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The Right Call Series Umpires Were Correct in Ruling Batter-Runner Interference.

The most controversial call of the 2019 postseason occurred in Game 6 of the World Series at Minute Maid Park, when the Washington Nationals' Trea Turner was called out by plate umpire Sam Holbrook for batter-runner interference in the top of the seventh inning.

Do you understand the batter-runner interference rule? Did Holbrook make the right call?

Here's what happened:

With Yan Gomes on first base and no outs, Turner hit a weak roller to the third-base side of the pitcher's mound. Astros pitcher Brad Peacock fielded the ball and threw to first. The throw arrived at the same time as Turner, who knocked the glove from first baseman Yuli Gurriel as the ball rolled into foul territory down the right-field line. As a result, Turner advanced to second base and Gomes went to third. It appeared the Nats had the makings of a rally, but Holbrook spoiled the party and called Turner out for batter-runner interference. Gomes was returned to first base because of the interference.

The umpires convened and went to the review headsets--prompting a lengthy delay--because MLB's chief baseball officer Joe Torre informed both managers before the start of the Series that they could ask the umps to go to the headsets if they were concerned about any rule being misinterpreted, whether it was specifically for a replay review or not. With the call on the field not being reviewable, it stood.

After the conference, Nationals manager Dave Martinez vehemently disputed the call, had to be restrained and was ejected. The Nats attempted to protest the game, but interference calls can neither be reviewed nor protested because they are based on judgment and you cannot protest judgment calls.

In my opinion, Holbrook made the proper ruling. Rule 5.09 (a) (11) reads,

A batter is out when: In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.

To begin with, the batter becomes a batter-runner, by rule, the moment he puts the ball in play.

The above rule is designed to protect the fielder taking the throw--normally the first baseman. In the early days of baseball, the foul lines intersected the bases. This caused many collisions between the batter-runner and the first baseman. Therefore, the base was moved to its current location where the foul line runs through the outside of the base. The 45-foot long, three-foot wide "Runner's Lane" was added in 1881 in an attempt to keep the batter-runner away from the first baseman. The lines of the "Runner's Lane" are considered part of the lane.

The batter-runner (Turner) is not required to run in the "Runner's Lane," but if he is not running in the lane and--in the judgment of the umpire--interferes with the fielder (Gurriel) taking the throw, the batter-runner (Turner) should be called out for interference. Turner ran the entire distance out of the lane and impeded Gurriel, who was attempting to catch Peacock's throw.

If the batter-runner is running in the lane, he is protected from any interference call unless he intentionally interferes with the fielder taking the throw. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a "step," "stride," "reach" or "slide" in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching the base. But he must have been running in the lane before taking a "step" or "stride," or another last-second maneuver.

In my opinion, the argument that Turner was a step or stride away from the base when he made contact with Gurriel and, therefore, should not be called for interference is erroneous because he ran the entire distance out of the lane. The "step," "stride," "reach" or "slide" language assumes that the runner was in the lane prior to making that final move.

A throw must be made for the interference call to be made. It must be a quality throw and, in the umpire's judgment, most likely catchable.

If the batter-runner is running out of the lane and the defensive team completes the play, no interference can be called unless the batter-runner interferes with the first baseman who is making a throw to another base after the putout is recorded. Because there is no violation when the defensive team completes the play, it creates the misunderstanding that there is no risk when running out of the lane.

Turner misinterpreted the rule when he said, "I ran straight to the base. I don't know how I was supposed to do anything other than what I did. I felt like I ran a straight line and got called out."

But, in his statement, Turner completely ignored the "Runner's Lane" and its purpose.

You can see the play by going to YouTube: "Trea Turner Called out for Interference".

Those who were critical of the ruling, in my opinion, do not have a fundamental understanding of the rule--and that includes the individual who produced the YouTube video as well as countless others.

This World Series squabble came 50 years after the controversial "no interference call" involving J.C. Martin in Game 4 of the '69 Fall Classic at Shea Stadium, where the New York Mets hosted the Baltimore Orioles.

With the game tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 10th and pinch-runner Rod Gaspar on second and Al Weiss on first, Martin, pinch-hitting for Tom Seaver, bunted to the mound. While running to first, Martin was hit on the arm by Pete Richert's throw, allowing Gaspar to score the winning run. Replays showed that Martin, like Turner, had been running out of the "Runner's Lane" and most likely interfered with Davey Johnson taking the throw at first base. But plate umpire Shag Crawford and first-base ump Lou DiMuro made no call, which was critical, as it gave the Mets a three-games-to-one advantage in the Series, which they won in five.

Orioles manager Earl Weaver could not argue the call at the time because he had been ejected earlier in the game.

By Rich Marazzi

Rich Marazzi is a rules consultant for the Blue Jays, Brewers, Cardinals, Diamondbacks, Dodgers, Mariners, Orioles, Phillies, Pirates, Rangers, Rays, Red Sox, Royals, Tigers, Twins, Yankees, the FOX Regional Sports Networks, ESPN, the White Sox TV announcers and WFAN radio.
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Author:Marazzi, Rich
Publication:Baseball Digest
Date:Jan 1, 2020
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