The Right of Way
It’s imperative that players on both sides of the ball understand when they have the “Right of Way.” When a fielder is attempting to make a play, the runner must avoid him. And when a defensive player does not have possession of the ball, or is not in the act of receiving a throw, the runner now has the Right of Way and the defensive player must not hinder or impede the progress of the runner in his base path. In addition to understanding who has the “Right of Way,” players need to develop good visual skills which will prevent interference/ obstruction violations. Let’s look at a few plays.
Play No. 1
The Angels and Rays played at the Trop on August 22, 2022 in a game won by the Rays, 2-1. In the bottom of the first, the Rays had Randy Arozarena on second and Isaac Paredes on first with one out when Harold Ramirez, facing Tucker Davidson, hit a ground ball between short and third. Angels’ third baseman Luis Rengifo and shortstop Andrew Valazquez both converged on the ball.
Arozarena collided with Rengifo before Valazquez fielded the ball and threw late to first base.
Third base umpire David Rackley ruled that Arozarena interfered with Rengifo and was called out. Paredes replaced Arozarena at second and Ramirez remained at first.
- This was a classic runner interference call because Arozarena impeded Rengifo from making a play.
- When runner interference is called the ball is dead immediately. The runner is out, and no other runners can advance unless forced by virtue of the batter-runner occupying first base which is what occurred in the above play.
- When there is the possibility that two or more fielders can field the ball, the umpire can protect the one who in his judgment has the best chance to field the ball. In the above play, Rackley chose to protect Rengifo per rule 6.01 (a) (10).
- If Rackely chose to protect Valazquez, it’s possible that Rengifo could have been charged with Type 2 obstruction because he impeded the advance of Arozarena, who would have had the “Right of Way” in that situation. This would have been a Type 2 obstruction. Most likely Arozarena would be protected to third base but if he attempted to advance farther, he would do so at his own risk.
- Another factor that umpires must take into account is if the runner who commits the interference is judged to intentionally break-up a double play. If the umpires judge that a runner intentionally interferes to break up a double play, both the runner and the batter-runner should be called out and no runner can advance on the play. Normally this occurs when a runner makes an illegal slide into second base on a force play. In the Arozarena and Rengifo play, there were two outs, so that would be a moot point.
- The broadcaster did a good job explaining the “runner must avoid the fielder.”
Play No. 2
The Nats hosted the Cubs on August 16, 2022. In the top of the tenth, the Cubs had runners on first (Zach McKinstry) and third (Ian Happ) with no outs when Rafael Ortega hit a ground ball in the direction of second base. McKinstry collided with Cubs second baseman Cesar Hernandez and was called out by umpire Clint Vondrak.
Happ was returned to third and Ortega was given first base.
- Like Rengifo in Play No.1, Hernandez had the “Right of Way” because he was attempting to field the ball.
- In the two above plays, you might question the visual skills of the runners and lack of “Right of Way” awareness that resulted in the interference infraction.
- McKinstry was oblivious to the location of Hernandez, and that appears true of Arozarena as well while making his advance third base.
- Intent is not a factor when an umpire rules interference unless it is determined that the interference was intentional to break-up a double play, in which case the batter-runner is also called out.
- In the McKinstry play, Nats manager Dave Martinez questioned whether or not a double play should be called.
- The broadcaster struggled with the play. He incorrectly said, “A run scores either way.” No run can score when there is an interference ruling unless the interference occurs following an intervening play. (Example: Squeeze play, throw home, R3 is safe at home, but the BR is called out for Runner’s Lane interference.)” Unless the interference is the third out, the run scores.
- The broadcaster also erroneously referred to the runner interference as “obstruction” which is a violation by a defensive player.
- If a batted ball deflects off a fielder and the ball is in immediate reach of the fielder, the runner must still avoid the fielder. Again, good visual skills and “Right of Way” awareness could prevent the violation.
- If a ball deflects off a fielder and the fielder must chase the ball, the runner now gains the “Right of Way” and the fielder must avoid the runner. Here is another situation where Type 2 Obstruction can be called. The ball remains alive, and the runner may or may not be protected to the next base or further.
Play No. 3 – Type 2 Obstruction
The Royals hosted the Padres on August 27, 2022. In the bottom of the sixth, the Royals had Michael Massey on first base and two outs. Drew Waters was facing Yu Darvish when Massey attempted to steal second base. The ball sailed into the short outfield while Massey and shortstop Ha-Seong Kim got tangled-up together.
Second base umpire Chad Fairchild ruled that Kim had obstructed Massey. Fairchild inexplicably called “Time” and awarded Massey third base.
- Massey had the “Right of Way” the moment the ball got by Kim, and sailed into the outfield. This was a Type 2 obstruction, but Fairchild, in my opinion, incorrectly called “Time” and protected Massey to third base.
- By calling “Time” in the middle of a Type 2 obstruction play indicates to me that Fairchild might have confused Type 2 with Type 1 obstruction which usually occurs in a rundown. Type 1 creates a dead ball, and the runner has an automatic base award, unlike Type 2 when the ball remains alive with no automatic base award.
- In my opinion, the ball should have been kept alive and if Massey was out on a close play at third base, I would protect him to that base. If he was out easily, the out would stand. From watching the video which can distort depth perception, it did not appear that Massey could make third base because the two fielders who backed-up the play were in proximity to the infield.
Runner interference and obstruction plays often are the result of a player who fails to grant the “Right of Way.” A sound understanding of this baseball concept and good visual skills can prevent such violations and affect the outcome of a game.
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.