Gotta be interference

Check out this odd play:

If this happened on the diamonds I work, I would have a coach out asking me about interference. They figure that something this odd has to be an illegal action on the offense’s part.

So, is it illegal? Well, besides the obvious fact that the umpire did not call a second runner out, the answer is no – and it is in the book.

Rule 7.08 (old format):

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball;

Intent does not matter when a runner interferes with the fielding of the ball (either by having the ball strike him or hindering the fielder), but intent does matter when dealing with a thrown ball. It is the second word in the rule.

From my vantage point, Oritz clearly did not intentionally interfere with the throw. The no call looks to be a good one on this play.

On this famous play:

I am not so sure the interference was not intentional. But, Reggie got away with it.



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.

He’s gotta stop

I recently purchased the play index feature from Baseball-Reference. Holy cow is this a lot of fun to play with.

I wanted to get under the hood and think of how this tool can help me on this blog. I got to thinking about balks.

The most common balk is the “no stop” balk. Here is an example from opening day:

Here is the last part of rule 8.01(b)

The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to “beat the rule” in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete “stop” called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a “Balk.”

Umpires were told to strictly enforce the no stop rule in the ’80s. I could not remember the exact year. In messing with the play index, it became clear.

I ran a report on pitchers who balked more than 10 times in a season. This has happened 13 times in history (at least the history Baseball Reference has…which is quite a lot).

11 of those 13 happened in 1988. It happened once in 1989 and has not happened since. My keen deductive skills tell me 1988 was the year of renewed focus on the rule.

This is the type of balk that most coaches understand and try to get the umpire to call. The rules only dictate the pitcher make a complete stop. It does not say for how long. The rule of thumb is to make sure the arms and legs are not moving at the same time. If this does not happen, there had to be a stop in there somewhere.

This type of balk is covered on page 23 of RuleGraphics.

Number or name

Yesterday was Jackie Robinson day across Major League Baseball. Let’s be clear on one thing – this is a yearly event that baseball just knocks out of the park (pun totally intended). There are a lot of great events, dedications, videos, etc. all commemorating the anniversary of the day Robinson broke the color barrier (well the modern color barrier, this guy or this guy were probably the first African American player depending on your definition of “major” league). At first blush it is odd to think about why a rules/umpire blog would discuss this. Well, one of the things MLB does on this day is all players wear #42. I was watching MLB Tonight and during their tweet answering segment (they had a better name for it), someone asked how umpires handled all the players having the same number. While I am not 100% sure, I think the answer is buried in the rule book. Here is the first sentence of Rule 3.06 Comment:

To avoid any confusion, the manager should give the name of the substitute, his position in the batting order and his position on the field.

Rule 3.06 deals with substituting. Notice the comment states the manager should give the name of the substitute. In other words, the number does not matter – they are just a courtesy to help umpires, PA announcers, fans, and others to keep up with things. Here is a clip of Jonathan Papelbon wearing the wrong number in a spring training game. Obviously the umpires let him in the game. On the lineup card they listed Papelbon in the game – not Ruiz, not #51 but Papelbon. Rule 1.11 (a) (1)  now lists that all players have to be on the field with numbers. This was not always the case. While not new, the practice of wearing numbers is not as old as baseball itself. It was not until the 1930s that all teams wore numbers. That means the last Cubs World Series winning team did not wear numbers. The 1929 Indians and Yankees were the first team to go beyond experimentation and wear them all the time. The Yankees assigned their numbers based on position in the batting order. This is why Ruth was #3 and Gehrig was #4. You can read more on the history of numbers via the wikis. Uniforms are on page 11 and substitutions are on page 16 of RuleGraphics

It’s bad, but I’ve seen worse

For better or worse (most of the time worse) I root for the Cubs. The designer of the book  is a Reds fan while the illustrator likes the Braves. Yesterday the Cubs won a game in miraculous fashion. They got a 2 out, 2 strike, 2 run homer in the 9th for a 6-5 win. The losing pitcher was former Cub LaTroy Hawkins.

Hawkins was a Cub for a few years in the ’00s. He had the most painful blown save I have ever seen in my life. Even though it happened 10 years ago I still vividly remember it.

It even involves an often misunderstood rule making it something worth talking about on this blog.

