.
When catcher’s interference is called, if the batter does not reach base, the catcher is charged with an error and the batter is not charged with a time at-bat.
Knapp Interferes with La Stella Twice in Same Game
The Chicago Cubs’ Tommy La Stella reached base twice in the same game on June 7th against the Philadelphia Phillies because he was interfered with by catcher Andrew Knapp. The first interference occurred in the bottom of the first inning with a runner on second and no outs. La Stella hit a ground ball to pitcher Nick Pivetta who tossed to first for the apparent putout. But plate umpire Nick Mahrley called interference on Knapp because Knapp’s mitt made contact with La Stella’s bat. La Stella was given first base but Albert Almora Jr., the runner on second, had to remain on second, because he was not forced to advance. If both La Stella and Almora advanced one base on the play, the interference would have been nullified.
The second interference on Knapp occurred in the bottom of the eighth with the bases empty. La Stella fouled the pitch and was awarded first base. If La Stella reached base safely in any manner, the interference would have been nullified.
To view the two catcher’s interference calls, see the link below.
or go to MLB.com, June 7, “PHI@CHC, “La Stella reaches on interference twice”
Do Batters Ever Initiate the Interference Call?
There are some rumblings about La Stella—a player who has reached base six times via catcher’s interference in his 338-game career. Some think he is initiating or intentionally trying to get the call. During the June 23rd game vs. the Cincinnati Reds, La Stella argued that Reds’ catcher Tucker Barnhart interfered with him when he grounded out, the game being 4-3 in the bottom of the fifth with runners on first and third and two outs. But plate umpire Greg Gibson gave it a Thumbs Down.
Did La Stella attempt to initiate catcher’s interference? Go to the link below and listen to the call of Reds’ broadcaster Chris Welsh and you can decide for yourself.
In the link below you will see a slo-mo clip:
My opinion? La Stella’s bat never made contact with the mitt and because of the nature of his swing and the fact he argued for interference, I think he was looking for it. So, the probability is strong that he attempted to initiate the catcher’s interference call.
Ellsbury: The Catcher’s Interference Czar
The all-time leader in getting on base by catcher’s interference is the New York Yankees’ Jacoby Ellsbury with 31 tips. Is it his batting style, intent, overly aggressive catchers or a combination of all three? Ditto for Pete Rose who had 29 catcher’s tips in his career or any other batter who is a frequent beneficiary of the rule.
Rose’s reputation to initiate the call was no secret. Former Baltimore Orioles’ catcher Elrod Hendricks once told me, “We knew that Rose would try to get on base that way. It was in our scouting report when we played the Reds in the 1970 World Series. And would you believe, he nailed me in Game One!” Rose led off the bottom of the fifth with the score tied 3-3 facing Jim Palmer. On Palmer’s first pitch, Rose’s bat made contact with Hendricks’ glove and “Charley Hustle” was sent to first base.
Batter Always Protected
I have been tracking catcher interference violations for five decades and I have never seen a batter called for intentionally initiating the interference with the catcher. It’s a difficult call for the umpire because he can’t be a mind reader. Catchers are usually the ones who cause the interference and batters are seldom at fault. Some catchers like to set close to the plate to steal strikes for the pitcher. They extend their mitt to catch the ball early in the strike zone. Former catcher Milt May violated rule 5.05 (b) (3) 15 times because of his aggressive style behind the plate. He’s the leader in this low-rent district stat.
Manager Has Option to Take Play or the Penalty
Part of the catcher’s interference rule reads, “If the ball is put in play and all runners, including the batter-runner, do not each advance one base following a catcher’s interference call, the manager of the offensive team may elect to take the play and forego the penalty.”
There are two situations in the game of baseball when the manager of the offensive team has the option of taking the play over the penalty. They are: (1) catcher’s interference and (2) when a batter puts a ball in play that has been doctored. (This I have never seen). In both situations the manager must initiate the meeting with the plate umpire. If the manager does not do so, the umpire will invoke the penalty aspect of the rule and allow only runners who are forced to advance to move-up one base.
Of Ellsbury’s 31 interference calls, perhaps the most unusual, which did not go in the book as catcher’s interference because Yankees’ manager Joe Girardi exercised his option of “taking the play,” occurred on April 16, 2014 in the afternoon game of a day-night doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs at Yankee Stadium.
In the bottom of the fifth, the Yankees had Brett Gardner on third with one out when Ellsbury tapped a ground ball back to the mound after his bat made contact with the mitt of Cubs’ catcher John Baker. Plate umpire Jim Reynolds called interference on Baker and properly kept the ball alive. Ellsbury pointed to Baker and momentarily remained in the batter’s box area (a normal reaction) before he was tagged-out by Cubs’ pitcher Jason Hammel up the first base line.
Meanwhile, Gardner, taking advantage of his free/without risk attempt to advance, wisely broke for home and crossed the plate. So, here we have one runner (Gardner) who advanced one base on the play and another runner (Ellsbury) who did not. This was the perfect storm for the managerial option.
Girardi met with Reynolds and elected to take the play over the penalty. He traded the out for the run. This gave the Yankees a 3-0 lead which proved to be the final score. Because Girardi opted for the play, Gardner was allowed to score and Ellsbury was ruled out.
It’s a Free Run
If Gardner was thrown out at home, Reynolds would have sent him back to third and Ellsbury would have been awarded first base because the one base requirement for all runners to advance was not met. Teams should take advantage of the “free run.” The odds heavily favor the offensive team in situations like these.
As stated above, if Girardi didn’t approach Reynolds, the umpire would have invoked the penalty aspect of the rule which would have kept Gardner on third base because he wasn’t forced to advance and Ellsbury would have been awarded first base.
- Teams should be aware of the batters who reach first base often on catcher’s interference. This should be included in scouting reports. I believe in most cases intent is not involved but it’s wise to keep a record of batter’s who are often recipients of the rule.
- Catchers should be reminded during the game of any hitter who has a penchant for reaching base via catcher’s interference.
- In late game situations in a close scoring game, catchers must be extremely aware not to be overly aggressive. See below:
A walk-off catcher’s interference call? According to the Elias Sports Bureau, this has occurred only once in organized baseball history.
The Reading Fightin Phils hosted the Binghamton Mets on June 20, 2007, in a seven-inning game because the first game, a suspended contest from the night before, went 11-innings.
With the score tied in the bottom of the seventh, the Phils had the bases loaded and two outs when Jason Hill hit a liner to the shortstop for what looked to be the third out, sending the game into extra innings. But plate umpire Mark Buchanan correctly called catcher’s interference on Mets’ catcher Mike Nickeas. Hill was awarded first base and all runners were advanced one base, because they were forced, allowing Michael Spidale, the runner on third to score the winning run.
This was the third time that season that Hill had reached base on catcher’s interference. Were the Mets aware of it? If so, perhaps Nickeas should have adjusted his position.
Was this an intentional act on the part of Hill?
He’s the only one that can answer that question!
Link to YouTube video on our Baseball Rules Academy channel regarding this rule: