Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Case Play 2019-3 - Infield Fly Interference [Solved]

This week's Ask the UEFL Case Play concerns an infield fly rule play complicated by an intervening case of interference between the batter-runner and first baseman attempting to catch a batted ball. Though this video example comes from softball—and features an off-field umpire, UIC, or supervisor walking onto the field to join in on the on-field crew's conference—we'll analyze this peculiar play in accordance with baseball rules.

The Play: With one out and the bases loaded, the score a 6-6 tie, in the bottom of the final inning of regulation during a Spanish Fork-Bear River state tournament semifinal game, a Bear River batter hits a fly ball in the infield along the foul line between home plate and first base. Due to the batted ball's trajectory, the umpires easily declare an infield fly (if fair). As the batter-runner approaches first base, an interaction occurs with the Spanish Fork first baseman, resulting in the fielder dropping the fair ball as Bear River baserunner R3 attempts to score from third base. The ensuing throw home is late and the offensive team celebrates the apparent winning run.

BR and F3 interact up line near first base.
The Call: Having deemed the interaction between batter-runner and fielder attempting to catch a batted ball illegal, the first base umpire declares "interference" and calls "Time" to kill the play. After consultation, the umpires declare an inning-ending double play and nullify the run.

Question: When is a batter out during an infield fly play? Is it when the umpire first declares the infield fly, and if so, what happens if the already-out batter goes on to interfere with a fielder attempting to make a play on the ball, and does this cause the ball to become dead? Assuming Official Baseball Rules, was the inning-ending double play call correct?
Umpires get both coaches together.

Answer: In short, under OBR, the batter is out and the runner is returned to third base. The ball becomes dead upon the moment it is ruled a fair ball, meaning the play at home plate never happened.

Under NFHS Softball Rule 8-6-16, the runner closest to home is out if, in the umpire's judgment, interference by a retired runner prevents a double play. All other runners must return to bases last touched at the time of interference.

For OBR's ruleset, we have a slightly similar—yet different—rule in 6.01(a)(5), which states a runner on whom the fielder is playing shall be declared out if a recently-retired batter or runner interferes.

The answer to this Case Play lies in OBR's definition of Infield Fly Rule, which states in part, "If interference is called during an infield fly, the ball remains alive until it is determined whether the ball is fair or foul." As soon as fair/foul is determined, the ball becomes dead. There is no interference with a play on R3, as the ball was already dead before a potential play on R3 occurred.

VIDEO Answer: IFR & INT Case Play.
The interference is with the fielder's attempt to catch a fly ball, not with the fielder's subsequent attempt to make a play on another runner as the interference occurred prior to this attempt, meaning, the ball was already dead before the play on the other runner (R3) occurred.

As for, "If fair, both the runner who interfered with the fielder and the batter are out," the runner who interfered is the batter, which means the rule's transitive translation is, "if fair, both [the batter] and the batter are out."

As we discussed in April this season, no runner can be declared out twice during the same play (unless otherwise allowed by rule, e.g., intentional or deliberate interference to break up a double play); the batter is thus out (once) and all runners returned to their bases. Continue the inning with two outs and the bases loaded.
Related PostR2 Out Twice in False Triple Play - Crazy College Caper (4/11/19).

Finally, OBR 5.09(a)(2)(5) states the batter is out when an Infield Fly is declared. It's important to note the difference between declaring an Infield Fly and enforcing one, as well as the timeline concerning when a ball becomes dead during such play and how this relates to an Infield Fly. The batter is out on "Infield Fly, if Fair" assuming that the ball is fair. A foul ball, obviously, would cancel the infield fly rule, but the batter would still be out for interference with a fielder attempting to catch a batted ball.

Given the timeline of events with a batter interfering on an infield fly to the first baseman, it would be pretty difficult for the batter to interfere with a subsequent play on a teammate—largely because the ball becomes dead so quickly, and also because the ball is still in flight at the time of interference when the fielder is pursuing the batted ball, not looking at retiring another runner. Either way, the proper result under OBR is to declare the batter out and return all runners.

For what it's worth, visiting team Spanish Fork ultimately defeated Bear River, 8-6.

Official Baseball Rules Library:
OBR Definition [Infield Fly Rule]: "If interference is called during an infield fly, the ball remains alive until it is determined whether the ball is fair or foul. If fair, both the runner who interfered with the fielder and the batter are out. If foul, even if caught, the runner is out and the batter returns to bat."
Related PostMLB Modifies Interference Rules, Including Infield Fly Case (2/19/13).
OBR 5.09(a)(2)(5): "A batter is out when—An Infield Fly is declared." The umpire is to declare the infield fly when "it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly."
OBR 6.01(a)(5): "Any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate."

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: What comes first, the interference or the infield fly? (jpg901c/UEFL)


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