Saturday, June 8, 2019

M's Catch Both Foul Ball and Fan's Glove

As if to drive the fan interference point home, Friday's Mariners-Angels game featured a play when Seattle's Domingo Santana attempted to catch a foul fly ball near the right field wall just as a fan in the stands tried to do the same. Santana emerged from this entanglement with one baseball and two gloves—his and the flummoxed fan's—as 1B Umpire Ron Kulpa signaled an air out.

Santana catches more than he bargained for.
Was this the correct call or did fan interference play a part?

The Play: With none out and none on in the bottom of the 5th inning, Angels batter Jonathan Lucroy hit a 2-2 sinker from Mariners pitcher Marco Gonzales in the air to right field, with right fielder Santana pursuing the ball into foul territory and toward the wall separating the playing field from the spectator area. As Lucroy's batted fly ball descended near the boundary, both Santana and several fans reached for the ball, with Santana ultimately coming up with both the baseball and a fan's glove, ruled an out by 1B Umpire Kulpa.

The Rule: By now, we are well versed in Official Baseball Rule 6.01(e)'s penalty for fan interference ("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"), just as we are familiar with the definition of 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").

The playing field is the fielder's domain.
Analysis: So what happened Friday in Anaheim? When Santana reached for the ball against the wall, he ran up against the boundary line separating the playing field from spectator area, from live ball territory and dead ball territory. By rule, we know that anything on the playing field side of the base of the wall is in play and the fielder has right-of-way while anything on the grandstand side of this plane is a free-for-all.

We also know that as soon as a fan makes contact with a live ball—regardless of which side of the boundary the ball is on—the ball becomes dead.

When a fan makes contact with a fielder, but not with the ball, the play remains alive unless the umpire deems that spectator interference has occurred, in which case the ball becomes dead and the nullification penalties are imposed.

A diagram of spectator interference.
In the case of Santana, replays indicate the ball first made contact with the fan's glove, before dropping, due to momentum, into Santana's glove, giving the appearance that Santana had caught the ball cleanly.

By rule, the ball is dead at the moment of contact with the fan's glove. Angels Manager Brad Ausmus failed to challenge this boundary call; had this play been adjudicated by Replay Review, it would have thus been overturned. But overturned to what?

The two options here are 1) fan interference, or 2) foul ball.

1) Fan interference is the proper call if the spectator's glove first made contact with the baseball as it was over the playing field. This would mean the spectator broke through the boundary plane (see above diagram) and touched the batted ball. In order to nullify the act, I surmise Replay Review would have declared the batter out, essentially ending up with the same result as what was called on the field (batter out).
Related PostFact Check - Bregman's Fan Interference Out (7/26/18).

2) Foul ball is the proper call if the spectator's glove first made contact with the baseball when the ball was not over the playing field (neutral zone or spectator area). In this case, the fan touching the ball not only made it become dead, but also made it a foul ball. The fan has the right of way in the stands and this is where home-field-advantage for spectators comes into play.
Related PostFan Inter-Beer-ence - Baseball's Neutral Zone (8/18/18).

Even a slight graze constitutes interference.
Due to the various camera angles used for replays—none of which were positioned on the wall itself—it is ultimately inconclusive as to whether the fan reached out of the stands to interfere or whether the fan legally contacted the ball in the "fan has the right of way" area.

Gil's Replay Review Decision: As a result of this clear and convincing evidence that the fan touched the ball, but a lack of ample evidence to indicate where the ball was in relation to the boundary plane when the fan touched it, I would overturn this call to a foul ball. This is because I have evidence to indicate the ball became dead before Santana caught it, yet I don't have evidence to contradict the on-field ruling that fan interference did not occur. Thus, with evidence that the ball-was-alive-when-it-entered-Santana's-glove call was incorrect but no information regarding the boundary issue, I overturn the catch element while upholding the on-field ruling that there was no fan interference. Hence, a foul ball. Had Kulpa ruled that fan interference occurred, that decision would have stood.

Spectator interference can result in a HR.
Postlude: This is why it's important in a league with Replay Review to call fan interference any and every time it occurs, even if the fielder ultimately catches the ball, or even if the batted ball ultimately ends up being a home run.

For instance, the accompanying image indicates an instance of spectator interference that results in a home run. If the on-field umpire rules this play a home run, but not interference, and Replay Review determines that the ball struck the yellow line before bouncing back onto the field, thus failing to leave the playing field, and is inconclusive as to whether the fan touched the ball, the Replay Official's only recourse is to rule the ball in play and go with whatever the on-field umpire's ruling was in regard to the fan interference issue. If the umpire called the play a home run from the get-go, Replay would overturn it to a double (or triple, as the case may be)...but if the umpire called the play a home run due to fan interference from the get-go, Replay would uphold the HR call.

We've previously discussed the importance of the call on the field, and this—an inconclusive replay for one element of a play, while video is clear for another aspect—is yet another example of why the initial on-field ruling is so vital. If an umpire observes interference that nonetheless results in an out, the interference shouldn't be ignored. Even in non-replay leagues, recall that interference causes the ball to become dead: it's important umpires kill the play when prescribed by rule so unintended consequences don't occur and lead to rules-related controversy, whether or not the interference appeared to have an effect on the play: by rule, the mere fact that a fan has touched a live ball must be addressed.
Related PostCrew Consultation - Importance of the Call on the Field (7/22/17).

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: Mariners outfielder Santana catches a foul fly ball in right field (SEA)


Post a Comment