Runner Interference

Because of the complexity of the interference rule and also due to the usually highly intensive argument that the interference call elicits, the Locker Room has multiple articles covering the different types of interference. This article will focus on interference by an active runner (excluding the batter-runner). The other articles which cover interference, all of which are in this same section of the Locker Room are:

Interference by Retired Runner
Offensive Team Personnel/Equipment Interference
Team Interference – Home Run Celebration

Note: Batter-runner interference is in a separate article in the Batter-Runner section.

The college rule for runner interference includes contacting the batted ball, intentionally contacting a thrown ball, physical contact with a fielder making a play, and visual or verbal interference

Contacting a batted ball

Runner unintentionally contacts a fair batted ball while off a base

The runner commits interference if the runner is off the base and:
• Contacts the ball before it touches a fielder or before it passes a fielder, other than the pitcher.
• Contacts the ball after it passes a fielder if another fielder has a chance to make a play.
• Intentionally contacts a ball that an infielder has missed.

If you read the full intent of the wording in the first two bullets above, you may infer that there are times when a runner may contact a batted ball and is not called for interference on the play. You are correct:
• If the fielder touches and misplays the batted ball such that it ricochets and hits the runner – no interference!
• If the batted ball hits the runner after it has passed a fielder, and no other fielder has a chance to make an out – no interference!
The Effect for runner interference with a batted ball is: dead ball, the runner who interfered is out and the BR is awarded first base. Any runner not forced to advance is returned to the last legally touched based at the time of the interference.

These are important exceptions to the runner interference rule. A good example of the first bullet above:
Play: The batted ball tips off the pitcher’s glove and ricochets toward an infielder who still might be able to get an out. The ball hits the runner as the runner runs to 3b.
Ruling: the defense has had their opportunity to make the initial play on the ball and the runner cannot be expected to anticipate the ball ricocheting off the fielder who is making the initial play. This is not interference because the batted ball has touched a fielder.

A good example of the second bullet:
Play: With a runner on 1b only, the batted ball is heading into the hole between 1b and 2b. The ball has passed F3 and F4 has no chance to field the ball. F9 is playing deep and has no chance to field the ball and throw the batter-runner out at 1b. The batted ball hits the runner as the runner advances to 2b.
Ruling: this is not interference as the ball has passed a fielder and no other fielder can make a play. It is NOT automatically interference when a batted ball hits a runner.

Runner unintentionally contacts a fair batted ball while on a base

This would be a very unusual play but it has happened. Perhaps the runner at 1b or 3b sees the ball is hit directly at them and freezes while standing on the base. It is not interference and nobody is called out. However, it can become a little more complicated than that.
• If the closest defensive player is in front of the base when the ball hits the runner who is still standing on the base, the ball remains live and all runners may advance with liability to be put out.
• If the closest defensive player is behind the base when the ball hits the runner who is still standing on the base, the ball is dead. The batter-runner is awarded first base and each base runner forced to advance is awarded one base. If a runner is not forced to run on this play, the runner returns to the base occupied at the time of the pitch.

Another situation where this might happen is on a fly ball that is coming down near a base. If the runner stays on the base and is struck by the ball before a defender has touched it, it is interference only if the runner standing on the base intentionally allows the ball to hit her.

Play: With runners on 1b and 2b an infield fly is called on a pop-up near 2b. R2, while standing on the base, is trying to avoid the fielders attempting to catch the batted ball but the ball hits R2 before a fielder touches it.
Ruling: Not interference on R2 as she did not intentionally allow the ball to hit her. The batter-runner is called out on the infield fly and the ball remains live. Runners may advance at their own liability.

Runner intentionally contacts a fair batted ball while on or off a base
If the runner intentionally interferes with a batted ball it is always interference. An umpire must use good judgment in determining if the runner’s actions were intentional.

Play: As R2 is advancing from 2b to 3b, F6 attempts to field a ground ball but it bounds away from F6. As F6 is attempting to retrieve the ball, even though by now it is too late to make an out, R2 kicks the ball so that F6 cannot retrieve it quickly.
Ruling: Dead ball immediately, interference on R2 and R2 is declared out. The batter-runner is awarded 1b and all other runners not forced to advance are returned to their bases last legally touched at the time of the interference.

Contacting a thrown Ball

Intent is important

In all previous discussions about interference we have made the point that it is interference even if the runner did not intend to contact the batted ball or the fielder. Now we will discuss the part of the interference rule which introduces the runner’s intent.

