Catcher Interference Won’t Always Stop the Show – Insider Report
The Royals and Indians played in Cleveland on June 4, 2016.
In the top of the first inning, the Royals’ Whit Merrifield attempted to steal second base with Lorenzo Cain at bat. At almost the time of pitcher Josh Tomlin’s release, Indians’ catcher Chris Gimenez jumped up, took off his mask, and stepped on the plate to receive the throw. Gimenez caught the pitch standing on the plate and threw to second, but Whit was safe. Plate umpire Sam Holbrook made no interference call on Gimenez and Cain remained at bat.
The Royals’ staff was concerned about a catcher’s balk and the possibility of catcher’s interference. This is my take.
According to the Official Baseball Rules, defensive interference is an act by a fielder which hinders or prevents a batter from hitting a pitch. According to rule 5.05 (b) (3), formerly 6.08 (c), “The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out provided he advances to and touches first base when the catcher or any fielder interferes with him.” Although the most common type of catcher’s interference occurs when the batter swings and his bat makes contact with the catcher’s mitt, the catcher can commit interference in other ways that we will see.
A pitch is defined as a ball delivered to the batter by the pitcher. The batter then has an opportunity to either strike the ball or not offer at it. When he is deprived of those two choices by the catcher, interference has occurred. And it is not a requirement that the batter must be swinging at the pitch. There is no doubt that in the above play, Gimenez interfered with Cain’s ability to strike or hit the ball if he chose to do so. In the play, Gimenez is stepping on the plate when he receives the ball. In my opinion, that was a flagrant act of catcher’s interference because he obstructed Cain from offering at the pitch. If Cain had stepped away and shown no interest in offering at the pitch, interference should not have been called. In the above play, however, it is my opinion that Cain should have been awarded first base and Middlefield should have remained at second base.
Umpires will allow the catcher to exit early when making a lateral move to receive a pitch-out but they should not allow the catcher to be in fair territory or up far in the catcher’s box where it would hinder the batter’s ability to offer at the pitch. If it was a pitch-out the Indians had been trying to execute, it was a far cry from being legal.
There is no such language in the rule book as a “catcher’s balk.” The pitcher is charged with a balk in two situations created by the actions of the catcher: (1) If, when giving an intentional walk, the pitcher pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box (this rule is seldom, if ever, enforced)* and (2), if, with a runner on third base trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal of home, the catcher steps on or in front of home plate without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk and the batter awarded first base. No. 2 is covered in rule 6.01 (g), formerly 7.07. The Gimenez/Cain play would relate to this rule and create a balk if there was a runner advancing home by a steal or a squeeze play because Gimenez stepped on the plate without possession of the ball.
*Due to 2017 Rule Changes, the intentional walk is no longer a consideration.
Watch the play above. You can freeze it frame-by-frame. Do you think Yogi Berra interfered with the Dodgers’ batter (Frank Keller) from offering at the pitch? Do you think Berra stepped on the plate before he had possession of the ball and violated rule 6.01(g), causing a pitcher’s balk? Yogi always said, “He was out,” when walking by the photo of Robinson stealing home in Game One of the 1955 World Series on display in the in the Yogi Berra Museum.
But a close examination of this play might reveal that Berra was guilty of interference…