Sunday, February 18, 2024

Batter-Runner Interference at UCF? A College Question

A batter-runner ran into a catcher attempting to throw out a baserunner during Friday's Bryant vs UCF game, a no-call ruled legal by HP Umpire Daniel Jimenez who deemed UCF batter Mikey Kluska did not interfere with Bryant catcher Jackson Phinney during a bunt attempt.

With a runner on first and none out in the 7th inning of a close 11-10 game, Kluska dropped down a bunt on the first pitch he saw, presumably a sacrifice attempt. But as catcher Phinney fielded the ball and attempted a throw to second base, a hindering action occurred as batter-runner Kluska ran into the catcher.

To determine whether or not this is interference requires a visit to the rulebook.

NCAA Rule 8-5-d states that a runner is out when they commit interference, specifically when—"The runner interferes intentionally with a throw or thrown ball, or interferes with a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball. If a double play is likely, and the runner intentionally interferes with the fielder who is attempting to field or throw the ball, both runner and batter-runner shall be declared out."

Had this play occurred in MLB/MiLB, the rule is somewhat similar. For instance, OBR 5.09(b)(3) puts the runner out when "they intentionally interfere with a thrown ball; or hinder a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball," while the rule dedicated to interference, OBR 6.01(a), in provision (10) puts a runner out for interference when "He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a
batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball." We must return to 5.09(a)(13) to see this also applies to a fielder in the act of throwing: "...intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play."

High school treats this play similarly pursuant to NFHS 8-4-2g: "any runner is out when the runner intentionally interferes with a throw or a thrown ball."

With all rulesets roughly the same, we concentrate on our sequence. We notice the catcher appears to field the batted ball successfully, prior to the batter-runner/catcher collision. Thus, the catcher's right of way protection during a batted ball has expired, because the ball is no longer a batted ball, having been fielded.

Instead, the batter-runner/catcher interaction occurs during the attempted throwing phase of play, meaning the more stringent standard of intentionality applies. If the batter-runner's actions are deemed intentional, this is interference and, conceivably, the dead ball can result in a double play if the umpire deems circumstances are appropriate. But if the hindrance is deemed unintentional—an unfortunate tangle and nothing more—then the rules do not support an interference call in this case.


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