Wednesday, June 2, 2021

PIT's Batter Illegal Action vs KC was Interference

Shortly after ejecting Pirates manager Derek Shelton in Kansas City, HP Umpire Dan Bellino called Pittsburgh batter Bryan Reynolds out for illegal action via interference with Royals catcher Salvador Perez, invoking Official Baseball Rule 6.03(a)(3), one of baseball's few rules that specifically makes it potentially illegal for a batter to step out of the batter's box as the catcher is attempting to make a play at home base.

Play: With two out and the bases loaded, Reynolds attempted to check his swing on a two-strike slider from Royals pitcher Kyle Zimmer that bounced in the dirt and away from catcher Perez. As Perez ran to retrieve the ball, Pirates baserunner R3 Kevin Newman sprinted home, sliding headfirst into home plate as Perez tagged batter Reynolds.

Call: HP Umpire Bellino ruled Reynolds out for interfering with Perez's play at home base.

: OBR 6.03(a)(3) states, "a batter is out for illegal action when they interfere with the catcher's fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter's box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher's play at home base."

Analysis: With replays conclusively indicating that Reynolds stepped out of the batter's box, we turn to a parsing of the rule itself. "Stepping out of the batter's box" and "making any other movement that hinders the catcher's play home base" are separated by the conjunction "or" and not "and" which means that if either of the two criteria are satisfied, it is enough to invoke the rule.

Thus, Reynolds has fulfilled the barebones requirement for illegal action (to avoid interference upon exiting the batter's box, Reynolds could have walked up the first baseline, where no play was occurring). 

At this point, it should go without saying: Interference need not be intentional to be called. Much of the time, in fact, interference is called due to a player's unintentional action in impeding an opponent.

Finally, we consider the argument of Perez tagging batter Reynolds instead of playing on runner Newman. Recall that catcher's interference applies not just in the event of a bat making contact with a catcher's mitt or glove, but also in the circumstance of a catcher jumping in front of home plate to catch a pitch before it gets to the batter, thereby depriving the batter of the freedom of choice to either swing at or take the pitch.

In a similar vein, a batter may be guilty of illegal action via interference with the catcher by depriving the catcher of the freedom of choice to make a play on a baserunner. As the catcher is guilty of interference by preempting the batter's decision, so too is the batter positioned illegally who impedes the catcher's ability to choose whether to make a play at home base.

Insofar as visual interference or obstruction is concerned, the MLB Umpire Manual authorizes a call of visual illegal action by a fielder who stands in front of a baserunner, thus depriving the runner of the ability to see a play being made elsewhere on the field (e.g., an outfielder catching a fly ball for the purposes of timing a tag-up during a sacrifice fly situation). Through this interpretation, we know that baseball authorizes calls of "visual" illegality, as well.

As for the penalty, if this same interference occurred with less than two out, runner R3 Newman, not batter Reynolds, would be out: "Any runner is out when they attempt to score on a play in which the batter interferes with the play at home base before two are out. With two out, the interference puts the batter out and no score counts" (OBR 5.09(b)(8)).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Ump Bellino calls Reynolds for Illegal Action in KC (CCS)


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