Thursday, May 5, 2016

Defining Base Coach Interference - It Had to Be St Louis

A third base coach interference no-call in St. Louis paved the way for a Cardinals walk-off win against Philadelphia Wednesday night when 3B Umpire Ryan Blakney ruled that Cardinals third base coach Chris Maloney, filling in this season for regular base coach Jose Oquendo, did not interfere with Phillies third baseman Andres Blanco's pursuit of Cards baserunner R2 Carlos Martinez, who eventually made out at home. Stay tuned for an explanation as to why the interference no-call was correct.

But first, let's draw up the play. With one out and the bases loaded in the bottom of the 9th inning of a 4-3 game, Cardinals batter Stephen Piscotty singled on a ground ball to Phillies shortstop Freddy Galvis (R3 Kolten Wong scoring), who threw to F5 Blanco as R2 Martinez rounded third and continued on towards home, where he was subsequently tagged out by catcher Carlos Ruiz. Replays indicate that during the play, third base coach Maloney, who was standing close to the dirt path between third base and home plate, had to maneuver to avoid touching both Martinez and Blanco as both players used a path down the baseline which Maloney appeared to occupy. No contact occurred between Maloney and either player.

NOTE: The distinction of interference vs non-interference is important because, even though R2 Martinez was retired, trail runner R1 Aledmys Diaz advanced to third base during the rundown. Had interference been called, Diaz likely would have been placed back at second base on the dead ball.

Analysis: OBR Rule 5.03 concerns Base Coaches and states in provision (b) that, the base coaches shall, "remain within the coach’s box at all times." Yet with 3BC Maloney clearly outside of the box in apparent contravention of Rule 5.03(b), why did Blankey not rule the play dead on the auspices of base coach interference? Refer to Rule 5.03 Penalty: "The offending base coach shall be removed from the game, and shall leave the playing field." The penalty is not to call interference or kill the play. Here's an example of an umpire enforcing the penalty: [[Ed Montague removes offending base coach Larry Bowa from the game]].

So if 5.03 says nothing about interference, Rule 6.01(f) clearly does: "If a thrown ball accidentally touches a base coach, or a pitched or thrown ball touches an umpire, the ball is alive and in play. However, if the coach interferes with a thrown ball, the runner is out." Not relevant.

Rule 6.01(b) states that, "The players, coaches or any member of a team at bat shall vacate any space (including both dugouts or bullpens) needed by a fielder who is attempting to field a batted or thrown ball." Does not apply, as F5 already had the ball.

Does Rule 6.01(a)(8) apply? "In the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base." No.

How about 6.01(a)(9)? "With a runner on third base, the base coach leaves his box and acts in any manner to draw a throw by a fielder." No.

Here's a play portrayed in Rule 6.01(d) Comment: "Batter hits ball to shortstop, who fields ball but throws wild past first baseman. The coach at first base, to avoid being hit by the ball, falls to the ground and the first baseman on his way to retrieve the wild thrown ball, runs into the coach. The batter-runner finally ends up on third base. Whether the umpire should call interference on the part of the coach is up to the judgment of the umpire and if the umpire felt that the coach did all he could to avoid interfering with the play, no interference need be called. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the coach was attempting to make it appear that he was trying not to interfere, the umpire should rule interference." This is relevant. If the interference is intentional, it is to be called. If unintentional AND the coach did all he could to avoid it, it is not a violation.

Coach Maloney successfully avoided both his player and his opponent; he did not obstruct, impede, hinder or confuse any fielder attempting to make a play. That's why Blakney signaled "safe": Because there was no actual interference; F5 was not impeded from completing his play. This is similar in theory to throwing a glove or hat at a loose ball: no harm, no foul unless there's actual interference with the ball's movement.

Regarding Rule 5.03's "remain within the coach's box at all times" language, Rule 5.03 Comment states: "Until a batted ball passes a coach, a coach is not permitted to position himself closer to home plate than the coach’s box nor closer to fair territory than the coach’s box. Otherwise, a coach shall not be considered out of the box unless the opposing manager complains, in which case the umpire shall strictly enforce the rule and require all coaches (on both teams) to remain in the coach’s box at all times."

Though physically out of the box, Maloney is not considered "out of the box" by rule unless opposing manager Pete Mackanin complains, in which case the only recourse is for U3 Blakney to require Maloney to "remain in the coach's box at all times." The penalty for being out of the box is not an interference call.

Video: Maloney dodges Martinez & Blanco; Blakney rules the play legal ("Read more")
Alternate Link: An interference non-call in the 9th ties the game and puts the winner on 3rd (STL)


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