Wednesday, October 9, 2013

ALDS Game 4 (OAK-DET): The Fan Interference Home Run

A fan interference home run in Detroit, RF Umpire Gary Darling presiding, tied the Athletics-Tigers game at four during Game 4 of the American League Division Series. The terminology "fan interference home run" is used because this play, without a doubt, qualifies under the rules book definition of spectator interference—the implications of which may be slightly different than a cursory skim of the rules book might insinuate (see Long-Form Explanation for why). Relevant to the play is the impacted fielder, A's right fielder Josh Reddick.

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)

Long-Form Explanation
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.
>> If the fielder reaches over the fence to catch the ball, he does so at his own risk.

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)


Lindsay said...

I just posted a comment in the Division series post about this. I'll just copy and paste it here:

The side view at 1:30 clearly indicates that the ball had a really good chance to be caught. Nobody knows what would have happened, but in my opinion the fan interference rule is also meant to discourage the public from intervening. Had the umpire ruled an out in this case, this would have prevented such incidents from occurring again in the future. Instead, this encourages home fans to lean over the fence and take an out from the visiting team.

Lindsay said...

I tend to disagree with Darling that the hit was "clearly going to be a home-run". However, once the call on the field was so emphatically made and the spectator interference was missed (and easily so, as the fan(s) was barely out over the field of play), there was really no way to go back. It sure would have been nice if we could have witnessed the attempt without the fans help.... sigh...

Lindsay said...

It's possible the ball was past the perpendicular extension of the bottom of the outfield fence, the front of the green padding. Thus he might not have reached into the playing field and was entitled to try to catch the ball.

Lindsay said...

This was a really hard play. On some replays I thought he had a real chance to catch it, on others I thought his leap was just a split second early and the best case scenario might have been hitting the glove or the arm and bouncing back into the field of play. But I certainly didn't see enough evidence to overturn the call on the field, regardless of which way it had been called.

Lindsay said...

I'm just visiting, and I don't know if the umpire manual has expanded on the rule's interpretation, and I imagine the league members here have a far better grasp of the rule interpretations than I do, but there seems to be a few interpretations possible out of the example:

1. The example is only meant to clarify what an umpire may do to nullify the result of interference, hence the focus is on where was the ball hit rather than what did the spectator do to interfere (did he touch the ball, did he touch the fielder?). Also see concluding sentence about how a closer-hit ball would, in the umpire's judgment not allow the runner on third to score). This seems to be supported by the fact that the "clearly prevents a catch" language in the approved ruling contradicts the "clearly interferes with the . . . attempt[]."
2. "Spectator clearly interferes with the outfielder" refers only to (d)(2) spectator interference, because (d)(1) spectator interference is not "interfering with" anybody, it's a mere touching a live ball out of the stands and over the field of play. As (d)(2) spectator interference is not applicable here, the example is inapplicable.

I'm just a novice but I like to think that the above can't be right because it would have to be equally applicable if the visiting club was up to bat, and Morgan's interpretation would only serve to encourage spectator interference if all that's required for an out is that a fielder is able to attempt a catch over the playing surface, whether the ball is fair or foul.

Lindsay said...

Given that it is the only example given for rule 3.16, it seems more likely the example would combine both an example of spectator interference: "When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference..." When mentioning the actual act of interference, and an example of how to nullify the interference: "and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference" when making a distinction between a deep fly ball vs a shallow fly ball with a runner on 3rd...

As for whether t would work with the visiting team AB, in the same situation, consider the Steve Bartman incident. In effect, the home fans would be gambling that the ball would make it out of the playing field, that their obstruction would actually occur over the field of play and be more successful than the attempt of their fielder, and that interference would be called in the first place, instead of allowing the fielder a clear uninstructed view of the ball...

Lindsay said...

This is not the proper interpretation. The rule plainly states, "the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference." If the umpire believes that had interference not occurred, the ball would have been caught, then declaration of an out is the proper penalty. If the umpire believes that had interference not occurred, the ball would not have been caught and instead, in this situation, would have been a home run, such award is the proper penalty.

The rule under no circumstances compels the umpire to declare an out for spectator interference if he believes the ball would have not been caught absent this interference.

Lindsay said...

Yes, but this specific example clearly fits what happened here. As opposed to say, a fan reaching over a short wall on a ball in play, where it would be clear bases should be awarded, this involved a deep fly ball and a fan interfering with an attempted catch. Does Reddick make the catch? Maybe, maybe not, but it's possible... If the fielder had a legitimate opportunity to catch the ball the batter should be out. Given that the example only says attempting to catch the ball as opposed to something like "and would have otherwise caught the ball". The part of the comment that reads "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." also lends to the idea that interfering with a possible catch results in an out, as opposed to other situations which should be nullified in a different manner.

