There were 2 plays over the weekend dealing with interference. Both were called correctly but the outcome was very different.
First, let’s look at the important part the rule. It is 6.01(a)(10) : 7.08(b) in old format.
It is interference by a batter or a runner when:
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 rule is misunderstood by a lot of people. Yes, the runner has the obligation to avoid contact. Some folks think the runner “has a right to the baseline”. Nope.
Here is a case of this from over the weekend.
Runner runs right into the fielder. Umpire quickly makes the out call. Easy.
Now, here is where things get trickier. Again to the rule book:
If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the
hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out.
This is Rule 6.01(a) Comment: Rule 7.08(b) Comment in old format.
In plain English, you cannot expect a runner to vacate his base. But, he cannot do anything intentional to interfere with the play. Notice the rules take this intentional interference very seriously. If a runner does interfere, the umpire will call out the runner and the batter-runner getting two outs.This actually happened this weekend as well.
It looks like the umpire was about to bang an out and then correctly remembered the rule. In my mind there is no doubt that Reyes was not trying to interfere. Looks like he was trying not to get hit with the ball.
One interesting note from this play. Yes, a runner can be safe from contacting a fielder if on the base. This protection does not extend to being hit by a batted ball. If a grounder (or fly ball) strikes a runner, he is out even if on the base or not.
Page 55 of RuleGraphics discusses interference of this type.