Obstruction Rule: Runner or Fielder?


Besides the “balk,” one of the least understood rules is the one regarding fielder or runner interference on the basepaths.  Whenever a runner intersects with a fielder, there is bound to be an argument about who committed interference.  [SEE Rule 7.08]

Let’s look at two plays and see what you think.

Ninth inning and no score in the game.  No outs with runners on First and Second and the #8 batter is asked to perform a sacrifice bunt to move the runners into scoring position.

Batting lefty against a RHP, the batter bunts the ball hard; the weak line drive peters out and lands about half way up the First base line near the chalk.

The catcher is coming up the line behind the baserunner and the pitcher runs toward the ball and then dives for the ball.

As he falls his glove deflects the ball into foul territory, just inches on the right side of the line.  His dive for the ball that is resting in fair territory causes him to roll toward the runner, who avoids contact by running out of the baseline.

The catcher, who has been following a few feet behind the runner, snatches the ball and throws to first and the First baseman makes the catch with his foot on the bag, just before the batter/runner comes down on the bag.

The defensive team’s manager argues that the runner is out for running outside the basepath during the last 60 feet from the plate.  He argues that his pitcher never made contact, so the obstruction rule does not apply.

The offensive team’s manager argues that the pitcher forced the runner out of the basepath and that the runner is safe and, since the runners who started at First and Second we off on contact, they should be awarded two bases.

RULING:  Even though there was no contact, the umpire calls obstruction on the pitcher.  He rules that the runner, seeing the pitcher rolling toward him, had just cause to leave the baseline to avoid being knocked down by the rolling reliever.

He points out to the defensive team’s manager that the pitcher did not have the ball when he rolled toward the runner.

However, the offensive team’s manger loses his bid to have the runners move up two bases; umpires award the runner the base they would have advanced to, if there had not been an obstruction.

The runner is safe at first and the bases are now loaded with no outs.

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Bottom of the 9th in a 5-5 tie with one and a runner on Third base.  The batting team tries a safety squeeze, but the ball hits the plate and into a shoulder high arc toward the pitcher.

The runner is caught off Third and a rundown ensues.

The Third baseman tosses the ball to the catcher, who hold the ball in out in a throwing position as he chases the runner back to Third.

The pitcher jumps in between the ball and the runner, who is in the baseline.

The catcher sees that the pitcher is between him and the runner and backs up to cover home plate.

The Shortstop races over to Third base to cover the bag, as the Third baseman chases the runner toward the plate.

The runner turns around to try for home and runs into the pitcher and knocks him down and lands outside the basepath in foul territory; he scrambles to his feet and dives head first into the plate.

The alert Third baseman makes a perfect throw to the catcher at the plate, who tags out the runner three feet short of the plate.

The defensive team’s manager argues that the runner was legally tagged out.  He also says that, if the umpire saw obstruction, the runner should be called out for interference, since he collided with the pitcher who was trying to make a play.  Also, he notes that, after the collision, the runner was outside the baseline.

The offensive team’s manager argues that the pitcher did not have the ball, was not making a play and was obstructing the runner who was in the basepath.  He argues that the collision forced the runner to land outside the basepath in foul territory.

RULING:  The pitcher blocked the runner’s path without the ball in his possession.  The umpire ruled that the pitcher obstructed the runner and the run counts.  As soon as the runner collided with the pitcher, the ball was dead and the successful tag out at the plate did not count.

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