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 Tulowitzki baserunner interference was called and how the rule was applied.
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. And yet, sometimes we can be jostled by an outcome.
Such was the case in Toronto recently. With Jose Bautista on second base and Troy Tulowitzki on first, Dioner Navarro skied a Rick Porcello pitch in the infield. First baseman Hanley Ramirez started to run toward the infield and crashed into Tulo as he meandered back to first base.
First base umpire James Hoye immediately called Tulowitzki out and allowed Navarro to take his place at first base. What was the call? 6.01(a)(10) of the MLB Rule Book states:
It is interference by a batter or a runner when:
He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball, provided that if two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more of them, the umpire shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of this rule, and shall not declare the runner out for coming in contact with a fielder other than the one the umpire determines to be entitled to field such a ball. The umpire shall call the runner out in accordance with Rule 5.09(b)(3). If the batter-runner is adjudged not to have hindered a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball, and if the base runner’s interference is adjudged not to be intentional, the batter-runner shall be awarded first base.
Rule 5.09(b)(3) states:
Any runner is out when:
He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball.
And the ascribed penalty is:
PENALTY FOR INTERFERENCE: The runner is out and the ball is dead. If the umpire declares the batter, batter-runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise provided by these rules.
The penalty phase in this particular rule scenario is important to consider. Not only was the ball ultimately caught by Ramirez, the situation was one that could have called for the infield fly rule. However, since the call of interference was made, the ball was dead, negating any play that happened after the call. Therefore, Tulo was declared out for interference. Since it was considered unintentional, the batter (Navarro) was awarded first base.
While it did not ultimately matter (as Michael Saunders flew out to end the inning), the Red Sox caught a break in replacing Tulowitzki with the much slower Navarro at first base. However, this exposes a potential flaw in the “penalty” had roles been reversed. If Tulowitzki had hit the popup and Navarro had unintentionally interfered, the Blue Jays would have received a baserunner upgrade, which would not seem to be a penalty at all! Such is the way of the rule book – it truly dishes out blind justice.