June 9, 2024

Runner Interference on Infield Fly Rule Again in 2024 MLB Season

Twice in a span of six days in the 2024 MLB season, we had a runner interference call in the middle of an Infield Fly rule situation.

Runner Interference on Infield Fly Rule Again in 2024 MLB Season

Twice in a span of six days in the 2024 MLB season, we had a runner interference call in the middle of an Infield Fly rule situation. The most recent being a game on May 29, 2024 between the Yankees and Angels when Juan Soto was called for interference when the IFR was invoked.  Because I have received so many questions about the play, I have decided to include it in this report because teams want to know what the runner should do in these situations to avoid the interference double play.

If you recall, on May 23, 2024 such a play ended the Orioles-White Sox game when Andrew Vaughn, the White Sox runner on second base, was called out when he interfered with O’s shortstop Gunnar Henderson resulting in a game- ending double play. The O’s won the contest, 8-6. In my report, I supported the umpires interpretation of the rule but was critical of the rule as written. My opinion did not change in the Soto play.

On May 29, 2024 the Yankees and Angels played at Angel Stadium of Anaheim. In the top of the first, the Yanks loaded the bases with no outs when Giancarlo Stanton hit a towering fly ball in the direction of Angels shortstop Zach Neto. The umpires invoked the Infield Fly rule which retired Stanton.  Soto the runner on second, moved behind Neto in an attempt to return to second base, the base he occupied at the start of play. Neto backed-up and collided with Soto who was probably a step away from touching second base. The ball fell to the ground and second base umpire Vic Carapazza called Soto out for interference.

Yankees manager Aaron Boone argued the call and was ejected.

Ruleball Comments

By the letter of the rule, Carapazza made the proper call. The rule reads,If interference is called during an Infield Fly, the ball remains alive until it is determined whether the ball is fair or foul. If fair, both the runner who interfered with the fielder and the batter are out.”

Rule 6.01(a) states, “A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not.”

It makes sense to me and others that the rule can be adjusted to a delayed interference call. In my opinion, the ump should call the interference, but only penalize the runner if the interference affects the outcome of the play. I don’t think calling two outs allows the punishment to fit the crime. From this corner, only the batter should be called out for the Infield Fly rule unless the interference leads to the advancement of another runner/runners on the play.  But that’s not the current rule.

The actions of Soto and Vaughn did not gain an advantage for their teams and IMO there is an injustice in calling a double play.  

If the bases were loaded and the collision caused the ball to go awry, and the runner on third scored, that’s when I would call the runner out for interference along with the batter who was retired because of the IFR, and R3 should be returned to third base.

In such situations, the runner who is in the vicinity of the fielder making the catch, must locate the fielder and do everything he can to avoid the fielder. Soto did everything he could to avoid Neto by going in the back of him. He was a step away from touching the base when the collision occurred. If he had made contact with the base he would have been protected.

The only time the runner is protected when the IFR is invoked is if he has contact with the base if the fielder is impeded. 

According to rule 5.09 (b) (7), “If a runner is touching his base when touched by an Infield Fly, he is not out, although the batter is out.” In the postgame press conference, Boone said the umpires told him if Soto was on the base when the collision occurred, then the call would not be made.

So, runners should do everything possible to get to the base, especially if the fly ball is in the infield. If the fly ball is in the short outfield when the IFR is invoked, runners can be farther away from the base and advance if they choose in case the ball is dropped.

But when the rule is invoked, runners are never forced to advance if the ball is not caught.

Boone called it “a wonky play,” later acknowledging that, “by the letter of the law, it was probably the right call. “I don’t know what Juan ,” Boone said. “You can say, ‘He’d better get there,’ but once he commits to getting there and he’s trying to stay out of the way, if Neto catches it, he might catch it on the bag for a double play. It’s like, ‘Where do you go?’

Following a similar play in the O’s-White Sox game several days earlier, it was reported that Sox general manager Chris Getz said that he was told by Major League Baseball that “it is a judgment play that there is discretion” on the part of the umpires not immediately to call interference. If that’s true, then why isn’t that language in the Official Baseball Rules or the Major League Baseball Umpire Manual?

MLB needs to revisit the rule and put something in writing.   

Rich Marazzi

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

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