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Ask the Ump – Play 16

Play:Tigers-Twins game of September 29, 2009: Gerald Laird hit a foul ball behind home plate, about a row or two back into the seats. Jason Maurer, the catcher, reaches back into the crowd to catch the ball. Just before he catches the ball, a fan touches the ball but Maurer still catches it. The umpire calls the batter out. Isn’t the ball dead as soon as the fan touches it? Did the ump blow the call?

Ruling: In the case you cite, the umpire correctly rules that the batter is out. Had the catcher not made the catch, a dead ball would have resulted, due to the batted ball being foul, and the batter would have remained at bat. In the case of interference MLB rules generally agree with NFHS rules. The only difference arises in the case of a fielder reaching into the spectator area, as catcher Maurer did in this game situation.

MLB rules state that, “No interference shall 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.” NFHS rules do not discuss or cover the case in which a fielder might reach into a spectator area in an attempt to catch a ball.

Conversely, both sets of rules specify the umpire’s authority to rule in situations when spectators reach into the field of play.

Sources: MLB 3.16; NFHS 2.21.3, 5.1.1(f), 7.4.1(d), 8.3.3(e)

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