June 11, 2023

Coach Interference

Giants Third Base Coach physically assists baserunner

Coach Interference

Rule 6.01 (a) (8) governs base coach interference. It reads, “It is interference by a runner when in the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.”

This rule that seldom occurs, emerged in the bottom of the seventh at Oracle Park on May 29, 2023 where the Pirates and Giants played. The Giants had Austin Slater on second and J.D. Davis on third with one out when LaMonte Wade Jr. hit a ground ball to Pirates’ third baseman Rodolfo Castro. As Slater approached the base, he collided with Castro causing the ball to dislodge from his glove when making the tag attempt.

Slater failed to touch the base but received assistance from third base coach Mark Hallberg who physically ushered Slater to the bag. No call was made on the field by third base ump Laz Diaz.

At this point Pirates’ manager Derek Shelton asked for the umpiring crew to huddle which they did, and they determined that Hallberg was in violation of rule 6.01 (a) (8) for physically assisting Slater who was called out. Giants’ skipper Gabe Kapler did not dispute the call.

Ruleball Comments

  1. Hallberg flagrantly violated rule 6.01 (a) (8) because his intent was to deliberately provide physical  assistance to Slater.  
  2. If a runner is rounding third base and headed home, and the runner and third base coach collide, the runner should not be called out for coach interference because there was no intent on the part of the coach to physically assist the runner.
  3. If a runner runs into the coach this would not be interference because there was no intent to interfere on the part of the coach.
  4. An inadvertent collision would not constitute intent to hinder or impede the defensive team.
  5. The ball remains in play when coach’s interference is called because you don’t want to give the offensive team an advantage as to when to stop a play. All runners return to their time of interference base if they are not put out. 
  6. Touching the coach is not, in itself, an infraction, but umpires would lean towards presumption of interference in questionable cases.”
  7. The rule has no mercy. In a 1967 PCL game played between the Spokane Indians and the Hawaii Islanders, Spokane’s Jim Fairey stole third base and was knocked unconscious when the throw from the Hawaii catcher hit him in the skull. The ball rolled into left field and Fairey rolled past the bag. Third base coach Gordy Coleman lifted Fairey back onto third base, and Fairey was called out for being “physically assisted” by Coleman.
  8. The rule played a part in the longest game ever played by time (8:06). It was at Comiskey Park where the Chicago White Sox met the Milwaukee Brewers. The game which started on May 8, 1984, was suspended after 17-innings with the score tied 3-3 and completed the next night. In the 23rd inning, White Sox third base coach Jim Leyland assisted Dave Stegman who had just rounded third on Tom Paciorek’s base hit. Stegman was called out by third base umpire Drew Coble for Leyland’s illegal actions. Fortunately for Leyland, the White Sox won the marathon, 7-6 on Harold Baines’ walk-off homer in the 25th inning. “His (Stegman) index finger caught my pinky finger,” recalled Leyland. “He slipped and went down. I held him up and he went back to the base, but they called coach’s interference.”  
  9. We’ve all seen a walk-off home run, a walk-off walk and even a walk-off balk. Add to the list a walk-off coach’s interference. On Sept. 5, 2010, The Minnesota Twins completed a three –game sweep of the Texas Rangers at Target Field that ended in controversy. The Rangers, trailing 6-2 entering the top of the ninth, had scored two runs when Vladimir Guerrero Sr., batting with the bases loaded and two outs, hit a grounder up the middle. The ball was fielded behind second base by Twins’ second baseman Orlando Hudson who fired to third base behind Michael Young, the runner on second at the start of play. Young rounded third and appeared to make contact with third base coach Dave Anderson’s extended right arm before hurrying back to the base to beat the throw. Third base ump Alfonso Marquez immediately called Young out when he saw contact, judging that Anderson had interfered with him. The call ended the game with the Twins winning 6-5. Rangers’ manager Ron Washington argued the ruling to no avail. In reference to the play, Twins’ manager Ron Gardenhire said, “They made contact, that’s automatic (interference),” according to a report on Mlb.com. But that is factually incorrect since contact between a coach and runner does not always constitute coach’s interference. This would be umpire’s judgment whether the runner, by touching the coach, was “physically assisted” in a deliberate manner in leaving or returning to the base.
  10. The rules require players, coaches or any member of a team at bat to vacate any space (including both dugouts or bullpens) needed by a fielder who is attempting to field a batted or thrown ball. However, members of either team, coaches included, can “hold-up” or assist a fielder from falling if he enters the dugout or if he is attempting to make a catch at the lip of the dugout which is the top step of the dugout that is even with the playing surface. Several years ago, in a game between the Red Sox and Orioles, Boston was batting in the bottom of the eighth with Dustin Pedroia on first base and David Ortiz at the plate. Ortiz hit a foul ball near the Orioles’ dugout. O’s coach Dave Wallace, standing in the dugout, instinctively reached over the railing to help keep O’s catcher Caleb Joseph from falling into the stands. The catch was never made, and Ortiz subsequently flied out to Travis Snider. But let’s say that Joseph caught the ball and because of Wallace’s assistance, the O’s catcher remained on the field of play. In my opinion, the umpires would have or should have called “Time” and allowed Pedroia to go to second base because Wallace’s assistance prevented Joseph from falling into the stands. If Joseph fell into the stands with the ball, the catch would have counted but the ball would be dead and Pedroia would automatically be awarded second base since any runner/runners on base are awarded one base when a fielder falls into dead ball territory after making a catch. If Wallace was ever called for interference or illegal assistance from the dugout regarding a play being made on the field of play, it might have been a baseball first for a coach or player who was in the dugout. 

Rich Marazzi

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

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