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 why the umpires ruled that Xander Bogaerts was out on the basepaths when Big Papi conked Bobby Wilson.
Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet, it still provides events that long-time spectators have never seen before – or will again. As baseball fans, we are well aware of the written and unwritten rules that govern the game. But what is the ruling when a backswing hits a catcher?
On August 23, in the eighth inning of a tight 2-1 game at Tropicana Field; Boston’s David Ortiz swung hard at a 2-2 offering from Tampa Bay reliever Brad Boxberger, while Xander Bogaerts made a break for second from his first base perch:
Ortiz missed the pitch, but his backswing connected with the back of catcher Bobby Wilson’s helmet as he attempted to gather himself in order to throw down to second to nab Bogaerts. Home plate umpire Ron Kulpa immediately called Ortiz out on the third strike and then points towards second base and signaled Bogaerts out as well.
The rule invoked by Kulpa is 6.01(a)(5):
It is interference by a batter or a runner when:
Any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate (see Rule 6.01(j))
Note: Rule 6.01(j) is titled “Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts” and is not applicable in this instance.
Although Boston Manager John Farrell did come out to question Kulpa on the call, it is clear from the video that Big Papi’s big swing did conk Wilson, clearly affecting Wilson’s ability to throw a strike down to second base. Kulpa made the obvious and correct call.
However, what if the swing had happened earlier in the count and did not result in a strikeout? What would be the ruling then?
The likely rule invoked then would by 6.01(b) which states:
The players, coaches or any member of a team at bat shall vacate any space (including both dugouts or bullpens) needed by a fielder who is attempting to field a batted or thrown ball. If a member of the team at bat (other than a runner) hinders a fielder’s attempt to catch or field a batted ball, the ball is dead, the batter is declared out and all runners return to the bases occupied at the time of the pitch. If a member of the team at bat (other than a runner) hinders a fielder’s attempt to field a thrown ball, the ball is dead, the runner on whom the play is being made shall be declared out and all runners return to the last legally occupied base at the time of the interference.
In this alternate ending, Ortiz would have not yet become a runner when he hindered the catcher’s attempt to complete his fielding of the ball. As a result, Ortiz would have been declared out and Bogaerts would have been returned to first base.