Catcher’s Interference: A Potential Game-Changing Decision for a Manager
Perhaps the most impactful catcher’s interference call of the 2020 season occurred in the deciding game of the White Sox vs. A’s series in Oakland. With the score tied 4-4 in the bottom of the fifth, Tommy La Stella was batting for the A’s with Sean Murphy on first base and two outs when La Stella was awarded first base by the plate umpire, Ted Barrett because his bat met the catcher’s mitt of Sox’s backstop, Yasmani Grandal. The interference led to a two-run rally giving the A’s a 6-4 lead which proved to be the final score.
When catcher interference occurs and the ball is not put in play, the batter is awarded first base and runners advance one base only if forced. In the above play, Murphy was forced to advance to second base.
If the ball is put in play and all runners, including the batter-runner advance one base on the play, the interference is ignored.
If the ball is put in play and all runners do not advance one base, the manager of the offensive team has the option of taking the play or the penalty. The manager must initiate the meeting with the plate umpire.
Ex: Runner on third base and the batter hits a ground ball to the second baseman. The umpire rules catcher’s interference. The batter-runner is out at first base and the runner on third scores. If the manager takes the play, he trades the out for the run. If he takes the penalty, the runner on third will remain there and the batter-runner will be awarded first base.
How well did the White Sox scout the A’s? It is widely known that La Stella is a common beneficiary of the catcher’s interference rule most likely because of his batting style. If Grandal was aware of this, he might not have set up so close to the plate. Who knows if the outcome of the game would have been different.
There was some broadcaster confusion regarding two other situations:
The batter swung and missed with the runner on first attempting to steal second. It appeared that the batter hindered the catcher’s throwing lane. The color commentator said that batter should be called out for batter interference. But the catcher never threw down to second base. Unless the catcher is physically unable to throw to a base because of contact with the batter, the catcher must throw to the base for the umpire to be able to invoke the rule.
In another situation, the pitcher came set with a runner on base. He then made a very quick slide step to the plate. The color commentator said that a balk should have been called. This was incorrect. As long as the pitcher came set properly, the quickness of his free foot in the delivery is irrelevant.
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