Rulebook 101: Climbing the Walls

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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 climbing the walls can be acceptable behavior from time to time.

Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. And 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. But, what is the ruling when a player jumps on top of the wall that separates the field from the fans?

At Wrigley Field, first baseman Anthony Rizzo of the Chicago Cubs tracked a foul pop by Keon Broxton all the way to the wall… and then hopped on top of that wall to make the catch, leaning into the stands. While doing his best Lauren Hernandez impression, Rizzo jumped atop the wall and then stretched his glove hand into the parting crowd to snag the ball; he impressively dismounted with a one-footed launch over the tarp:

Rule 5.09(a)(1) states that a batter is out when:

His fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder;

A catch is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession. It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball. It is not a catch if a fielder touches a fly ball which then hits a member of the offensive team or an umpire and then is caught by another defensive player. In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional. If the fielder has made the catch and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the catch, the ball shall be adjudged to have been caught.

This definition supports the notion that Rizzo had clearly caught the ball. However, the question was not whether he made the catch – it was whether he was in a legal area to make the catch. There are two comments that surround this particular rule, where we can look for clarification.

The first comment specifies:

A fielder may reach into, but not step into, a dugout to make a catch, and if he holds the ball, the catch shall be allowed. A fielder, in order to make a catch on a foul ball nearing a dugout or other out-of-play area (such as the stands), must have one or both feet on or over the playing surface (including the lip of the dugout) and neither foot on the ground inside the dugout or in any other out-of-play area. Ball is in play, unless the fielder, after making a legal catch, steps or falls into a dugout or other out-of-play area, in which case the ball is dead. Status of runners shall be as described in Rule 5.06 (b)(3)(C) Comment

This helps somewhat. Rizzo’s catch is not illegal simply for reaching into an out-of-play area – in this case the stands. However, it remains unclear if the top of the wall constitutes part of the playing surface.

There is still another comment:

A catch is legal if the ball is finally held by any fielder, even though juggled, or held by another fielder before it touches the ground. Runners may leave their bases the instant the first fielder touches the ball. A fielder may reach over a fence, railing, rope or other line of demarcation to make a catch. He may jump on top of a railing, or canvas that may be in foul ground. No interference should be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. If a fielder, attempting a catch at the edge of the dugout, is “held up” and kept from an apparent fall by a player or players of either team and the catch is made, it shall be allowed.

The comment here addresses a number of different scenarios, such as one player failing to hold onto the ball and a second player swooping in to catch it before makes contact with the ground. But, for our purposes, the key sentence is in the middle of the comment:

He may jump on top of a railing, or canvas that may be in foul ground.

The rule book clearly defines that the railing /top of the wall is a part of the playing surface. Thus, Rizzo’s Olympic-style routine ended with Broxton walking back to the dugout. The Wrigley Field crowd should also get an assist for leaving their player and the ball alone and not going for the cheap souvenir – after all, it’s a 1-0 game.

Of course, Anthony Rizzo’s catch ranks far behind this great catch by the Hankyu Braves’ Masafumi Yamamori, who took away a home run by the Lotte Orions’ batter by literally climbing the chain link fence that separated the field of play from the bleachers.


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

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Brandon has worked the graveyard shift for a decade and, like any good vampire, is averse to the sun. His love of the Red Sox is so deep, he follows eight teams on a daily basis. He lives in Norwich, CT where he often goes to Dodd Stadium to watch minor league baseball with his best friend, his wife Dawn.

1 COMMENT

  1. Nice piece Brandon. For those who may not be aware of the history of the “juggling” clause (and might wonder why it’s there), it’s sometimes referred to as the “DiMaggio Rule” – for Joe, not Dom.

    It used to be that a runner couldn’t tag up and advance on a fly until a catch was completed. Knowing this, with a runner on third and less that two outs, Joe would sometimes deliberately juggle a fly ball while running it back into the infield and complete the catch only when he was close enough that there was no way the runner could move up. Thus the rule revision.

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