Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet it still provides long-time spectators with events that they have never seen before – or will again. And sometimes, bat boys run the wrong way.
On June 1, at Citi Field in New York City, the Mets played host to the Milwaukee Brewers. In the top of the fourth inning with the bases loaded and the Brewers ahead 2-0, Eric Sogard stepped up to the plate to face Zach Wheeler. On the second pitch of the at-bat, Sogard launched a sky high pop up near the Brewers dugout. Third baseman Wilmer Flores was in position to make an easy catch, before running into an unexpected obstacle:
The umpires initially called Sogard out on interference, but immediately huddled and changed the call to no out. The 2017 MLB Rule Book covers incidents like these with Rule 6.01(d), Unintentional Interference:
In case of unintentional interference with play by any person herein authorized to be on the playing field, the ball is alive. If the interference is intentional, the ball shall be dead at the moment of the interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference.
Unsurprisingly, the rule has a comment to bring clarity to the situation:
The question of intentional or unintentional interference shall be decided on the basis of the person’s action. For example: a bat boy, ball attendant, policeman, etc., who tries to avoid being touched by a thrown or batted ball but still is touched by the ball would be involved in unintentional interference. If, however, he kicks the ball or picks it up or pushes it, that is considered intentional interference, regardless of what his thought may have been.
While the comment does bring some clarity, the rule book also puts forth a play scenario to help with interpreting the rule:
Batter hits ball to shortstop, who fields ball but throws wild past first baseman. The coach at first base, to avoid being hit by the ball, falls to the ground and the first baseman on his way to retrieve the wild thrown ball, runs into the coach. The batter-runner finally ends up on third base. Whether the umpire should call interference on the part of the coach is up to the judgement of the umpire and if the umpire felt that the coach did all he could do to avoid interfering with the play, no interference needs to be called. If, in the judgement of the umpire, the coach was attempting to make it appear that he was trying not to interfere, the umpire should rule interference.
Mets Manager Terry Collins argued against the call of unintentional interference, which eventually resulted in his ejection by third base umpire Fieldin Culbreth. Collins continued to plead his case after the game:
The bat boy/ball boy is allowed on the field. If he is trying to get out of the way, contact is justified… My issue was, it’s a routine catch. It would be one thing if it’s a difficult play. That was my argument.
Unfortunately for Collins, the rule book makes no mention of adjustments for whether the play is difficult or easy. The only argument that may have swayed the umpires to revert the call back to intentional interference would be to state that the unnamed bat boy meant to run into Flores in order to keep him from catching the ball. However, despite the fact that he was wearing the uniform of the opposition, the bat boy was in the employ of the New York Mets. It would be difficult to argue that he intentionally tried to harm his employer.
While the play gave new life to the Brewers, it was short-lived. Sogard could have knocked in a couple of runs with a single, but instead he ended the inning with a 6-4-3 double play. The interference was not only unintentional, it was also inconsequential.