Reprinted with written permission from Referee magazine. For subscription information contact Referee magazine at 800-733-6100
When it comes to interference, there are a couple of myths that have permeated the sport:
• There must be contact in order for there to be interference.
• If there is contact then it is automatically interference.
Because of this last myth, there is a particular play that has seeped into the game, especially at the higher levels of play. This play involves a fielder, typically one of the middle infielders, intentionally creating contact with a runner in hopes of getting interference called. Fielders are being taught that once the ball is hit, run directly at the runner in front of them and reach out their glove to create contact. Coaches and fielders have a misperception that contact automatically mean interference. And if umpire have this same misperception, a team may get an advantage by having interference called when the actual correct call should be either obstruction or incidental contact…play on.
The one thing to remember with interference is it is a judgment call. While some rules are black and white, interference does have some gray area that is open to interpretation. In all codes, in order for there to be interference on a runner in this particular play, the runner must impede the fielder’s ability to make a play on the ball. What often happens on this play is the fielder immediately runs toward the runner and extends the glove at waist level, or even higher, and makes contact with the runner running in front of the fielder. Is that interference?
Is a fielder really being impeded from fielding a ball if that fielder isn’t even attempting to field a ball? If the ball is rolling on the ground either in front of the fielder or off to the side, is a fielder with a glove outstretched in the air really making an effort to field the ball? This is where judgment and common sense must be used to rule on this play correctly.
Generally, this play is much easier to adjudicate with more umpires on the field. In the two-umpire system, it can be difficult to get a good angle to see what the fielder is doing if the base umpire is on the opposite side of the infield. In the three-umpire system, there are usually at least two sets of eyes that can get an angle to see this play much more clearly.
There are a couple of signs to look for to help judge this play.
• First, look at the fielder’s eyes. If the fielder is looking at the runner as opposed to tracking the ball, chances are the fielder is trying to intentionally make contact as opposed to naturally fielding the ball.
• Secondly, look at the glove. If the fielder gets close to the runner and then reaches out the glove to create contact, again, this is probably an attempt to create contact as opposed to making a play on the ball.
• Lastly, know where the ball is located. If the ball is to the left or right of the fielder and the fielder never moves to make a play on the ball and instead goes straight toward the runner, chances are this is not interference.
The main thing in this situation is read the play. Just because there may be contact, do not be in a hurry to kill the play and call interference. You have some time to process the entire play and then make a ruling. It is better to let the play finish and then declare interference than to immediately kill the play and realize there really wasn’t interference. You may even let the play finish, then get together with your partner(s) and figure out exactly what happened.
Remember, when it comes to interference, a baserunner is responsible for avoiding a fielder trying to make a play on the ball. Umpires are tasked with determining what exactly making a play on the ball looks like. If you notice the fielder doing any of the three things listed above that are signs the fielder is intentionally trying to make contact, it should get your attention. The key is to see the play from the beginning.
Be aware that if there is contact and you don’t rule interference, the defensive coach is going to question you. Be prepared and explain to the coach the fielder intentionally created contact and was not in the act of fielding the ball. The only way to get this type of play out of the game is to not reward it. The more umpires rule this play is not interference, the more likely coaches will quit teaching it and it will help clean up the game.