September 13, 2023

September 2023 Rules Question and Answer

Our Rules Expert answers questions on some of the most challenging questions around the game

September 2023 Rules Question and Answer

Time Call / Base Awards

QUESTION: The Marlins hosted the Dodgers on Sept. 7, 2023. In the top of the sixth, the Dodgers had Mookie Betts on first base and one out when Freddie Freeman facing George Soriano hit a fair ball down the right field line. The ball boy stationed along the line fielded the ball and tossed it into the stands thinking it was a foul ball.

The umpires called “Time.” Betts was awarded home, and Freeman was awarded second base. Shouldn’t this be a two-base award for all runners? Why did Betts get three bases?

ANSWER: Whenever authorized on-the-field personnel such as ball boys and ball girls, security officers etc. intentionally interfere with play, the umpire should call interference. The ball is dead, and the umpires are authorized to impose such penalties that nullify the interference. Umpires are empowered to arbitrarily award bases as they would do when spectator interference occurs.  If a ball boy.  ball girl, or security officer makes an attempt to avoid a batted or thrown ball and is unintentionally touched by the ball, even though the fielder might be interfered with while making a play, the ball should remain alive and in play. See rule 6.01 (d).

What is intentional interference?

The act of trying to field a batted or thrown ball is a flagrant attempt to intentionally interfere by rule regardless of the actual intentions of any of the on-the-field personnel. Other examples of intent would include picking up a ball, or intentionally pushing or kicking at the ball. The most common interference of this type occurs when the batter hits a shot down the line that is fair, and the ball is fielded by the ball boy or ball girl not aware that the ball is a fair ball and in play.

Catchers Touches Ball that goes Out of Play

QUESTION: A pitched ball deflects off the catcher and is rolling towards the dugout. The catcher lets it go into the dugout and runners get one base from time of pitch. I got that part. However, I was under the impression if the catcher touched it and then it went out of play it was two bases. An umpire told me that the fielder would have to have full possession (not just touch it or deflect it) and then lose the ball in dead ball territory in order for the award to be two bases. Is this correct? I looked in the rules and couldn’t find anything about this. I have always told our guys if the ball appears to be going out of play to just let it go.

ANSWER: You gave your players the proper information. The reason for the two-base award if the ball is deflected into the dugout, is to prevent defensive players from intentionally pushing the ball into the dugout if they see a runner might get two bases on the pitch. If the deflection is unintentional, the award is two bases from the time of the pitch. If the deflection is intentional, the award is two bases from the time the ball was kicked or deflected. This is covered in the Major League Baseball Umpires Manual.

It is true, however, that if any fielder has possession of the ball and then the ball deflects into DBT, the base award is two bases from the time of the pitch if unintentional, and two bases from the time of the deflection if intentional. 

Runner Makes Contact with 1 of 2 Fielders Attempting to Make a Play

QUESTION: According to rule 6.01 (a) (10), “If two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more fielders, the umpires shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of the rule.” If the runner comes in contact with the fielder who is protected, he should be called for runner interference. In the following play, the batted ball appears equidistant between the second baseman and the shortstop. So, which fielder should be protected?

It appears the umpire protected the shortstop on this play.

ANSWER: This was a tough call because the ball was in no-man’s land. But if I had to protect the second baseman or the shortstop, I would “probably” protect the shortstop who appeared to move more aggressively toward the ball. If the ump protected the second baseman, the runner would be called out for interference. Here’s a play where the umpire can’t win since he will upset one of the managers. This most frequently occurs along the first base line when the first baseman and pitcher, or the pitcher, first baseman and catcher all converge to field the ball. It’s strictly a judgment call. In that case, you might hear one of the players call for the ball and would protect that player.

Also, another aspect of the above play might include Type 2 obstruction on the second baseman. Although it might be a stretch, you can make the argument that because the second baseman wasn’t protected and impeded the progress of the runner without a play being directly made on him, Type 2 can be called. If that rule was invoked, I think the umpires would keep the runner at second base because that’s the base he would have most likely made had there been no obstruction.

Umpire Interference with Catcher

QUESTION: Regarding plate umpire interference that you covered in your last report, does the umpire have the authority to judge whether or not the interference hindered or impeded the catcher’s throw?

ANSWER: No. Any contact involving the plate umpire constitutes umpire interference. It’s not possible to accurately judge the effect of the contact. The result of the play is what determines the possible effect. If the throw following the contact retires the runner, it is to be assumed that it had no effect. There have been rare cases where a catcher has intentionally initiated contact with the plate ump when he thought there was no legitimate chance to retire the runner. In those cases, the umpire would be within his rights to disregard the contact. Below is the plate umpire interference that occurred in the recent Tigers-Yankees game when plate umpire Sean Barber ruled interference on himself when Yankees’ catcher Ben Rortvedt’s hand made contact with Barber’s mask. Barber correctly called interference on himself. Javier Báez, who stole second on the play, was returned to first base. Below is a new camera angle from my last report that we did not have at the time of publishing.

It should be noted that plate ump interference can be so subtle, the catcher may not complain to the umpire or his manager. All catchers should be aware that any contact between the plate umpire and the catcher constitutes interference unless the runner played on is retired.

I recall a play at Fenway Park several years ago when the Red Sox catcher attempted to pick-off a Blue Jays runner on first base. The catcher made contact with the umpire while in the act of throwing to first and the ball ended up in right field while the runner, who was on first, reached third base. The catcher had no complaints and failed to tell his manager who most likely could not see the interference.

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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