Lindsay said...

Again, examples are illustrations of principles, not vice versa. "Umpire calls the batter out for spectator interference" is not a directive to umpires to call the batter out—it is simply a narrative of what played out during the hypothetical example, the umpire called the batter out because, pursuant to the rule, the ball likely would have been caught had interference not occurred ("nullify the act"). The example does not take into account a play in which the umpire does not believe the ball would have been caught. The example illustrates a situation wherein a runner from third may or may not be awarded home plate, based on the "nullify the act" doctrine—it is not a paradigm for declaring a batsman out or safe based solely on the fact that interference occurred.

Jeffrey Maier play—interference should have resulted in an out ("clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball").

ALDS Game 4 play—interference results in an out only if a catch is clearly prevented, which, according to ancillary evidence, it is not.

Note the difference, in-post, between "catch" and "attempt." We're in agreement that the "attempt" was clearly prevented, but it is not clear whether or not an actual "catch" would have occurred without the interference (e.g., another factor, such as jump height or ball trajectory, as in MLBUM, exists after "nullify the act" is applied).

Lindsay said...

I had a long post parsing the sentences written, but here's the relatively short and sweet.

If we replayed 100 "just far enough" home run balls, with an outfielder trying to leap and snag it, and cut off the video a split second before the possible catch, how many could you predict correctly? I'm guessing less than 50%. (For example, I thought that Torii Hunter would catch Lowrie's HR!) Who knows, in an alternate universe maybe Tony Tarasco chokes and drops the Jeffrey Maier ball.

He is likely exaggerating, but Reddick says he is "100% sure" that he could have caught that ball. I think it's more like 25%. Whatever. It shouldn't matter. There have been many "improbable" catches in baseball history, from Willie Mays to Kirby Puckett to Torii Hunter to Mike Trout.

Lindsay said...


I have a different take - if the ball was going to be a home-run, then the fan did not reach into the field of play. If he did not reach onto the field of play then it was not fan interference... What am I missing here?!
I really think your interpretation is wrong on this one. In other words - the no call is the right call because anything beyond the "yellow line" is out of play and the spectator is beyond the yellow line (the hand-rail doesn't mean anything).

I guess I would challenge but there's nothing here to challenge - in this case I would love to start a discussion!

Lindsay said...

As shown by the above graphic, the fan reaches over the playing field and contacts the ball as it is still live, which hinders an attempt, interference pursuant to Rule 2.00 INT(d). Though only inches from vertically behind the OOP line (green/yellow fence line), the contact point is in live ball territory and over the playing field.

Rule 2.00 FAIR TERRITORY is that part of the playing field within, and including the first and third base lines, from home base to the bottom of the playing field fence and perpendicularly upwards. All foul lines are in fair territory.

The ball is in flight, in fair territory ahead of the fence line (and its perpendicular extension) when contacted, the ball is live.

Think of it this way: The fan caused the ball to become dead prematurely and illegally. Rule 2.00 INT(d) accounts for this illegal act and explains why the ball was dead before it touched DBT. Had the contact point been on the other side of the vertical plane, the fan touching the ball would have caused the ball to become dead timely and legally as the touch would be in DBT.

Lindsay said...

Does the field end at the front of the yellow line or the back of the yellow line. If the field ends at the front of the yellow line, I don't think that it's at all conclusive that the ball was touched while in the field of play.

Lindsay said...

Thanks for that clarification! I was looking at the play from the point of view that the ball had a high arc and likely was unplayable - but if I applied my same understanding to a "line-drive" home-run - a fan could easily interfere on a ball that would have ended up past the yellow line.

I'll take the field with you any day...

Lindsay said...

This ground rule from Coamerica should clear up that question:
Batted ball in flight striking padding below the top of outfield wall and caroming into stands: Two Bases.
Batted ball in flight striking above padding: Home Run."
So it implies the concrete delineates the playing field.
On a side note, how would you like to pull that ground rule out of your hat on a ball that hits the yellow padding and bounces out?

Also, I agree it's not conclusive where the ball was contacted.

Lindsay said...

If it had originally been called spectator interference, the ruling would have stood. But since it was originally called a HR, the ruling stood. Same rule as football - you need indisputable evidence to overturn the call.

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