Saturday, August 18, 2018

Fan Inter-Beer-ence - Baseball's Neutral Zone

Friday's Replay Review that upheld umpires' home run and fan interference no-call in San Diego upset Arizona after video conclusively indicated that Diamondbacks left fielder Jon Jay's glove made contact with a Padres fan's beer during Eric Hosmer's solo-HR in the bottom of the 5th inning.

Did a fan interfere with Jay in San Diego?
Lest they say we're going to the animals in the jungle of outfield fandom, let's cruise into our capstone report on spectator interference, introducing a concept of interference neutrality.

The Play: With one out and none on during Friday's D'Backs-Padres game, Padres batter Hosmer hit a fly ball to deep left field. As D'Backs outfielder Jay leapt to catch Hosmer's batted ball, his right hand and glove came into contact with a fan in the left field bleachers attempting to do the same. Upon Crew Chief Review, the Replay Official upheld 3B Umpire Sean Barber's on-field ruling of home run (no fan interference).

The Rule: By now, we know that "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).

We're dealt with this play before, most recently when Astros batter Alex Bregman fell prey to an interference ruling by 2B Umpire Greg Gibson, but it's time to add another layer to the issue. We call it baseball's "neutral zone."
Related PostFact Check - Bregman's Fan Interference Out (7/26/18).

The neutral zone is a free-for-all.
Analysis: This neutral zone encompasses that area referred to as the "top of the wall" extended vertically upward—any fly ball that bounces off the top of the wall, untouched by a fan, and caroms back onto the field is considered live and in play, while any ball that bounces off the top of the wall and caroms into the seats behind is deemed a home run.

For all intents and purposes relative to this rule, wall padding is to be considered part of the wall itself.

As for a ball that sticks to the top of the wall, that's where the neutral zone takes on a rather unique quality: if a batted ball in flight strikes and settles on top of an outfield wall without a fan touching it, the call is "Time" and a two-base award. If a fan does touch the ball atop the wall before it settles, the proper call is "Home Run."

Summary of Top-of-the-Wall Batted Ball Considerations/Calls (Fair ball, wall/seats in fair territory):
Fly ball hits top of wall and immediately bounces back into play, untouched by fans = In Play.
Fly ball hits top of wall and immediately bounces out of play (in fair territory) = Home Run.
Fly ball hits top of wall, eventually settling on top of the wall, untouched by a fan = Two Bases.
Fly ball hits top of wall, and a fan picks it up while it's still in motion on top of the wall = HR.
Fly ball hits top of wall, and a fan picks it up after it's settled on top of the wall = Two Bases.

I'm not kidding—that's the importance of this neutral zone and an example of how a spry home-town fan can influence the game simply by choosing to touch or not touch a batted ball on top of the wall.

Relative to actual fan interference, because the term is interference, this implies a violative act (by the fan). In order to be said to have violated a rule, the fan has to actively engage in misconduct by "reaching out of the stands and over the playing field" (or by going onto the playing field).

Jay's arm bends backward above the wall.
In other words, "reaching out of the stands" and into the neutral zone is not enough for interference: the fan must break the plane separating the playing field from the neutral zone in order to submit candidacy for interference; otherwise, the fielder reaches into the neutral zone (and stands) at his own peril.

The accompanying image indicates Jay's right arm is flush with the outfield wall, and bends backward at the wrist (and possibly elbow, as well), which is at or above the height of the wall. This portion of Jay's body and glove which has bent backward beyond the base-of-wall plane and into the neutral zone is not subject to protection against interference: if the fan makes contact with the portion of Jay's person or glove that is extended into the neutral zone, this contact shall not be deemed fan interference for the fielder has reached out of the playing field at his own peril.

That makes this the proper ruling, for lack of evidence or angle to suggest the fan broke the playing field plane.

SIDEBAR: Another baseball saying holds that "it all evens out." Perhaps, one can consider this an even-out play for Padres Manager Andy Green, who was ejected in April on an interference no-call decision (also finalized via Replay Review) that went against San Diego.
Related PostMLB Ejection 011 - Brian Gorman (1; Andy Green) (4/9/18).

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Jay runs into a pint of beer as umpires rule a home run for Hosmer (SD)

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