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 some catches defy explanation.
In the bottom of the fifth inning of Tuesday’s wild tilt versus the Cleveland Indians, Hanley Ramirez led off the inning with a tremendous blast that seemed certain to put the Red Sox only one run behind Cleveland. But centerfielder Austin Jackson had other ideas:
Jackson’s acrobatics and subsequent fall into the bullpen was confirmed to be an out on replay – but what are the rules involved?
5.09(a)(1) of the 2017 Major League Baseball Rule Book states:
A batter is out when his fair or foul ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder.
The rule book further clarifies what a catch is:
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.
There is a comment to the definition of a catch which further clarifies the boundaries of a valid catch:
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.
There is also a comment specific to rule 5.09(a)(1) which says:
A fielder may reach into, but not step into, a dugout to make a catch, and if he holds theball, 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 over the playing surface (including the lip of the dugout) and neither foot on the ground inside the dugout or in any 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.
Although the specific term bullpen is not utilized in any of these descriptions, the issue of a valid catch around any “boundary” area would include the walls around the park, the fan seating areas or, in the case of Fenway, the bullpen. Therefore, the issue of validating the catch comes down to three questions:
- Was the ball caught in a legal fashion (i.e. not dropped)?
- Was at least one of Jackson’s feet remaining over the actual playing field?
- Did he have a foot on a surface outside of the official boundary?
The last two are easy to see in real time. Jackson’s leap kept him within the confines of the ballpark at all time, and it was not until he had actually caught the ball and hit the fencing that he fell out of play. The first question was less apparent without the aid of instant replay, as his flip into the pen obscured the potential of a dropped ball. However, the video is quite definitive: Austin Jackson was in full possession of the ball for his entire trip.
Hanley’s deep fly was smacked with no Red Sox on the base paths. However, the rule book does address the case where a player falls into an out-of-play area with runners on base with 5.06(b)(3)(C) which reads:
Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when a fielder, after catching a fly ball, steps or falls into any out-of-play area.
Austin Jackson’s incredible catch may not have happened in any other ballpark: his acrobatic tumble into the bullpen would have been much more difficult in the 29 other major league parks, where the standard fence is more than waist high. But, in Fenway, if you take a tumble over the short wall, into the bullpen, and hold the ball – the rule book says the batter is out. After lots of video replays, of course.