Preparing for the interference call
Interference is one of the toughest calls to make during a game. The entire crew must prepare for this by including it as a topic during all umpire pre-games and as part of their pre-pitch preparation. Base umpires – on every batted ball be watching for interference and give it even more focus with runners on base. Plate umpires, with runner(s) on base, watch the batter after every pitch.
Review the rules by reading the articles in the Rules Corner Section which cover interference. Review the mechanics by doing a search in the CCA Manual for this topic – it appears almost 40 times. Here is information on how to ensure you make the correct interference/no interference call.
Positioning for the interference call
Unlike the obstruction call which requires an umpire to be looking for this on all tag plays as they move into position for the call, the interference call will usually be made as an umpire is moving toward the most possible play, perhaps focusing on that play, and not necessarily thinking about possible interference. Since interference can develop quickly and unexpectedly, umpires must react when players converge – come to a stop and focus on the possible contact. Here are the most frequent plays which can develop into a possible interference situation:
• batter is moving across the plate after swings or moving in the box after the catcher has the ball
• bunt or lightly batted ball near the plate (running lane interference) – read this early and focus on it
• the path of the batted ball is likely to bring a fielder to close proximity of a runner.
• multiple fielders are moving toward the ball’s path, which fielder is more likely to field the ball
• retired runner’s momentum is likely to impact the fielder finishing the possible second play
• coach near players making a play
• batted ball near spectators.
Making the interference call
If you are sure there was interference, call it immediately. If it is not so obvious but you suspect there might have been interference, mentally replay it quickly and then call it if you are sure there was interference. A late call on this is better than a no-call. This is one of the plays for which we must be absolutely sure as it has big consequences – it could take a team out of a big inning and/or eliminate runs.
Note: batter interference is a delayed dead ball. Use the verbal (a softer “interference” which can be heard by the closest players) and the delayed dead ball signal; then follow the same steps below. Umpire interference is also a delayed dead ball. Read the rule which covers this (hint: it is not in the Base Running rule which covers interference).
The verbal “dead ball, interference” should be loud and convincing. The signal must be firm and show confidence in the call. It may be necessary to do both of these actions (verbal and signal) a second time. It is important to get everybody’s attention so play stops. Get your arms up high above your head and at the required 35-to-40-degree angle from the body. Hold the signal until the call has been recognized and all action has stopped. An interference call requires a follow-up point signal – an arm extended straight out at the play or the player. A recommended verbal would be – “that is interference on the runner; she is out!”
So, interference has been called. After the signals and explanation, there is more work to do…continue to umpire, even in this dead ball situation. Know the rule for these scenarios:
• Was it an attempt to prevent a double-play before the runner is put out?
• Was it retired runner interference?
• Was it with a fielder attempting to field a routine fair fly ball?
• Was the runner off her base and hit by a declared “infield fly”
• Was it by the batter-runner on a declared “infield fly”?
Teamwork on interference calls
There are two plays which require good crew teamwork.
Batted ball passes infielder
Situation 1: an advancing runner is hit by the batted ball which has passed an infielder and another fielder is within the vicinity but not directly behind the contact. A lot of coaches do not know this rule but umpires must – it is not interference if a runner is hit with a fair, untouched batted ball that has passed a fielder (other than the pitcher) and no other fielder has a reasonable chance to make a play.
Base umpires should not be too quick to call interference unless you are absolutely sure that the closest fielder could make a play. If you call this when it should not be called and the offensive coach knows the rule, you might be getting a visit, especially if there are other runners advancing on the play. Since you have killed the play, it could create difficulty when the crew gets together to discuss and determine that no fielder had a chance to make a play (get the call right!).
The plate umpire must be aware of this situation as it develops and be ready to call interference if a base umpire does not but the fielder did have a play. If interference is called incorrectly (dead ball), get the crew together, discuss the explanation that will be given to the coach, decide where to place the runners, and be ready for a protest. Hmm…might be a good play to include in your pre-game conversation.
Interference Call Between Umpires
The second situation develops when the interference occurs when there are two base umpires close enough to possibly make the call. There was a special section in the early CCA Manuals which discussed this situation, covering both interference and obstruction. It was reduced to one bullet point under the section Additional Guidelines in the 2012 and 2013 manual. The mechanic is now back in the current CCA Manual (thanks to the suggestion from the CCSUA training staff). It has been revised to reflect some new wording and came back to life in the 2021 manual.
• In most cases the umpire closest to the interference, obstruction, or contact should make the call – unless that umpire has other more urgent duties and does not see or recognize the interference, obstruction, or contact.
• In such cases, the next closest umpire is responsible for making the call.
• If you are the next closest umpire to the interference, obstruction, or contact and see the incident, look first at the closest umpire to determine if he/she saw it.
• If you determine the umpire saw it, then do not signal or call it.
• If you determine the other umpire did not see it, signal and/or call it yourself. Be assertive and aggressive and prepared to explain your judgment.
If the infraction is about equidistance between two umpires and both see it, the call defaults to the umpire the action is coming toward. Eye contact between partners before making this call will usually prevent a double call. Use of the safe signal to indicate no infraction is an excellent tool for letting your partner know you have seen the action and made a judgment on it and will take the heat if it is questioned.
To repeat the first paragraph of this article: “Interference is one of the toughest calls to make during a game. The entire crew must prepare for this by including it as a topic during all umpire pre-games and as part of their pre-pitch preparation.” Study the points in this article and your crew will have the right information to get the call right.