September 9, 2023

Umpire Interference 2023

There are various layers of the umpire interference rule that players, managers, and broadcasters should be aware of

Umpire Interference 2023

Before you read this report, I suggest you watch Umpire’s Interference-Reviewing It’s Two Types. It is a 4:21 compilation of various umpire interference plays.

There are three ways an umpire can be called for interference under rules 5.05 (b) (4), and 5.06 (c) (2). 

(1) If the field umpire, who is positioned on the infield side (always the second base umpire) in front of the infielders is hit by a ground ball that is not deflected, the ball is dead. The batter is awarded first base and is credited with a hit. Can you imagine the uproar if a pitcher ever lost a no-hitter because of this rule?

Any runner on base advances, only if forced. This is the most common form of umpire interference. If any umpire working behind the infield is struck by a batted ball, the ball remains alive since umpires are treated as part of the ground. This is also true when any umpire is struck by a thrown ball or collides with a player.  

(2) Plate umpire interference occurs if the plate ump hinders the catcher’s throw to a base when he is attempting to retire a runner on a stolen base or pick-off.  If the runner is retired, the interference is nullified. If the runner is not retired, the runner must return to his original base; no bases can be advanced. This is a relatively rare form of umpire interference. Because umpire interference is not reviewable, it is critical that catchers be aware of this rule so they can communicate the violation to their manager who may ask the umpires to huddle.

(3) If the catcher while throwing the ball back to the pitcher with a runner or runners on base is hindered by the plate umpire, the ball is dead, and no runner can advance.

Plate Umpire Interference

The Tigers and Yankees played at Yankee Stadium on September 5, 2023. In the top of the fifth, the Tigers had Javier Báez on first base and one out. Akil Baddoo was batting facing Gerrit Cole when Báez stole second but had to return to first base because plate umpire Sean Barber called interference on himself. Barber made contact with Yankees’ catcher Ben Rortvedt when he threw down to second. Báez was returned to first base.

Home plate umpire Sean Barber did point to himself.  Broadcasters should look for that sign by the plate umpire that indicates that he is calling interference on himself.

The You Tube video at the beginning of this report starts by showing plate ump Manny Gonzalez calling interference on himself in the White Sox-Red Sox game at Fenway Park on July 18, 2012. The White Sox were batting in the bottom of the fourth with Pedro Ciriaco on second and Jacoby Ellsbury on first. Ciriaco attempted to steal third and had the base stolen. But Gonzalez waved Ciriaco back to second because White Sox catcher A.J. Pierzynski’s throwing hand came in contact with Gonzalez’ mask. If Ciriaco was retired, the infraction would have been ignored.

This is a play where the catcher can circumvent the rule by initiating the interference if he thinks he has no chance to get the runner. In the above situations, however, I don’t think that was the case. I think both umpires stayed too close to the catcher and did not anticipate a possible stolen base throw.

Umps Misinterpret Placement of the Runners

Properly placing the runners when field umpire interference occurs is important. Runners can advance to the next base only if forced, as stated.

The Cincinnati Reds and San Diego Padres played at PETCO Park on Sept. 25, 2010. In the top of the fourth inning the Reds had Brandon Phillips on second base and two outs trailing 3-1 when Ramón Hernández hit a shot up the middle that struck second base umpire C.B. Bucknor. The ball was properly ruled dead because Bucknor was positioned on the infield side in front of second base when he made contact with a batted ball that was not deflected. Hernández was correctly awarded first base, but Phillips was improperly allowed to go to third base on the play. In such umpire interference situations, runners are allowed to advance one base, ONLY IF FORCED.

Padres’ manager Bud Black should have filed a legal protest on this ruling since it was a misinterpretation of a rule and not a judgment call. Lack of knowledge of the rule almost cost him the ballgame. However, since the Padres won the game, 4-3, the protest never would have been heard. Under today’s rules, a manager can no longer file a protest, but he can ask for a RULES CHECK.

Reds’ skipper Dusty Baker also demonstrated his lack of understanding of the rule when he argued that his team should have scored one run on the play because Bucknor’s interference prevented Phillips from scoring. Baker was not aware that the ball was dead the moment Bucknor made contact with the ball and that Phillips, by rule, was not permitted to advance because he wasn’t forced. Actually, the Reds caught a break because Phillips was illegally awarded a base.

Another example where the rule was misinterpreted took place on July 15, 1995, at Yankee Stadium where the Yankees hosted the Twins. In the top of the eighth inning, the Twins were leading 7-4 and had Pat Meares on third and Chuck Knoblauch on first and no outs when Rich Becker hit a shot up the middle that made contact with second base umpire Dale Ford, who was positioned in front of second base. Ford called “Time” and Knoblauch was correctly placed on second and Becker was properly awarded first base. But Meares, who was not forced to advance on the play, was erroneously allowed to score. Yankees’ manager Buck Showalter failed to argue the ruling despite the fact his team lost a run.  The Twins won the game, 8-5.

Umpire Collides with Runner: Interference Misinterpreted

The following play occurred in in a Dominican Republic winter league game between Gigantes and Toros a few years ago.  Gigantes had a runner on first when the batter hit a scorching line drive over the center fielder’s head. While the four umpires were rotating, the plate umpire collided with the first base runner who was headed home after rounding third base. The umpire called “Time” and awarded the runner home plate. The runner proceeded to touch the plate.

After the defensive manager came out, the umpires huddled and inexplicably called the runner out.

Gigantes manager Pedro Grifol protested the game, but it was never heard because Gigantes won the game.

Did the umpires make the proper call by calling the runner out?

No. Because the umpires are treated as part of the ground, the play should have been allowed to proceed despite the collision. If the runner was called out, he would be out.

Umpire Struck by Throw: No Interference

When an umpire is hit by a thrown ball, the ball remains alive and in play and hopefully so does the umpire. During the 2001 season, the St. Louis Cardinals’ Albert Pujols hit a ground ball in St. Louis that struck second base. Arizona Diamondbacks’ second baseman Jay Bell picked up the ball and attempted to throw out Pujols at first but the ball struck second base umpire Larry Young who got in the line of the throw. The ball remained in play with Pujols reaching first base. Young, who was seriously injured, was sidelined for one week.

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.  



It is stated above, “Dusty Baker also demonstrated his lack of understanding of the rule…” This assumes facts not in evidence against Dusty Baker. Dusty Baker probably has the highest baseball IQ of any manager and knows the rulebook as well as any umpire, if not better. I believe Dusty knew the rule so well that when he saw that the umpires did not, he tried to exploit that ignorance to get even another base for his runner. Can’t blame him for trying!

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