|Replays confirm the spectator interference.|
The spectator interference, under Rule 3.16, does not prevent a home run from being called, though the umpire is obligated to "impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference." If the interference "clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball," the batter is out. The call on the field was technically improper as spectator interference occurred. That said, the penalty to nullify the act of interference may very well have been a four-base award, as in a home run. Darling stated the fielder was not going to catch the ball and it was "clearly going to be a home run," making the result of the play proper. In other words, spectator interference does not imply an out, "ground rule double" or the like. All spectator interference means is a fan reached out of the stands and over the playing field and touched a live ball (or player), the penalty for which is to award bases or outs to nullify the act of interference.
The only improperly administered part of this play was failure to rule spectator interference so that ballpark security could have ejected the offending fan for violating the Comerica Code of Conduct and MLB Rule.
Related: Rule 3.16: Spectator Interference on Batted Ball
Related: Ejections: Joe West (7) (Charlie Manuel, 9/4/2011)
To begin, the following rules have been identified as relevant and essential to adjudicating this play in real time:
Rule 2.00 (Interference)(d): "Spectator interference occurs when a spectator reaches out of the stands and over the playing field, or goes on the playing field, and (1) touches a live ball or (2) touches a player and hinders an attempt to make a play on a live ball."
Rule 3.16: "When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference.
APPROVED RULING: If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out."
Rule 3.16 Comment additionally specifies that "No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference."
As the photograph above indicates, the offending fan plainly "reaches out of the stands and over the playing field...and touches a live ball," pursuant to Rule 2.00(Interference)(d): This is textbook fan interference.
Now that we have established the validity of this interference, Rule 3.16 is introduced. First, the ball is dead at the moment of interference; therefore, no home run exists solely because of the batted ball at this point of the play. Second, the umpire is authorized to "impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference" with the following obligations and caveats:
>> If the interference "clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball," the batsman is out.
>> If interference does not clearly prevent a fielder's catch, the umpire may use discretion to award bases.
Because the ball died at the moment of INT, the third case (fielder reaches over) does not apply (see photo).
So did the interference "clearly prevent" the fielder from catching a fly ball, is this a home run due to ball trajectory or a lesser base award (ball in play) and if so, what? The MLB Umpire Manual states, "umpires should consider all factors in determining penalties for spectator interference" such as runner speed and fielder agility (13-7).
The interference clearly prevented a catch attempt ("hinders an attempt to make a play on a live ball," as in 2.00 INT d) or the opportunity of a catch ("act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight in firmly holding it"), but it is unclear whether a catch itself was prevented. However, the enforcement of spectator interference has historically favored the defensive player such that if an attempt is prevented wherein a catch is most probable, the catch shall be said to have been prevented and the fielder awarded the out.
On to instant replay. Pursuant to the August 2008 MLB Bulletin regarding the matter, "the standard used by the crew chief when reviewing a play will be whether there is clear and convincing evidence that the umpire's decision on the field was incorrect and should be reversed." Absent clear and convincing evidence of error, the call shall stand.
After review, the initial ruling on the field was technically incorrect. The proper call was spectator interference. That said, the penalty to nullify the act of interference may very well have been a four base award, as in a home run. To that end, the result of the incorrect call may have been correct. Instant replay review may have provided clear and convincing evidence of either call. As such, the decision not to mechanize spectator interference post-replay was incorrect, but the decision to award a home run may have been correct. It appeared to Darling the trajectory of the ball exceeded the height of Reddick's glove, making the end result proper.
Video: Victor Martinez's right field home run is upheld by Darling after instant replay review (MLB Must C)