Interference by Retired Runner

Because of the complexity of the interference rule and also due to the usually highly intensive argument that the interference elicits, the Locker Room has multiple articles covering the different types of interference. This article will discuss retired runner interference.

Interference by a retired runner does not happen often but when it does the effect is serious – the runner closest to home is declared out. There are two ways a runner is considered “retired”:
• The runner has been declared out
• The runner has scored.

This retired runner may not interfere with a defensive player making a play on an active runner. The rule does not make a distinction between making a play versus making an out, or whether the runner being played on might have been safe, interference notwithstanding. You must call an out on somebody when a retired runner interferes.

In an elimination game between Oklahoma and Arizona State during the 2018 WCWS, the runner starting at first base was thrown out at second base but after being declared out the runner kept running through the base without sliding. The fielder attempted to throw the ball to first base but her the throw hit the runner’s helmet. You can find a video clip of this play in the Video section of this Locker Room titled Retired runner interference. Retired runner interference was not called on this play, but it should have been especially if the runner does not slide.

There is no “must slide” rule in college softball, but a Case Book ruling states that a runner is reasonably expected to slide or avoid a fielder making a play when she is near a base and a play is being made at that base, or has just been made and a new play is developing or attempted from that base. On the play shown in the video mentioned above, the runner is almost at the base and standing up as a play from that base is developing and is attempted.

Consider this – unlike in football and basketball where referees must determine the legality of athletes colliding with, crashing into, or otherwise coming into contact with each other on almost every play, softball has far fewer contact plays between opposing players. The most common exception to this generalization involves double plays starting with a force play at second base.
The second-to-first-base double play attempt is a play softball umpires know all too well — the shortstop or second baseman receives the toss, touches second base and throws to first base as the runner from first base is sliding into second base at high speed trying to break up the play. The physical contact at second base can trigger a wide variety of issues. Fielders get angry when they get hit. Runners get overly aggressive with their legs and arms. Players are injured. Defensive teams, especially on the lower age levels, vigorously celebrate the “twin killing,” which can lead to unpleasant exchanges between teams.

To exacerbate the situation, this play can be a major blind spot for umpires working in a two-umpire crew. Once the fielder releases the ball for the throw to first base, the base umpire will turn and focus his/her attention to the imminent play at first base. According to two-umpire mechanics, the home plate umpire positioned more than 60 feet away then assumes primary responsibility for the interference call — an imperfect situation. So, it is imperative for umpires to learn the interference rule on double plays, how to interpret it and how to call it on the field.

But, what if the runner at second base is safe and the fielder continues to make the play to get the batter-runner at 1b? The runner now at second base is not a retired runner; she is considered an active runner and must abide by the rules.

The collision rule and the rule for running the bases offer some more insight into this situation. A runner may slide into the base and make contact with the fielder as long as she is making a legitimate attempt to reach the base. A legitimate attempt is contacting the ground before reaching the base or fielder. She may not slide out of the baseline nor outside her reach of the base to slide directly at the fielder. There is a video on the Locker Room which shows this type of play.

These are other actions by the runner which should lead to an interference call if a play is being made. And they might also be reason for an ejection. The runner:
• Uses a rolling, cross-body or pop-up slide into the fielder.
• Raises her leg higher than the fielder’s knee when the fielder is in a standing position.
• Goes beyond the base and then makes contact with or alters the play of the fielder.
• Slashes or kicks the fielder with either leg.