There was a pretty interesting play in the Mariners/Angles game the other night. Before showing the play, here is the rule (old numbering system):
7.09 It is interference by a batter or a runner when—
(j) He 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;
This is boiler plate, baseball rules 101. The runner has to yield to a fielder making an attempt to field the ball.
The batter delays for a second to watch the ball. This delay causes contact and the umpire kills the ball and bangs him out.
But, wait there is more. Like the English language itself, the baseball rules have some exceptions.
Here is the comment right underneath 7.09.
Rule 7.09(j) Comment: When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called.
“Obstruction” by a fielder attempting to field a ball should be called only in very flagrant and violent cases because the rules give him the right of way, but of course such “right of way” is not a license to, for example, intentionally trip a runner even though fielding the ball. If the catcher is fielding the ball and the first baseman or pitcher obstructs a runner going to first base “obstruction” shall be called and the base runner awarded first base.
Why the exception? When the ball is right in front of home plate, there is not time for a batter to react and avoid. Basically, both players, if they are doing their job, are forced to be in the same place at the same time.
Umpires call this a train wreck or tangle/untangle. Interference or obstruction should not be called unless one of the players does something outside the norm. In this situation, the batter-runner just stopped. This caused the call.
Let’s go back to the 1975 World Series for a similar play with a different outcome.
In this instance both the catcher and runner were doing what they were supposed to be doing. Contact could not be avoided. The umpires ruled to play on. Tough call for the Red Sox – of course if Fisk would have made a better throw the arguments would not have happened.
The difference in these plays is subtle, but they are there. That is why those umpires make it to the top levels of the game because they know the difference.