Sunday, April 28, 2019

No Interference - Umpires Allow Beer Spilled on Player

A fan reaching out of the stands in New York dropped a cup of beer on Brewers left fielder Ryan Braun as he jumped in an attempt to catch Mets batter Pete Alonso's fly ball, resulting in a triple after Replay Review affirmed 3B Umpire Adam Hamari's original ruling that the fan did not interfere with play.

However, with Braun drenched in liquid evidence of wrongdoing, was a no-call the correct call?

The Play: Mets batter Alonso hit a fly ball to deep left-center field, where outfielder Braun jumped at the wall in an attempt to catch the batted ball as a fan reached below the railing and spilled his beer over Braun, who missed his catch and pursued the baseball, which at this point was rolling freely in left field. Alonso wound up cruising into third base as Brewers center fielder Lorenzo Cain pointed toward the stands and the offending fan.

Analysis: In discussing whether or not this was interference, it's always helpful to cite precedent.

In August 2018, a beer-bearing fan similarly interacted with a fielder in San Diego, though unlike Sunday in New York, the August 2018 play had a greater chance of actually depriving fielder Jon Jay with the opportunity to catch a batted ball, though replays ultimately were inconclusive as to whether the fan actually broke the plane separating the field from the spectator area.
Related PostFan Inter-Beer-ence - Baseball's Neutral Zone (8/18/18).

Victorino catches a ball as a beer cup flies by.
In August 2009, a fan, identified only as a pixel from the 1960's (real name: Johnny Macchione), threw a cup of beer at Phillies outfielder Shane Victorino as he tried to catch a batted ball. Victorino successfully caught the ball, despite the beer-throw, but a Cubs baserunner scored on the sacrifice fly. Pursuant to "nullify the act" doctrine, this was likely the proper outcome.

In 1988, another Cubs fan dropped some beer (just the liquid) onto Mets center fielder Lenny Dykstra as he attempted to catch a ball. Though Dykstra didn't catch the ball, replays indicate the beer bath didn't hinder his fielding effort.

Sunday Afternoon: This Bud's for Braun.
The Rule: Upon consulting the Definition of Terms, we are left with the following: "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."

As eluded to above, there are two elements to consider.

First, we must determine whether the fan reached out of the stands and over the playing field (or whether an object thrown by the spectator has entered the playing field). Because Braun was covered in the fan's misplaced liquid courage, it follows that, yes, the physical evidence is there to suggest that an object thrown by the fan (albeit unintentionally) did breach the vertical plane separating the spectator area from the playing field.

Second, we must judge whether or not this action has hindered a player's attempt to make a play on a live ball. Replays indicate both Braun and Cain pointed to the beer during live play, suggesting at least some hindrance did occur; however, as communicated visually by Crew Chief Tom Hallion after receiving a decision from New York, and affirmed by MLB's communication in confirming the on-field ruling, the Replay Official ruled that no interference occurred.

Hallion signals no home run and no INT.
Had the Replay Official deemed that interference did occur, Replay would have had the responsibility to place Alonso on the bases or to declare Alonso out so as to nullify the act of interference.

History of the Rule: MLB changed the definition of spectator interference prior to the 2018 season to account for the case where a fan may interfere with a player without actually touching the player or baseball. The old rule required physical contact.

Old Rule: "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."
Related PostMLB Changes Rules for Retired Runner, Fan Interference (3/25/18).

The penalty for spectator interference, as in Rule 6.01(e), was not changed: "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."

Gil's Call: If the fan is wearing Mets apparel, that's interference. If the fan is wearing Brewers clothing, it's a legal play. That's not a statement of fact and it's definitely not the rule (by rule, I believe this was interference as the fielder was hindered in his pursuit of the uncaught ball and would have placed Alonso at second or third, depending on the unaired high-home camera angle [there's a chance Alonso would wind up at third base regardless]; to be clear, however, there was no interference on the initial catch/no catch issue), but calling the interference by the fan's team affiliation feels like the most just outcome...that if applied by an umpire during a game would surely land that umpire's ass in the jackpot.

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Braun battles through a beer shower to field Alonso's triple (NYM)
Second Video: Slow motion Definitive Angle view confirms there was no home run (MLB)


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