Thursday, June 3, 2021

Catcher's Mask Knocks Ball Out of Mitt - What's the Call?

In this Ask the UEFL, we consider a college catcher whose mask appeared to knock the baseball out of his mitt during a tag attempt at home plate. Ruled safe by HP Umpire Jeff Wright during the Georgia Southern vs Louisiana SBC Semifinal game, and affirmed by replay review, what is the rule?

Play: With none out and two on (R1, R3) in the bottom of the 9th inning, Louisiana batter hit a ground ball to Georgia Southern third baseman Jarrett Brown, who threw to catcher Matt Anderson as Louisiana baserunner R3 Tyler Robertson attempted to score. During the play at the plate, Robertson slid head-first and made contact with Anderson, the force of the collision appearing to knock Anderson's mask off his head, resulting in his mask making contact with his mitt, causing the baseball to fall to the ground.

Call: Upon seeing the ball on the ground, HP Umpire Wright ruled the runner safe, a call upheld after replay review.

A Legal Collision: Before we discuss the mask and mitt, we first establish that the runner's slide into home plate was legal and not a violation of any collision rule. The catcher's initial positioning gave the runner the entirety of foul territory as a pathway to home plate, and, upon receiving the ball, the catcher moved to tag the runner as the runner slid head-first in the direction of home plate. This is a legal collision.

Tag Rule
: With collision legality established, we move onto NCAA Rule 2-78, the definition of a tag: "The action of a fielder in touching a base with any part of the body while holding the ball securely and firmly in the hand or glove or touching a runner with the ball or with the glove while holding the ball securely and firmly in that hand or glove...The fielder shall maintain or regain control of his body and if he drops the ball due to his lack of body control or control of the ball, it is not a tag. A voluntary and intentional release is substantive proof of complete control." NCAA 8-5-i states that a runner is out when "the individual is touched by the ball (when not dead) securely held in the hand or glove of a fielder while the runner is not touching the base."

NCAA's Appendix E-2-g states that "force and tag play calls at any base" are reviewable.

The MLB/MiLB/pro equivalent under the Definition of Terms provides further clarify for that level of play: "It is not a tag, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his touching a base or touching a runner, the fielder drops the ball. In establishing the validity of the tag, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that they have complete control of the ball. If the fielder has made a tag and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the tag, the tag shall be adjudged to have been made." A runner is out when tagged while off a base (5.09(b)(4)).

The NFHS/high school rule 2-24-4 states "the ball is not considered as having been securely held if it is juggled or dropped after the touching, unless the runner deliberately knocks the ball from the hand of the fielder."

Analysis: The relevant phrase in college baseball is "voluntary and intentional release." In pro, the phrase "long enough to prove that they have complete control" is added. In real-time, less than five-tenths of a second transpires from the moment the fielder touches the runner until the ball falls out of the catcher's mitt. Because the catcher's own equipment (mask) caused the ball to come loose in a way that did not appear to be voluntary nor intentional, it would follow that the fielder did not complete the tag action pursuant to rule and, therefore, according to NCAA's complete control language, "it is not a tag."


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