Spectator Interference: Rule 6.01 (e)
The Yankees and Astros played at Minute Maid on September 3, 2023.
In the bottom of the sixth, Yordan Alvarez hit a Tommy Kahnle pitch deep down the left field line in foul territory. Yankees’ left fielder Everson Pereira was in pursuit of the ball but was deprived of the catch when a fan reached over the wall on the playing side of the field.
The umpires ruled spectator interference and called Alvarez out. Astros’ manager Dusty Baker challenged the call, apparently thinking the interference did not clearly prevent Pereira from making the catch. But the call was confirmed in NYC because the Replay Official could not definitively determine that the spectator failed to clearly prevent the fielder from catching the ball.
In the following play I would question the interference call since it appeared the actions of the fan did not clearly prevent a fielder from catching a fly ball.
The D’backs and Rockies played at Coors Field on April 1, 2011.Trailing 4-3, the Rockies had Carlos Gonzalez on second base with one out in the bottom of the fifth inning when Todd Helton hit a fly ball down the left field line in foul territory. The ball was not caught but third base umpire Bill Welke called Helton out when he ruled that a fan had interfered with D’backs’ left fielder Gerardo Parra.
Replays indicated that Parra had no play, or a very difficult play when he slid for the ball. Yet Helton was called out. Did the actions of the fan who committed the interference “clearly prevent” Parra from making a play? It doesn’t appear likely since Parra had to slide near the stands. But of course, that remains umpire judgment.
The D’backs hosted the Reds on August 25, 2023. In the bottom of the seventh, Tommy Pham sent a towering shot to the wall in left. Reds’ outfielder Spencer Steer timed his leap perfectly and had the ball in his glove, seemingly robbing Pham of the homer.
One problem: A young fan stole the ball from Steer by removing the ball from his glove.
Also wearing a glove, the kid reached into Steer’s glove and pulled the ball out, leaving the left fielder slumped against the wall with an empty glove.
The umpires initially ruled Pham’s shot a homer and the hometown fans chanted “MVP! MVP!” at the kid when they saw video of his robbery.
But the home run was nullified after review, and Pham was called out because of spectator interference setting off a chorus of boos at Chase Field. The Diamondbacks’ broadcast showed the kid and his family being removed from their seats by security. It is my understanding they were placed elsewhere.
- In the Pham/ Steer play, the Replay Official determined that the spectator interfered with the ball over the field of play. Therefore, there was spectator interference, and the batter was called out. Unlike most interference and obstruction calls, spectator interference is reviewable. If a manager argues the decision of the Replay Official, it is automatic ejection.
- If Steer or Pereira had reached into the spectator side of the stands, there would be no interference because the fielder is not protected once the ball is on the spectator side of the fence, railing, rope, or into a stand to catch a ball. The line of demarcation is the front of the wall, fence etc.
- Spectator interference creates a dead ball and the umpires, or Replay Official, are authorized to place the batter and the runners at any base they judge would have been made had there been no interference. It’s possible that the umpires will award two bases to one runner while awarding only one base to another runner or the batter-runner. The umpires must take into account, the fielder’s proximity to the infield, the speed of the runner, the speed of the batter, the outfielder’s arm etc. It’s a myth that fan interference calls create an automatic two-base award.
- In the April 16, 2015, Royals/Twins game at Target Field, Kennys Vargas singled to the right fielder corner in the bottom of the seventh inning when a fan promptly picked up the ball. Umpire Joe West signaled fan interference. The umpires ruled that Vargas would have only made one base had there been no interference, so he was only given first base. The reason for the only one base award was most likely because right fielder Jarrod Dyson moved over quickly and appeared ready to field the ball while Vargas was in the first base area. Twins’ manager Paul Molitor argued briefly to no avail.
- Strange but true, fan interference can reward the offensive and defensive teams. In the above plays if there was a runner on third base and less than two outs, because the interference occurred a far distance from the plate, the umpires could score the runner from third base. Alvarez and Pham would be credited with sacrifice flies. This is a situation where it might be in the best interest of the defensive team’s manager not to challenge a spectator interference call if the opposing team is going to score a run.
- Since the team at bat can be awarded a base/bases when rule 6.01 (e) is invoked, outfielders must be sure in potential fan interference situations late in a close game when a runner can score on a deep fly foul ball that would normally be intentionally dropped or allowed to fall to the ground untouched, that they do not make a valid attempt to catch the ball. If the fielder does make an attempt to catch the ball and is interfered with, he might get credit for the catch, but the umpires can advance the runner/runners if interference is called. That’s a heavy price to pay. If the fielder does not make a valid attempt to catch the ball, the manager of the defensive team has a better argument against advancing the runner/runners. The corner outfielders should be schooled in this aspect of the rule. When a fielder extends his glove on the spectator side of the playing field, a fan cannot be called for interference even if it appears the ball has landed in the fielder’s glove.
- There have been plays where fans have taken the ball out of the fielder’s glove on the spectator’s side of the playing field, depriving the fielder of making the transfer and a legal catch. I have seen former third baseman Vinny Castilla (Rockies) and ex-first baseman Carlos Delgado (Blue Jays) lose catches in this manner. An apparent putout was immediately changed to a memorabilia moment for a fan.
- When a fielder extends his glove to the spectator side of the playing field and has control of the ball in his glove, he should squeeze the glove and ball and clear it to the playing side as soon as possible or risk losing the catch.
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