Wednesday, May 26, 2021

Open Gate HR Features in SWAC Championship Game

NCAA's 2021 Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) crowned Southern University as champions after the Jaguars came back to defeat Jackson State on a 9th inning home run helped by an outfield gate to the visiting bullpen that swung open as a home outfielder attempted to catch a fly ball.

Play: With two on (R1, R2) and none out in the top of the 9th inning of a game the home team Jackson State Tigers were leading 6-4, Southern batter O'Neill Burgos hit a fly ball to deep left center field where Jackson State CF CJ Newsome leapt to make a catch at the wall. However, as as the batted ball entered Newsome's glove and Newsome's body made contact with the outfield wall and gate leading to the Southern bullpen, the door swung open and Newsome fell into dead ball territory, dropping the batted ball in the process.

Call: After crew consultation, the umpires ruled the play a home run, resulting in three runs to flip the score to a 7-6 lead in favor of Southern University. Six outs later, Southern capped off its victory and advanced to the 2021 NCAA Baseball Tournament.

: Although NCAA Rule 8-3-o-1 prescribes a two-base award "if a fair ball bounces over or passes through a fence," the play above is more complicated than that. Instead, we have a player effectively carrying the ball through a fence, who then drops the ball beyond the fence-line. NCAA 8-3-m, for instance, states, "If a fair ball is dropped outside the fence, it becomes a home run. This same dead-ball ruling applies to fly balls into any dead ball areas" (for reference, NCAA 8-3-h states that all runners, including the batter, are entitled to score if a fair ball goes over the fence in flight).

The Official Baseball Rule (pro) award equivalents are 5.06(b)(4)(F) ("two bases, if a fair ball...goes through or under a field fence"), and 5.06(b)(4)(A) ("to home base, scoring a run, if a fair ball goes out of the playing field in flight"), with the MLB Umpire Manual prescribing that the key difference is whether or not the fair ball was deflected out of play in flight or not (in fair territory/within the foul lines), with an in-flight deflection resulting in a home run and a not-in-flight deflection resulting in a two-base award from time of pitch.

OBR's definition for IN FLIGHT describes "a batted, thrown, or pitched ball which has not yet touched the ground or some object other than a fielder."

Analysis: It is simply not within the spirit of the rules to hold that a batted ball that is carried by a fielder through a broken fence/open gate below the top of the natural wall should be a home run. That said, the question should be whether or not the ball exited the playing field above or below where the top of the fence would have been had the bullpen gate not opened (e.g., the home run line).

For better or for worse, there is no consideration for which team (offense/defense) is the home team insofar as stadium upkeep is concerned, nor which team's bullpen gate opened insofar as door operator error is concerned, unless the umpires can conclusively determine that an intentional act caused the gate to swing open.

For instance, if the umpire saw that the visiting/offensive team's bullpen staff or players deliberately opened the gate, the umpires could rule interference and impose penalties to remedy this. In professional baseball, for instance, OBR 6.01(b) [Fielder Right of Way] would govern: "If a member of the team at bat [other than a runner] hinders a fielder's attempt to catch or field a batted ball, the ball is dead, the batter is declared out and all runners return to the bases occupied at the time of the pitch."


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