When does a fly ball stop being a fly ball?
When is a Batted Ball No Longer “In Flight”
The White Sox and Tigers played at Comerica this past Friday, April 8, 2022.
In the bottom of the ninth the Tigers had Austin Meadows on third base and two outs when Javier Báez hit a shot to deep right-field that took right fielder AJ Pollock to the wall. It appeared Pollock made the catch, and the game would go extra innings. But following a Crew Chief Review, the call was overturned to a “no catch” because the ball made contact with the wall before it entered Pollock’s glove.
“It was weird,” Meadows said, to MLB.com “because I hit home and I didn’t realize. I thought he was out. I didn’t know. And then I saw everybody cheer in the dugout and then A.J. came over and said, ‘Did you touch home plate?’ And I was like, ‘I think I did.’”
- There are two areas that need to be addressed in this play: (a) The “In Flight” rule; and (b) Does a runner need to touch a base if an umpire’s incorrect decision adversely affects the actions of the runner?
- A batted ball remains “in flight” if it does not touch the ground, a runner, a wall, the netting, equipment, a base, the pitcher’s rubber, a base coach, an umpire, or any foreign object.
- In the above play because the ball made contact with the wall, it was no longer “in flight” and Pollock’s catch was nullified by the Replay Official. Báez was credited with a single and Meadows was allowed to score the walk-off winning run.
- What if Meadows never touched home plate, because he assumed the third out was recorded by Pollock? Could he be called out if the White Sox appealed?
The answer is no. If an umpire’s incorrect call adversely affects the actions of a runner, he is protected from being called out on appeal. Therefore, if Meadows never touched the plate, he would be protected, and his run would score. The long-standing tradition of touching all the bases has disappeared in certain situations thanks to the age of Replay.
- In the fifth inning of the June 11, 2021, game between the Twins and Astros, Jose Altuve’s foul ball down the left field line was reversed by the Replay Official to a home run when it was determined that the ball had struck the foul pole. Crew Chief Dan Iassogna informed the Astros that Altuve, who left the basepaths after the hit was called foul, would not have to circle the bases to get credit for the home run. It was probably the only home run in baseball history in which the batter did not have to touch all four bases.
In an attempt to increase the pace of the game, the fundamental principle of touching all the bases is ignored. From the standpoint of playing Ruleball, however, I would recommend in wall boundary plays where there is uncertainty, runners should touch ‘em all, just in case.
When a Batted Ball Remains “In Flight”
In an April 4, 2022, spring training game between the Cardinals and Nationals, the following play occurred.
The Cards’ Paul Goldschmidt sent a drive into left-center field that appeared to be going over the wall for a home run, but Nationals’ outfielder Lane Thomas tracked it to the wall and leaped. He got a glove on it but did not snare it. The ball deflected off Thomas’ glove into the hands of center fielder Dee Strange-Gordon who was able to make the catch just before it hit the ground. This was a legal catch because the ball remained “in flight.”
- Because the ball never made contact with the wall and met the conditions of a batted ball that remains “in flight,” Strange-Gordon was credited with a legal catch.
- It’s important for the defensive team to keep a batted ball “in flight.” If two fielders collide and fall to the ground and one has possession of the ball, or if a fielder falls to the ground after crashing into a wall and has possession of the ball, to make a legal catch, the fielder must open his glove with the intent to make a throw. This would meet the requirement of the “transfer.” However, it might be impossible for an injured player to do this. If the ball trickles out of the glove it is no longer “in flight” and a legal catch cannot be made. To meet the requirement of the “transfer,” the nearest fielder should get to the fallen fielder and pull the ball from the glove ASAP. By rule, this will keep the ball “in flight” and legalize the catch.
- Perhaps the most classic example of the “in flight” rule occurred in the famous Jose Canseco play in Cleveland on May 26,1993, when the Indians’ Carlos Martinez drove a ball to right center that bounced off Canseco’s head and landed over the fence for a homer in the Indians’ 7-6 win over the Rangers. The next day, the Cleveland Plain Dealer bannered, “CONK! The Tribe Wins by a Head!”
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.
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