Thursday, June 30, 2016

Case Play 2016-4 - Fan on the Field [Solved]

A fan ran on the field during a live ball in Seattle, though Mariners outfielders seemed mostly undeterred by the intruder's presence.

Gerry Davis is unamused by the outfield antics.
Play: With none out and two on (R1, R2) in the top of the 5th inning of the Cardinals-Mariners game,  Cardinals batter Matt Carpenter hit a fly ball to Mariners left fielder Seth Smith, who made the catch despite a fan running onto the playing field while the ball was still in the air. After Smith's catch, Cardinals baserunner R2 Tommy Pham legally tagged up and advanced to third base. Following the ensuing delay to apprehend and remove the fan, play resumed with one out and runners at the corners.

Case Play Question: Is this the proper result (B1 out, R1 & R3), given what occurred in the outfield? What would the proper result be for each of the following potential scenarios:
>> A) All else equal, (e.g., the fan absentmindedly ran by without addressing Smith), Smith dropped the ball: If Pham then tried to score, and successfully touched home plate, would his run count?;
>> B) All else equal, the fan while running by yelled "I got it," which caused Smith to drop the ball;
>> C) All else equal, the fan ran into Smith, and the ball fell to the ground untouched;
>> D) All else equal, the fan, without touching Smith, deflected the ball before it got to Smith's glove;
>> E) All else equal, the fan caught the ball and kept it.

In other words, which of the aforementioned scenarios merit umpire intervention and penalties/awards to be imposed or assessed, and what are the penalties/awards to be assessed?

Case Play Solution: Pursuant to Official Baseball Rule 6.01(e), "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." Thus, if spectator interference occurs, the ball is dead and the umpire's judgment will place runners and/or award outs ("APPROVED RULING: If spectator interference clearly pre- vents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out").

That said, the definition of spectator interference is of utmost importance: "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."

Thus, by strict application of OBR/INTERFERENCE, the spectator must touch the live ball and/or player AND hinder the player's attempted play. Accordingly it might appear that the answers are:

A) No interference. Complications may then result if Smith attempted to throw the ball home only to be hindered by the fan standing between him and home plate. We generally don't throw balls over fans.
B) No interference.
C) Interference. B1 may be declared out. If the umpire deems runner R2 would have tagged up and successfully advanced to third base had interference not occurred, R2 is placed at third base.
D) Interference. Same as (C).
E) Interference. Same as (C).

Some might say this qualifies as "unintentional interference" (6.01(d), the ball is alive and in play, unless the interference is intentional, in which case the ball is dead/nullify the act), but Rule 6.01(d) is not applicable. The first criterion of 6.01(d) states, "...interference with play by any person herein authorized to be on the playing field." 4.07(a) states, "No person shall be allowed on the playing field during a game except players and coaches in uniform, managers, news photographers authorized by the home team, umpires, officers of the law in uniform and watchmen or other employees of the home club." Thus, a spectator is never authorized, which means that 6.01(d) cannot apply.

Another rule addresses this situation. OBR 4.05 Special Ground Rules: "The manager of the home team shall present to the umpire-in-chief and the opposing manager any ground rules he thinks necessary covering the overflow of spectators upon the playing field, batted or thrown balls into such overflow, or any other contingencies. If these rules are acceptable to the opposing manager they shall be legal. If these rules are unacceptable to the opposing manager, the umpire-in-chief shall make and enforce any special ground rules he thinks are made necessary by ground conditions, which shall not conflict with the official playing rules." It would appear that most pre-game meetings don't concern such an odd ground rule, meaning the opposing manager won't approve nor disapprove of such a ground rule. Therefore, it is incumbent upon the umpire to form his own special ground rule. Bear in mind that the intent of this rule concerns planned roped off pens of fans in the outfield, generally with no wall, but the umpire derives his authority to rule on the issue of "spectators [on] the playing field" from this rule.

Keep in mind that baseball doesn't want players to so much as react to any spectator during a game: "No manager, coach or player shall address any spectator before or during a game" (OBR 6.04(b)), so players are expected to ignore the fans, but the rules state the umpire may make any ruling he thinks is necessary which does not conflict with the official playing rules.

Thus, if the umpire feels the player was unable to complete a play because he perceived the fan was a threat to his personal safety, for instance, the umpire would be within his rights to declare the ball dead at the time of the infraction and impose such penalties he feels would nullify the act. This, again, is a judgment call.

Accordingly, the answer to A) through E) could all be dead ball + nullify the act, or A) and/or B) could be ruled a live ball. No matter the interpretation, though, those contact plays illustrated in C), D) and E) must be ruled spectator interference and play be declared dead at the time of initial contact.

Video: Smith catches a fly ball as a fan runs by and Pham takes advantage by tagging up ("Read more")
Alternate Link: A fan jumps out of the Safeco stands and runs into the outfield during play (SEA)


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