Before getting into the situation, let’s get the rule out of the way. Rule 7.05(g) states:

7.05 Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance—

(g) Two bases when, with no spectators on the playing field, a thrown ball goes into the stands, or into a bench (whether or not the ball rebounds into the field), or over or under or through a field fence, or on a slanting part of the screen above the backstop, or remains in the meshes of a wire screen protecting spectators. The ball is dead. When such wild throw is the first play by an infielder, the umpire, in awarding such bases, shall be governed by the position of the runners at the time the ball was pitched; in all other cases the umpire shall be governed by the position of the runners at the time the wild throw was made

Lots of coaches out there use the phrase “one plus one” to describe awards on overthrows. They think the runner gets the base they are going to plus one more. While these folks get the ultimate outcome right a lot of the time, they get there in the wrong fashion.

The rule clearly states that a runner gets two bases from where they were at the time the ball was pitched. This is why the batter gets second base on a ball thrown out of play – two bases from home (where they started).

Now, for the Hawkins play. Here is the box score from Baseball Reference. In the top of the ninth, you will see a play coded like this:

Lineout: P; Michaels Scores/No RBI/unER/Adv on E1 (throw); Bell Scores/No RBI/unER; Offerman to 3B

In English this is what happened. Down by 1 run, the Phillies had the bases loaded with 1 out. The batter lined out to Hawkins. At this point, all he has to do is throw to a base to nab one of the runners that had not tagged up yet.

What did Hawkins do? In throwing to first, the ball hit the runner’s helmet and flew into the stands. This is where the rule comes in – each runner gets 2 bases from where they were at the start of the pitch. This means the runner from 3rd AND the runner from 2nd were allowed to score. Now the Cubs were losing.

I have umpired numerous games where a coach comes out in this situation and pleads the runner on 2nd should only get 3rd. See he gets “the base he is going to and one more”. Since they were returning to 2nd, they should only get 3rd.

This is not the way the rule was written. The umps got it right (of course they did since this is pretty easy). The Cubs were retired 1-2-3 in the ninth and lost. I have not seen anything like it since.

Awards on balls thrown out of play is covered on page 60 of RuleGraphics.

Hands are part of what?

Without a doubt the most prevalent rule myth I hear is “hands are a part of the bat”. The argument is that if a batter is hit by a pitch on his hands, he does not get first base because the ball did not hit him, it hit his bat. Why did it hit his bat? Because the hands are part of the bat.

I have no idea why this myth exists. It is 100% false.

Rule 6.08(d) states a batter becomes a runner when he is touched by a pitched ball he is not trying to hit.

Further the definitions section defines TOUCH as

To touch a player or umpire is to touch any part of his body, his clothing
or his equipment.

It clearly says any part of his body. Last time I checked my hands were part of my body.

Now, for the stubborn out there that cannot be swayed by language, let’s sway them by looking at what happens in a game situation when the pitch hits a hand.

Our guide on this journey is Jeff Bagwell. Known for his odd batting stance and Hall of Fame numbers, Bagwell along with Craig Biggio terrorized National League pitching for the Astros in the ’90s and ’00s.

On August 10, 1994 Bagwell got hit by a pitch in a game. As this article points out the pitch actually broke his hand. What happened when he got in the hand – he got his base. The boxscore is available on baseball-reference.

Look at the play by play in the bottom of the third – Jeff Bagwell received his base.

Bagwell was having a monster year that season. The strike ended up cancelling the rest of the season after his injury and he was named MVP.

Why did I choose Bagwell when talking about this rule. Well, it happened to him in 1993. Check the play by play in the bottom of the 1st – he got his base. Unbelievably it also happened to him in 1995. Again, the play by play shows him getting a base.

Talk about bad luck to lose significant sections of three seasons on the same injury. At least his on base percentage improved after each of those at bats.

The ultimate lesson on this stroll down memory lane is don’t be one of those “hands is part of the bat” people. If the ball hits flesh, the batter gets his base (if he did not swing).

Hit by Pitch is covered on page 41 of RuleGraphics.

History Lesson – Balk

I saw this come across the Twittersphere today:

Said another way “once a pitcher makes a move towards the plate he cannot throw to a base”.

As discussed before balks are very confusing, but balks where a guy starts pitching and just stops are pretty easy to see and call. Cue Mr. Jake Peavy:

This is what we call an elephant balk – so big and obvious it cannot be missed.

I thought the Tweet was cool because it shows how long this rule has been on the books. That is the beauty of baseball – many of the original rules remain in place with limited changes.

Balks are covered on pages 21, 22 and 23 of RuleGraphics.