Thursday, July 12, 2018

Ask UEFL - Angel Fan's Non-Interference with Upton

Mariners batter Dee Gordon's fly ball in left field Tuesday night in Anaheim led to a peculiar scene, as Angels left fielder Justin Upton and a fan became entangled during Upton's successful catch as Seattle baserunner Chris Herrmann tagged up and advanced while Upton was distracted. Today's Ask the UEFL article concerns whether this play constitutes fan interference. Beware—the answer is not as straightforward as you might think.

Did a Trout fan hinder Upton in Anaheim?
The Play: With one out and one on (R2), Mariners batter Dee Gordon hit a fly ball into foul territory along the left field wall, where it was caught by Angels left fielder Justin Upton as he became entangled with a fan. While Upton and the fan were interacting, Mariners baserunner R2 Chris Herrmann tagged up at second and advanced to third base.

The Call: 3B Umpire Jim Wolf ruled the play an air out on Upton's catch and no-called the potential fan interference despite a post-play argument from Angels Manager Mike Scioscia.

The Rule - Definition: Major League Baseball changed the Official Baseball Rule pertaining to spectator interference in advance of the 2018 season (underlined text indicates the modification): "Spectator interference occurs when a spectator (or an object thrown by the spectator) hinders a player’s attempt to make a play on a live ball, by going onto the playing field, or reaching out of the stands and over the playing field."
Related PostMLB Changes Rules for Retired Runner, Fan Interference (3/25/18).
Diagram of spectator interference.

Spectator interference previously required the fan to physically touch the player or ball; the rules change authorizes an interference call based on a "hinders a player's attempt" standard similar to existing offensive and defensive (catcher's) interference rules, as long as the fan (or object thrown by the fan) breaks the plane separating the stands from the playing field, which extends vertically from the base of the wall on the playing field side of the boundary.

The Rule - Penalty: Pursuant to OBR 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." This is the same penalty as Intentional Interference by a person authorized to be on the playing field (e.g., a security/police officer or "ball attendant"), 6.01(d).

Analysis: I think we can all agree that, as it pertains to the batted ball, there is no interference—Upton clearly catches the fly ball despite the fan's reaching out onto the playing field. The issue, then, is the entanglement after the catch, while the ball is live and the runner is tagging up.

The fan clearly distracts Upton from his responsibility with the runner, but recall that verbal or even visual distraction alone is not interference. What is potential interference is the fan's arm physically wrapped around Upton's upper body, but the question for 3B Umpire Wolf is whether this physical interaction hindered Upton's attempt to make a play on the runner.

This pat on the back, alone, is likely not INT.
If Upton never attempted to make a play on the runner, then there can be no interference: logically speaking, one cannot be impeded from attempting to do something that one was not attempting to do in the first place.

Gil's Call: In my estimation, had Upton shown an immediate concern as to R2 Herrmann's status upon catching the ball—had he turned toward the infield or tried checking the runner while still in contact with the fan—this would have been ruled interference. Because Upton failed to show concern as to R2 Herrmann until well after his catch, it suggests that he did not attempt to make a play on the runner until this time, which was well after the period of potential fan interference had already concluded.

There is no doubt in my mind that the fan disturbed Upton's thought process, but in order to rule interference, the umpire would have to rule that Upton's attempt on the runner was impeded. No attempt = no interference.

I suppose it comes down to the umpire's judgment of Upton's situational awareness, and how well the umpire can read Upton's mind.

Upton contended with not one, but two fans.
Rulebook Lawyer: The spectator interference rule 6.01(e) clearly discusses a "thrown or batted ball," but makes no mention of hindrance which occurs after the batted ball has already been caught and before it has the opportunity to become a thrown ball. This would otherwise appear to be a tremendous loophole in the rule—a fan appears to have legal authority to interfere after the catch, but before the throw—but it seems highly unlikely that the spirit of the rule intends to grant such an illogical exemption, given the aforementioned rules change to the Definition of Terms.

SIDEBAR: This is an excellent opportunity to point out how rulebooks deteriorate. The Rules Committee last offseason changed the Definition of Terms regarding spectator interference to refer to a "live ball," but left Rule 6.01(e), which refers to a "thrown or batted ball" in regard to spectator interference, untouched. Accordingly, the definition of spectator interference and rule/penalty for spectator interference no longer match—a microcosm of how these sort of rules inconsistencies occur. It would behoove the Rules Committee this offseason to make Rule 6.01(e)'s language consistent with the new spectator interference definition.

For that reason, under the principles of common sense and fair play, it would be reasonable to presume that spectator interference can occur at any time that a ball is live—not simply while the ball is loose on a hit or a throw.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Upton and fan interact in outfield as Herrmann tags up and goes to third base (LAA)


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