Obstruction between bases

Obstruction often happens when the runner is between two bases. It can happen when a runner is advancing normally to the next base, is rounding a base, getting caught in a rundown, on a pickoff attempt, or returning to a base after a caught fly ball.

This article will discuss only the parts of the obstruction rule which cover the situations when a runner may not be called out between the two bases where she is obstructed. Read the Obstruction Rules article on the Locker Room website for a more comprehensive discussion of all the obstruction rules.

The situations for which a runner may not be called out between bases is listed in rule 9.5.7. The actual rule states: “The obstructed runner may not be called out between the two bases where she was obstructed unless one of the following occurs:”

Exceptions to the rule

The NCAA rule book lists eight exceptions to the rule that a runner may not be called out between the two bases where she is obstructed. Six of these involve the actions of the obstructed runner:
1. Safely attains the base she would have been awarded and there is a subsequent play on a different runner
2. Commits interference
3. Passes another runner
4. Is declared out on a proper appeal for leaving a base before a fly ball is first touched
5. Is declared out on a proper appeal for missing a base.
6. Is clearly beaten by the throw6. (new wording 2024 – if in the umpire’s judgment, the runner would have clearly been put out then the obstruction is ignored.)

The other two exceptions are:
7. When another violation is being played upon
8. When the batter-runner is subsequently obstructed running to first base on a caught fly ball or a declared infield fly.

The obstructed runner’s action

Exception 1
Some of these exceptions need a more in-depth study. Let us start with the obstructed runner’s actions which put her in jeopardy between the bases. Here is an example of exception 1. With a runner at 2b (R2) the BR gets a hit and is obstructed between 1b and 2b trying to stretch it to a double. The throw goes to 2b and the BR stops, heads back to and then stops at 1b. Meanwhile R2 attempts to score and is thrown out at the plate. Now the BR again advances toward 2b and is thrown out for a double-play.
Ruling: the base umpire judged that the BR would not have reached 2b safely. The BR is no longer protected between 1b and 2b and the out stands, as she had safely attained the base she would have been awarded (1b) and then tried to advance further during a subsequent play on a different runner.

Exceptions 2 and 3
These two are simpler to adjudicate.
• Enforcement of the interference effect takes precedence provided both violations involve the same runner (9.5.11). Dead ball at the time of the interference.
• Being obstructed does not allow the runner to break another rule, such as passing another runner; the ball remains live. Do not confuse this with the rule for an obstructed runner being passed by another runner; that rule protects the other runner.

Exception 4
Now we come to the interesting play during which the runner leaves the base too soon before a fly ball is first touched and is obstructed. The two possible scenarios are:
• Obstruction occurs as the runner is returning to her original base
• Obstruction occurs as the runner is advancing toward the next base

There are two Case Book plays to assist us in making the correct ruling for these two scenarios:
• The ruling on the Case Book play for the returning scenario: if the runner would not have returned safely to second base before the throw arrived, she would remain out.
• The ruling on the Case Book play for the advancing scenario: the base runner is NOT protected between the two bases where she was obstructed (from the SRE – be aware that there is an error in the 2020-2021 Case Book. The Ruling for 9-32 is missing the word “not”)

Here is more information to support this (Note – the A.R.s below were changed to 9-31 and 9-32 in the Case Book):
From the SRE in an email when the wording was brought to her attention in 2015– “This is a good catch. A.R. in the new rules book (2015-2016) is A.R. in the previous rules book. When the previous A.R.s were moved, the word “NOT” didn’t make the move. So, this is not new and both of them are in agreement when you include this “not”. A.R. should read in the ruling: the base runner is NOT protected between the two bases where she was obstructed even if she is attempting to return to tag. Thanks for finding this error. The overriding issue in both these situations is that the baserunner LEFT EARLY. She cannot be protected from the obstruction because she is illegal as well–she left early.”

This clarification was also received for the returning situation – if the runner would have returned to the base safely without the obstruction, she is protected and would be awarded 2b.

Exceptions 5 through 8
Not many comments are needed as these exceptions are ruled as written. For exceptions 5 and 6, the obstructed runner is out and the obstruction is ignored. Exception 6 is explained in more detail in the companion article Obstruction Rules in the Rules Corner of the Locker Room website.

Examples for exception 7 have been given above and is somewhat a duplicate of exception 5. For exception 8, the infield fly takes precedence. The BR is out on a delayed dead ball and subsequent plays stand. Examples:
• The ball is caught and a runner is declared out for not legally tagging up.
• The runners try to advance and are called safe because the defense thought it would be a force play and no tag was applied
• The defense was aware of the situation and the runners are out because they were tagged before reaching the next base.

An interesting Case Book play

Play: Obstructed runner may not be called out between the two bases…9.5.7
R1 is on first base, no outs. B2 hits a little looper behind F3. F3 and F4 go back on the ball as F9 comes in. In the process, about 10 feet from 1B, R1 has minor contact with F4 who has no chance to field the ball. U1 signals obstruction. Ball is not caught, fielded by F9 and thrown to F6 for the force out on R1 at 2B. (Runner was out by at least 15 feet.) U1 allows out to stand at 2B.
Ruling: this same type of play happened many years ago at a JC Championship series and created quite a fuss. We received the interpretation then, and it still applies. If a fielder not fielding the ball hindered in any way, then it is obstruction. We have no choice on this play but to award R1 2b and the BR stays at 1b.
We cannot penalize the offensive team for a defensive mistake.

You will definitely get an argument on this play. You must explain to the coach that by rule she cannot be called out and you have no other place to put her but 2b. Your fielder must avoid contact with a runner unless she is the fielder with the legitimate right to play on the batted ball.
NOTE: what is the mechanic if one umpire calls obstruction during a play which continues, and then another umpire makes a call on that obstructed runner later during that play? See the General Mechanics article in the Mechanics Corner.