SCENARIO: In a recent Monday Night Lights 11U game the pitch was delivered to the batter and the catcher made the catch of a strike and the batter swung way late and hit the catcher’s glove with his bat after the catcher had already caught the ball. After conferring together, the two umpires called the pitch a strike and play continued. Was this the right call?
WHAT IS CATCHER’S INTERFERENCE? - Catcher's interference occurs when the catcher somehow obstructs or hinders the batter's ability to swing at a pitch. Whether on purpose or inadvertent, it makes no difference. The most common form of interference is when the batter’s bat hits the catcher’s glove during his swing at a legal pitch. It is important to note that when it happens the play is NOT called dead. The play continues until Time is called and the appropriate bases are awarded. There is an exception that allows the offensive team to decline the penalty, and that is why the play is allowed to come to fruition.
RULES - The Official Rules of Major League Baseball covers catcher’s interference in 3 different sections. This makes rulings rather confusing when a play ensues immediately following the interference. Section 6.08(c) is the most well known reference. This reference was changed in the 2006 rules and eliminated one of the scenarios...
(c) The catcher or any fielder interferes with him. If a play follows the interference, the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire that he elects to decline the interference penalty and accept the play. Such election shall be made immediately at the end of the play. However, if the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batsman, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, the play proceeds without reference to the interference.
Rule 6.08(c) Comment: If catchers interference is called with a play in progress the umpire will allow the play to continue because the manager may elect to take the play. If the batter-runner missed first base, or a runner misses his next base, he shall be considered as having reached the base, as stated in Note of Rule 7.04(d). Examples of plays the manager might elect to take:
1. Runner on third, one out, batter hits fly ball to the outfield on which the runner scores but catchers interference was called. The offensive manager may elect to take the run and have batter called out or have runner remain at third and batter awarded first base.
2. Runner on second base. Catcher interferes with batter as he bunts ball fairly sending runner to third base. The manager may rather have runner on third base with an out on the play than have runners on second and first.
If a runner is trying to score by a steal or squeeze from third base, note the additional penalty set forth in Rule 7.07.
If the catcher interferes with the batter before the pitcher delivers the ball, it shall not be considered interference on the batter under Rule 6.08(c). In such cases, the umpire shall call Time and the pitcher and batter start over from scratch.
The batter is awarded first base unless there is a play and the offensive coach decides to decline the interference. Runners forced to advance because of the awarding the batter first base may do so without risk, but what happens when a runner is at second and he is stealing when the interference occurs? Section 7.04 deals with this scenario...
7.04 - Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when --
(d) While he is attempting to steal a base, the batter is interfered with by the catcher or any other fielder.
And finally, what happens when there is a squeeze play steal at home with catcher’s interference?
7.07 - If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk, the batter shall be awarded first base on the interference and the ball is dead.
TRADITIONAL INTERPRETATION - In our original scenario, there is no exception clause for a late swing and therefore the catcher interfered with the batter and should have been awarded first base. Catcher’s need to be patient and take their position behind the batter wherever they feel needful to avoid interference with the batter.
ON THE FIELD RULING - The umpires conferred and due to the fact that the catcher already had the ball in his glove they determined the pitch in the strike zone to be a strike. They felt the swing was late and that there would have been no interference if there was a normal swing. Batter’s are entitled to their swing and catchers are responsible to stay out of their space. Unfortunately, the rules have no exception and the umpires made an errant call.
RANGER’S DAVID MURPHY - In my research I found an interesting article from 2011 about professional baseball player David Murphy. He has been awarded more catcher interference calls than any modern era baseball player. Umpires do not feel that he is trying to purposefully hit the catcher’s glove. Instead, when he gets down in the count he often waits until the last possible moment to foul off bad pitches. This results in over-zealous catchers reaching in for the pitch and getting their gloves hit by the bat. Umpire’s have warned him that they are not going to award him the base when it happens next, but there never appears to be any malice when it occurs. This infers that umpire’s have the discretion to rule the interference intentional on the part of the batter and therefore NOT catcher’s interference. I love this line from the article... Said bench coach Jackie Moore, another former catcher, "Pretty soon you're going to have catchers back on the grass when he's up."
I originally embedded an online video from the MLB website, but they have now disallowed embedding so that they can play you a paid commercial first. Here is the link if you want to see it...
It is also interesting to note that rule 8.08(c) was modified in 2006 to clear up some confusion...
2006 MLB RULE CHANGES
Official Baseball Rules Changed for First Time in 10 Years
A revitalized Official Rules Committee in Major League Baseball has handed down 23 changes to the Official Baseball Rules. These are the first changes to the rule book in 10 years. And for the first time, the changes came about with umpire input. Larry Young became the first umpire ever named to the MLB Rules Committee last year.
It is important to understand how these rule changes work. The changes are automatically in effect for the 2006 season in the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues (NAPBL…the minor leagues, administered by the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp., or PBUC) and all other levels of baseball that play under the Official Rules.
Promulgation of the rules at the Major League Baseball (MLB) level involves one additional step. The Rules Committee has the power to change the rules, but in order for the changes to be implemented in MLB, the Players Association must approve them. For the 2006 seasons the Players Association has approved only four of the changes; specifically, changes which cannot affect on-field play. The changes below that are in effect this MLB season are numbers 1, 4, 13, and 18.
Following are the 2006 changes to the Official Baseball Rules:
- Rule Change #15: Paragraphs altered regarding enforcement of catcher’s interference.
