Baseball is a unique sport filled with situations that you may only see once every few years, if at all. Umpires must be prepared to rule on these situations in real time, but we have our own expert to rely upon. Brandon Magee explains what would happen if thrown beer cans connect with a fielder in the process of making a catch.
Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet it still provides long-time spectators events that they have never seen before – or will again. As baseball fans, we are well aware of the written and unwritten rules that govern the game. Sometime, however, it is fans and not players that attempt to subvert the rules of play.
With two outs in the bottom of the seventh inning of the 2016 American League Wild Card Game, pinch hitter Melvin Upton Jr. lifted a long fly ball off Baltimore reliever Donnie Hart. Left fielder Hyun Soo Kim raced back near the warning track to catch the ball, but as he was getting into position, a beer can landed on the field.
While Kim was not conked by the flying brew and was able to corral Upton’s fly ball, what recourse would the umpires have had if the idiot fan had connected with his Molson Missile?
Rule 6.01(e) addresses the effects of spectator interference:
When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference.
APPROVED RULING: If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out.
If the beer tosser had his way and Kim missed the catch, left field umpire David Rackley would have been able to invoke 6.01(e) and declare Upton out. Given that it was the third out of the inning, there would have been no need for further action.
However, if there were a runner on third with only one out, the act of spectator interference could have played out differently. In the comment section for this rule, an example is given on how that situation might be called:
EXAMPLE: Runner on third base, one out and a batter hits a fly ball deep to the outfield (fair or foul). Spectator clearly interferes with the outfielder attempting to catch the fly ball. Umpire calls the batter out for spectator interference. Ball is dead at the time of the call. Umpire decides that because of the distance the ball was hit, the runner on third base would have scored after the catch if the fielder had caught the ball which was interfered with, therefore, the runner is permitted to score. This might not be the case if such fly ball was interfered with a short distance from home plate.
Of course, umpires are human, and in a case where a “fan” is attempting to harm an opposition player, they may recognize that rewarding such shenanigans only encourages future bad behavior. Therefore, they might decide that there was no possible way for anyone on third to score on that play.
The fans in Toronto are boisterous, loud, and fervently loyal to their Blue Jays. They should do everything in their power to encourage their team to victory. However, throwing cans of beer onto the playing field is not only against the rules of baseball, it is against the rules of civility. One can only hope that the Toronto police and the security at the Rogers Centre apprehended the assailant and pursued whatever charges keep the interloper away from baseball for the rest of his life.