Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Boundary Call - Spectator Interference vs Out of Play

A fielder reached into the stands to catch a foul fly ball, and ended up with a fan's hat in his glove alongside it. Today's lesson from the UEFL University concerns boundaries: specifically, what constitutes a legal catch, spectator interference, and a ball deemed out of play.

UEFL University
About the UEFL University: In conjunction with the UEFL Video Rulebook, the UEFL University is a perpetual work-in-progress educational program that discusses various Official Baseball Rules. Eventually, the various "Rules Reviews," "Video Analyses," and "Tmac's Teachable Moments" will be catalogued and organized by topic. For now, though, refer to the Labels system to browse for a specific rule or concept (e.g., the label "Umpire Interference" corresponds to all archived discussions concerning that concept).

The Play: With none out and none on, Indians batter Edwin Encarnacion hit a fly ball toward the boundary wall in foul territory beyond first base. Rays first baseman Logan Morrison prepared to field the descending fly ball, and reached into the stands in order to do so, ultimately catching both the baseball and a wayward Cleveland fan's hat in his glove as 1B Umpire Gabe Morales declared Encarnacion out on the catch.

Topic of Discussion: On such a boundary call, when is a ball considered live vs dead—in play vs out of play—a catch vs a foul ball—spectator (aka "fan") interference vs a no-call?

Fan interference only exists on/over the field.
Analysis: In order for spectator interference to occur, the following definition of spectator interference must be satisfied: "a spectator reaches out of the stands, or goes on the playing field, and (1) touches a live ball or (2) touches a player and hinders and attempt to make a play on a live ball." Furthermore, the spectator must reach beyond the plane of the field-facing front of the padded wall for interference to exist.

For ballpark security administrators considering whether or not to eject the fan pursuant to MLB and stadium regulations, note that a ball that sits atop a wall, or is touched by a spectator while over the flat portion of any boundary wall, is not spectator interference for the spectator is required to reach out of the stands and over the playing field's airspace for interference to exist. This type of a top-of-the-wall-touch is simply considered "out of play" (not interference). Think: tie goes to the fan.
Diagram of potential fan interference.

In other words, imagine that the field-facing plane of the wall extends infinitely to the sky. Fans are allowed to do nearly anything on their side of the extended plane, as long as they don't cross over into restricted airspace (see accompanying diagram from Game 2 of the 2013 Detroit-Boston ALCS).

The penalty for spectator interference is: "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 6.01(e)).

Bartman did not interfere, either.
Replays indicate fielder Morrison reached into the stands to attempt his catch (his arm, thus, left the airspace over the playing field), meaning that spectator interference does not apply: "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."

With the interference question solved, we turn to the definition of in- vs out-of-play: in this situation, what else could cause the ball to become dead?

Specifically, we're looking to answer the question of whether the ball simply touching a fan's person, clothing, or accessories over dead-ball-territory (aka out of play, the stands, etc.) is enough to kill the play.

The answer is "yes," and comes from Rule 6.01(e) Comment: "There is a difference between a ball which has been thrown or batted into the stands, touching a spectator thereby being out of play even though it rebounds onto the field and a spectator going onto the field or reaching over, under or through a barrier and touching a ball in play or touching or otherwise interfering with a player."

We're specifically isolating the portion of the rule that states, "...touching a spectator thereby being out of play..."As soon as a spectator or any other object (a chair, a bird, or even a fan's hat) touches or is touched by a ball on the dead-ball side of the demarcation or boundary line, the play is dead.

Morrison's glove catches two objects.
That said, it appears fielder Morrison was able to pocket the baseball on one side of his glove while gathering the fan's hat on the opposite side. But did the hat help Morrison hang onto the ball—what if it did?

Rule 5.09(a) specifies that a batter is out when: "his fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder." The rule continues, "A catch is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession... In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional."

Conclusion: As long as the fly ball did not touch the hat prior to the ball's entry into the glove, and, in the umpire's opinion, Morrison did not use the hat to gain possession of the ball, this is a legal catch. Naturally, if the ball touched the foreign cap prior to entering the glove—or assisted Morrison in getting possession after entry—this is not a legal catch, and, based on the preceding analysis, is not fan interference, either (it is simply "out of play"). That said, had this entire sequence occurred on the playing field side of the boundary wall, it would be subject to consideration of spectator interference and the corresponding penalty.

Video via "Read More"

Alternate Link: Fielder Morrison catches ball and hat along the right field boundary (TB/CLE)


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