September 4, 2022

Protective Netting Issues

The rule challenges with players making catches up against the new protective netting

Protective Netting Issues

The Guardians and Mariners played at T-Mobile Park on August 28, 2022. In the bottom of the fifth, the M’s had runners on first and third with two outs when Dylan Moore hit a pop fly in foul territory near the netting on the outfield side of the first base dugout. Guardians’ first baseman Owen Miller, tracking the ball, leaped into the netting. The ball bounced out of his glove and caromed off the netting before he caught it with his right hand.

Miller thought he had made a legal catch, but first base umpire Ramon De Jesus said, “No.” Moore, given another life, proceeded to hit a three-run homer to lead the Mariners to a 4-0 win.

On September 1, 2022, the M’s were on the other side of the rule in Detroit when they defeated the Tigers, 7-0. Harold Castro led off the bottom of the seventh when he hit a fly ball down the left field line. M’s left fielder Sam Haggerty caught the ball, dove into the netting and bounced out, landing on his back on the field and lost control of the ball. The third base umpire ruled it was a catch, but Tigers’ manager A.J. Hinch challenged the call. The Replay Official determined that the ball made contact with the netting prior to Haggerty gaining possession of the ball and OVERTURNED the call on the field.

Ruleball Comments

  1. In the two above plays the proper ruling was finally made because once the ball struck the netting, it was no longer “in flight” and a legal catch could not be made.
  2. The netting in ballparks is treated like a wall. If a thrown or fair batted ball strikes the netting and bounds back to the playing field, the ball is alive and in play. If it is a foul batted ball, the ball is dead the moment the ball hits the net. The White Sox hosted the Indians on April 15, 2021. Luis Robert led off the inning facing Emmanuel Clase. Robert hit a shot to deep right field in the corner. The ball bounced on the ground in fair territory and caromed off the netting back onto the field. Indians’ right fielder Josh Naylor played the ball like it went into dead ball territory. But the ball was alive and in play.
  3. In one of my previous reports, I covered the Kwan “catch and carry” play and what constitutes leaving the field of play and entering the stands. Players should be aware that they can possibly enter dead ball territory if they should land in the protective netting as well. It’s important to note if a fielder makes a legal catch and crashes into any screen or protective netting set on a field facing wall or railing (i.e. a backstop or protective netting along the first or third base lines) shall be considered as having entered the stands if, in the judgment of the umpire, neither foot is on or above the playing surface, even if he rebounds immediately back onto the field. If the umps determine that the fielder entered the stands, the ball is dead, and runners advance one base.  In the above play, there is no doubt that Miller remained on the playing field. But that became a moot point once De Jesus judged that Miller could not make a legal catch because the ball was no longer in flight once it struck the netting. Haggerty no doubt left the field of play, because neither foot was on or above the playing surface, but his catch was nullified because the foul ball struck the netting first.
  4. Fielders, if possible, should try to keep at least one foot above the playing surface to keep the ball in play and eliminate the automatic base award.
  5. McNeil Rebounds onto the Field: To protect the fans from hard-hit baseballs, the White Sox became the first major league team to extend protective netting from foul pole to foul pole at Guaranteed Rate Field in July of 2019. When the Sox hosted the Mets on August 1, 2019, MLB did not have a netting policy that would govern boundary plays, but it’s worth reviewing the following play. Leading off the bottom of the fifth with the Mets leading 1-0, Eloy Jimenez hit a fly ball down the right-field line where Mets’ right fielder Jeff McNeil made a sensational catch just before reaching the wall. McNeil jumped into the netting, using it to keep upright and bounce back onto the field like a slingshot. McNeil controlled the ball in his glove the entire time. This was most likely a baseball first and a scene never duplicated before on a major league baseball field.  There were no runners on base at the time. If this occurred today with runners on base, the umpires would issue the automatic one base award.  With no runners on base, however, it might be a good way for a fielder to protect himself from injury.   
  1. Regardless of the location of the fielders’ feet, the umpire may judge the fielder to be in the stands, if the fielder becomes stuck in the safety netting. The White Sox and Pirates played at PNC on Sept. 8, 2020. In the bottom of the sixth inning, the Pirates had Adam Frazier on first base when Erik Gonzalez hit a pop fly in foul territory that was caught by Jose Abreu in foul ground near the stands. The White Sox first baseman then leaned back, and his body went into the netting. The catch was allowed, but the umpires inexplicably awarded Frazier second base. Frazier never scored but the Pirates won the game, 5-4. Abreu’s feet remained above the playing surface and in my opinion, by rule, he did not enter the stands. It did not appear that he became stuck in the netting, but that would be umpire judgment. It was foolish on his part to lean back and allow his body to go into the netting.
  2. A fielder is permitted to lean against the netting and use his hands or head to hold himself up and prevent him from falling into the stands. I have no video to illustrate this, but the managers, coaches, players, and broadcasters should be aware of the rule.
  3. One final comment: Regarding the Haggerty play, the Replay Official determined the ball had struck the netting prior to the catch. But when the umpire on-the-field announced that the Catch was OVERTURNED, he gave no reason why. The teams, the broadcasters, and the viewers, deserve to receive this information.

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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