Saturday, May 15, 2021

Umpire's Call as Dozier and Abreu Collide on Infield Pop Fly

When Royals batter Hunter Dozier and White Sox first baseman Jose Abreu ran into each other in a bone-chilling collision during a pop fly Friday in Chicago, HP Umpire Dan Bellino still had a job to do to sort out the rules as Sox catcher Yasmani Grandal caught the batted ball.

Play: With none out and a runner on first in the top of the 2nd inning, Dozier hit a 0-1 changeup from Chicago pitcher Lucas Giolito high in the air up the first base line. As catcher Grandal tracked the ball and positioned himself underneath in preparation for its descent, batter-runner Dozier ran to the right of Grandal to avoid the fielder. In doing so, however, Dozier ran straight into fielder Abreu, who had charged in from first base to make a play on the ball.

: The two basic rules that govern interaction between players from opposing teams during a live ball are generally interference and obstruction, both of which can be found in the Official Baseball Rules' Definition of Terms. While interference by the offense is "an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play," obstruction is "the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner."

If we stop there it might appear fielder Abreu, because he was in the act of fielding the ball, might not have obstructed batter-runner Dozier after all and it might be Dozier who was guilty of interference. Not so fast, though.
OBR 6.01(a)(10) states it is interference when "[The offensive player] fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball, provided that if two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more of them, the umpire shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of this rule, and shall not declare the runner out for coming in contact with a fielder other than the one the umpire determines to be entitled to field such a ball."

OBR 6.01(h)(1) describes penalties for obstruction: "If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction." 6.01(h)(2) covers obstruction "if no play is being made on the obstructed runner...the umpire shall...impose such penalties, if any, as in their judgment will nullify the act of obstruction."

Putting together these pieces, we have our answer. The following is what Bellino ruled, all within seconds and while witnessing a football tackle just feet away.

: When batter Dozier hit a pop fly up the first base line, catcher Grandal moved into position to make a catch. Dozier, also running up the line, veered to his right to avoid Grandal, prompting Bellino to make a ruling on the potential interference; Bellino signaled "safe" to indicate no interference—Dozier reasonably avoided Grandal and did not hinder Grandal's act of fielding the ball.

Immediately thereafter, a collision with Abreu occurred. Bellino pointed at Abreu to indicate Abreu, as a fielder not entitled to field the ball (Grandal was the fielder with that protection) had obstructed Dozier. Finally, we leave the rulebook and enter the MLB Umpire Manual, which discusses the case of a batter-runner obstructed before reaching first base: "if the batter-runner is obstructed before reaching first base on a fly ball or line drive that is caught, the batter-runner is out...[if it's a] foul ball not caught, the foul ball prevails...the reasoning is that the obstruction had nothing to do with the fact that the batter hit a [fly ball caught by the defense or] foul ball."

As for Bellino's mechanics, they are, literally, textbook, as in word-for-word what the umpire manual instructs: "Call the obstruction by pointing at the obstruction and calling, 'That’s obstruction.' However, leave the ball in play. If the pop-up or line drive is caught, batter-runner is out."

Video as follows:


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