The second- and third-to-the-last paragraphs of Rule 6.08(c) were deleted. The Rules Committee stated that 6.08(c) was “amended so as not to be in conflict with Rule 7.07.”
Rule 6.08(c) in its previous form dealt with whether catcher’s interference would be enforced, nullified, or ignored (i.e., manager elects to take the results of the play). The paragraphs that were deleted spelled out in detail the enforcement of catcher’s interference when there was not a runner from third stealing and the manager did not want the result of the play. The interference was then enforced as follows; batter awarded first, runners forced to advance or stealing get their advance base, other runners returned to time-of-pitch bases. To repeat, this stipulation has been deleted.
Two other rules have something to say about the enforcement of catcher’s interference. Rule 7.04(d) deals with a runner stealing during catcher’s interference. Such runner gets his advance base if the interference is enforced. Rule 7.07 deals specifically with a runner from third stealing during catcher’s interference (usually a “squeeze play”); all runners get their advance base if the interference is enforced. Prior to the deletion of the two paragraphs, Rule 6.08(c) had made an incomplete attempt to address both these situations and the enforcement of the rule if both situations were absent.
The deletion of the two paragraphs reduces 6.08(c) back to dealing only with whether the
interference becomes nullified or the manager will elect to take the results of the play. For instances wherein there is a runner stealing home, the reader is referred to Rule 7.07 in a new casebook entry under the rule.
The enforcement of catcher’s interference remains unchanged despite the fact that the rule book no longer explicitly states what an umpire must do to enforce the interference when there was not a steal of home and the manager does not want the result of the play. The casebook examples in 6.08(c) imply the steps in enforcement, namely, that the batter gets first, runners forced to advance get their next base, and those not forced and not stealing must return to their time-of pitch bases.
ESO editor’s note: Although the Rules Committee cited a conflict between 6.08(c) and 7.07 in making this change, the only conflict between the two rules was (and still is) this: 6.08(c) calls the defensive infraction catcher’s interference and 7.07 calls it interference and a balk (called in some circles a “catcher’s balk”). Why the rule makers of 1920 wanted to confuse the issue and create a “double penalty” in 7.07 is anyone’s guess.
The easier solution back in 1920 would have been to amend all three related rules such that every runner gets his advance base when a catcher interferes with the batter. Or they could have called 7.07 an exception to the rule, which would have been much more umpire-friendly. Since umpires do not study scoring rules, and pitchers are the players who commit balks, most umpires would not look at the situation in 7.07 as a balk, but as an exception to the rule for enforcing catcher’s interference. In other words, when catcher’s interference is enforced, a non-stealing, non-forced runner is awarded his advance base only if there was a runner stealing home on the play (which is how the infraction is currently supposed to be enforced).
Although there never was any other conflict between 6.08(c) and 7.07, there was one point of confusion. Take the following play: Runners on second and third and the squeeze play is on.
Runner from third is stealing home and the catcher interferes with the batter. Runner from
second missed the sign and did not steal. An umpire familiar only with (or looking only at) the former Rule 6.08(c) would have thought that the runner from second must stay at second. But if he was familiar with 7.07 he would have known that the runner was supposed to get third. The deletion of the paragraphs and rewording of 6.08(c) will prevent this confusion in the future.
But with the effort to correct the problem came the new problem cited above. No longer does the rule book specifically tell umpires what to do when enforcing catcher’s interference unless there is a runner stealing home (which is of course the rare case). Rather, the rule book reader will have to deduce from the casebook plays under 6.08(c) that the batter is awarded first, forced runners get a base, and non-stealing, non-forced runners must return to their time-of-pitch bases unless there was a R3 stealing home.
The most obvious problem relative to catcher’s interference is that the rule is treated in three completely separate areas. Fortunately, the new rule language in 6.08(c) does refer the reader to 7.07. However, it does not refer the reader to 7.04(d), nor does either of the latter rules refer back to 6.08(c). Most glaring of these defects is the failure of 6.08(c) to direct the reader to 7.04(d) when a runner is stealing. The runner in the second example play of 6.08(c) might very well have been running on the pitch (though the play does not state this), and an umpire unfamiliar with 7.04(d) will be unaware that the stealing runner should be awarded his advance base.
From the website www.RulesOfBaseball.com they have a catcher’s interference test question...
Runner on third base (R3), one out. The batter swings, contacts the catcher's mitt, and hits a deep fly ball to right field (that is caught for an out). The plate umpire correctly signals 'interference' on the catcher. R3 tags up and scores. Ruling?
- The ball is immediately dead on the catcher's interference and the batter-runner is awarded first base. R3 back to third.
- Since the offense scored, the play stands.
- The umpire goes to the offensive manager and asks him whether he would like the interference enforced (batter-runner awarded first, R3 back to third), or the results of the play (batter-runner out, R3 scores).
- The umpire allowed the entire play to occur. Then, since the batter-runner did not reach first, he enforces the interference (batter-runner awarded first, R3 back to third). He will grant the offensive manager the results of the play if the manager requests such, but he does not offer the option.
The correct answer is "4." The rule book does not specifically state whether the manager should be offered the option to take the play, or whether he must request it. A strict interpretation of the rule book's language is used, and the manager must request his option to take the results of the play.
So do you think you have it figured out? The research for this question led to incredible discoveries and my head is spinning. And although rare, it is important to know the 3 MLB rules that apply when it comes into effect. Where were the runners when it occurred? Was the runner at third base stealing home? Is it interference or a balk?