The Astros and Brewers played at Miller Park on Tuesday, September 4, 2019, when Astros’ center fielder George Springer made a leaping catch to rob Ryan Braun and end the fifth inning.
Springer backpedaled and reached up to make the catch on the fly ball before falling backward and landing on his back. As he hit the ground, the back of Springer’s head struck the bottom of the padded center field wall. Shortly after Springer fell to the ground, he lost possession of his glove and ball. But umpire Bill Miller ruled that Springer had made a legal catch.
Left fielder Michael Brantley tended to his fallen teammate while right fielder Josh Reddick came over and picked up Springer’s glove with ball inside which had no effect on the play.
Springer was on the ground for several minutes before being helped to his feet and carted off the field.
The question is: Should Springer have been credited with a legal catch? You can watch the entire play by going to the link below:
Rich Marazzi Expert Interpretation: legal catch rule 5.09 (a) (1).
In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall get secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball.
This would be umpire judgment, but I would say Springer met this condition of the rule.
It is not a catch if a fielder falls down as a result of a collision with a wall, player or the ground and drops the ball.
If the ball fell out of his glove the moment he made contact with the ground, it would be ruled no catch. The same would be true if the ball in glove became detached as a result of hitting the ground. But I think he intentionally flicked the ball and glove from his hand after hitting the ground. Therefore, the ground did not cause the ball and glove to be detached.
If a batted ball is gloved airborne by a fielder, but the glove/ball combination is ripped off the fielder’s hand and drops to the ground with ball still in glove, it is no catch. If the fielder falls to the ground and is incapacitated with ball in glove still on his hand, the ball would still be in flight and the closest fielder should pull the ball out of his glove to legalize the catch. The ball would still be in flight because it never touched the ground, a wall, a foreign object, an umpire or an opposing player.
A legal catch no longer requires that the fielder have secure possession of the ball in his throwing hand when making the transfer. This part of the rule was amended in 2014. It relaxed the requirement that the fielder had to reach into his glove to meet the transfer part of the rule. Currently, a fielder only needs to open his glove with the intent to transfer to satisfy the transfer requirement. It is more umpire and defensive player friendly.
In the above play, Springer was incapacitated and therefore was unable to meet the transfer requirement. But since this was the third out of the inning with no further play, in my opinion, the transfer was not required. (Ex: A fielder catches a fly ball for the third out and runs with the ball into the dugout. There is no transfer and no violation. Umpires are not looking for a transfer on the third out.)
The interpretation of a legal catch issued by the Playing Rules Committee only pertains to a catch involving an attempted “transfer.” It does not raise the issue of a catch with a batted ball in flight that is finally held by another fielder before it touches the ground.
See Catch Comment on page 40 of the 2019 Official Baseball Rules. It reads: A catch is legal if the ball is finally held by any fielder, even though juggled, or held by another fielder before it touches the ground.
The Springer play was not affected by the language in this part of the rule. If Springer’s ball in glove remained on his hand with less than two outs, and Reddick pulled the ball out of the glove, this would create the putout for the reasons given above. Or if the fly ball caromed off Springer’s glove or body into the hands of Reddick or Brantley, it would be a legal catch.
Braun did the proper thing by circling the bases. Injury is superseded by a play in progress. If there were less than two outs, the umpires would have had to keep the ball in play even though Springer was injured. And Braun most likely would have had an inside the park home run.
In summary, I support the call of a legal catch. If Springer dropped the ball or ball in glove the moment he hit the ground, I would rule no catch. In my judgment, however, Springer had secure possession of the ball long enough to satisfy the conditions of the rule and the ground did not cause the detachment of glove and ball.