Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Diving Over Fielder Legality - OBR, NCAA, NFHS, LL

The legality of a runner diving over a catcher varies by level of play, with professional baseball the most permissive of this maneuver and high school the least.

Click here for Video Analysis of This Play (Runner Diving Over a Fielder).

Legality of Coghlan's dive, by level of play.
The Play: With one out and one on (R1), Blue Jays batter Kevin Pillar hit a 1-1 fastball from Cardinals pitcher Matt Bowman on a fly ball to right fielder Stephen Piscotty. As Jays baserunner R1 Chris Coghlan attempted to score from first base, Piscotty's throw to the plate drew catcher Yadier Molina up the line to receive the bouncing ball, resulting in a rare sequence wherein Molina retrieved the ball in the baseline as Coghlan arrived in the vicinity of home plate and opted to jump over Molina on a modified head-first slide, of sorts, landing on home plate without having been tagged. HP Umpire Quinn Wolcott thus ruled Coghlan safe at home.

Analysis: The first relevant rule is 6.01(i) [formerly Rule 7.13] regarding collisions at home plate. Had Coghlan proceeded along his base path toward home plate—at ground level—he surely would have collided with Molina, who, having barely gained possession of the baseball, stood directly between Coghlan and home plate.

The Runner: Rule 6.01(i)(1) restricts the baserunner, and states, "A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate), or otherwise initiate an avoidable collision. If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (regardless of whether the player cover- ing home plate maintains possession of the ball)."

Coghlan dives parallel to the ground over F2.
However, the most important feature of baserunner Rule 6.01(i)(1) is in its Comment, which states, in part, "If a catcher blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall not find that the runner initiated an avoidable collision in violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(1)." Thus, even though Coghlan appeared to have scraped Molina's helmet, neck, and/or upper back during his dive (watch for the contact between Coghlan's knee and Molina's helmet), the blockage of Coghlan's pathway absolves Coghlan of responsibility for this contact. Coghlan is entirely legal in his dive.

The Fielder: Rule 6.01(i)(2) restricts the catcher, and states, "Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire, the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 6.01(i)(2) if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in a legitimate attempt to field the throw."

This upper body contact is legal in OBR.
Thus, Molina is off the hook because he (1) occupied his position in a legitimate attempt to field the throw (however slow the non-cut-off throw might have been), and, more importantly (2) actually gained possession of the ball prior to Coghlan's arrival.

Outcome: With both players legal and in compliance with Rule 6.01(i), the proper call is the sole consideration of whether Molina tagged Coghlan (he did not) and whether Coghlan touched home plate (he did). Therefore, Umpire Wolcott properly ruled runner Coghlan safe.

Sidebar: Coghlan's leap was a "dive": His body became parallel to the ground in what may be described as a "dive into home plate." A "jump" or "hurdle," on the other hand, generally holds that the runner remains at a more vertical posture, closer to a perpendicular orientation relative to the ground.

NCAA (College) Rule: In college ball, diving, hurdling and/or jumping over the fielder are entirely long as the runner is able to avoid all contact with the fielder. Rule 8-7 states, "If the defensive player blocks the base (plate) or base line with clear possession of the ball, the runner may [avoid], slide into or make contact with a fielder as long as the runner is making a legitimate attempt to reach the base (plate). Contact above the waist that was initiated by the base runner shall not be judged as an attempt to reach the base or plate." Because of this last sentence regarding contact above the waist,  a runner who, all else equal, scrapes the catcher's upper body during a dive, as Coghlan did here—replays indicate contact occurred between Coghlan's leg/knee and the crown of Molina's helmet/back—would be declared out for having initiated contact above the waist (which thus precluded the runner from attempting to reach the base/plate, even though the runner subsequently touched the base).

This head-high contact is illegal in NCAA.
Furthermore, Rule 8-7.2 states, "Contact above the waist shall be judged by the umpire as an attempt by the runner to dislodge the ball." The upper body contact provisions in NCAA are somewhat of a double-whammy on a play like this. If a runner attempts to dive over a catcher, but doesn't physically leap high enough to clear him/her, and therefore makes contact with the catcher's head/neck/torso, the umpire shall rule the runner attempted to dislodge the ball, and thus declare the runner out after calling the ball dead and returning all other base runners to the bases held at the time of the "collision." There is no discretion authorized for considering what degree of contact occurred (light or heavy) other than whether or not the contact was flagrant or malicious. If flagrant or malicious contact occurred, the umpire may eject the runner from the game.

To be clear, unavoidable contact does exist at the NCAA level (Rule 8-7.4), but contact above the waist, as initiated by the baserunner, does not qualify as "unavoidable contact."

NFHS (High School) Rule: The Federation rule just might be the easiest: "It is illegal to dive over a fielder" (8-4-2d); when a dive occurs without contact between the players, keep the ball alive, and call the runner out (unless interference is called, in which case the ball is dead). With illegal contact (e.g., knee-to-head, as occurred here), the ball becomes dead. The exception, naturally, is that a runner may hurdle or jump over a fielder's outstretched arms, or prone fielder lying on the ground in the runner's base path. The Coghlan-Molina play, all else equal, is without-a-doubt illegal on the runner's end in high school ball.

Little League: As LL generally uses OBR, this play is legal in youth ball operating under this scheme, as well as leagues that use the "slide or attempt to get around [the fielder]" language. This assumes there is no other league- or level-specific slide rule that supersedes such legality (e.g., diving a la Coghlan would be illegal in a LL that prohibits head-first slides).

Video available via "Read more"
Alternate Link: Coghlan jumps over Molina to score run in the 7th inning (Must C)


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