A runner commits interference with a thrown ball if that runner intentionally interferes with the throw while running the bases. When you think about it, it must be this way. Otherwise we might have fielders deliberately throwing the ball at runners, and the sacred game of softball becomes, instead, a game of dodge ball. If the runner attempts to contact a thrown ball but the ball misses the runner, it could still be interference if the runner’s action distracted the fielder who was in the act of catching the ball. This act of a runner intentionally interfering includes the runner removing her helmet or other equipment to deliberately interfere with a thrown ball.

This brings to mind a play which happens every once in a while. With a runner on third base (R3) and F5 playing up a bit, R3 may take her path back to 3b after a non-contacted pitch by moving directly toward F5. There are only two reasons for a runner to take this path to the base:
1) Attempt to get an obstruction call or
2) Block F5 from catching the throw

Although runners may, by rule, make their own base path, it must be a legitimate base path and not an action which puts them in violation of a rule. On a quick pick-off throw in this situation:
1) A runner cannot be the beneficiary of an obstruction call if the runner initiated the contact
2) R3 could be called for interference for intentionally denying F5’s opportunity to catch the thrown ball.

Thrown ball interference and what to do

A runner intentionally interfering with a thrown ball is not a common play, but it does happen. Quick-thinking runners may try to do this to prevent an obvious out on them or to prevent a double-play. An umpire may at times be at a difficult angle to see this intentional act or may be blocked from seeing it. For example, occasionally a fielder not making the play but trying to back it up or just moving toward the play to watch it, may step in front of the calling umpire just as the play happens. Or it may be that, as in a baseball World Series game a few years ago, the umpire just flat-out missed seeing it (he did go for help and the umpire crew helped him to reverse his safe call).

Runner contacts a fielder

Unintentional Contact

A runner has committed interference when that runner denies a defensive player a reasonable opportunity to make a play by physically contacting that fielder and prevents them fielding a fair batted ball, a foul fly ball, or a foul ground ball that might become fair.
• The fielder must have a reasonable chance to make an out and is prevented from doing so.
• A fielder cannot initiate the physical contact in order to draw an interference call.
• A play includes the fielder attempting to throw the ball after fielding it.

If a fielder misplays a batted ball and the ball remains in front of the fielder such that the fielder still has an opportunity to get an out by getting to the ball with a “step or a reach”, the fielder is considered to still be making a play on the batted ball.
• If the runner contacts the fielder during this action it is considered interference.
• If the ball bounds away from or past the fielder (past a step-and-reach) and the runner collides with the fielder this is not interference unless intentional.

Two players making a play on the batted ball
The interference rule is clear in all codes:
• Only one fielder is considered to be entitled to field the ball and given protection from contact with a fielder.
• If two fielders are trying to field the ball the umpire must judge which one has the best opportunity to make the out.
• If there is contact with the other fielder, it is not interference and could be obstruction on the other fielder.

Intentional contact

Any intentional physical contact by a runner with a fielder making a play is always interference.

Play: F5 attempts to field the batted ball but it bounds off her glove toward F6 who is moving toward the ball. The runner intentionally contacts F6.
Ruling: Interference

Play: R1 is running on the pitch and is approaching F4, who is about to field a line drive and most likely throw to 1b to double up R1. R1 see this possibility so intentionally contacts F4.
Ruling: intentional interference on R1. Because this is an obvious attempt to prevent a double-play, both the runner and the batter are out. All rule books specifically address this. Their wording is almost the same: if it is an obvious attempt to prevent a double-play, both runners are out.

Whether the contact by the runner is intentional or not is a judgment call by an umpire. In some codes if the contact is unintentional it could be neither interference nor obstruction. But when the contact is judged to be intentional by the defense then obstruction is called. Some codes are trying to eliminate the judgment of umpires regarding intent.

There have been more frequent incidents recently in which fielders seems to recognize that they cannot get to the batted ball so they change their movement toward the ball slightly to create contact with a runner. A good umpire will recognize this and call obstruction on the fielder. Videos of these plays are used for instructional purposes during umpire training sessions.

Runner standing on base contacts a fielder
Similar to a runner contacting a batted ball while standing on a base (discussed in last month’s article), the runner must intentionally contact the fielder making the play in order for interference to be called.

Visual or verbal interference

Can interference be called if there is no physical contact? Yes. Verbal and visual interference are legitimate calls in all codes. A runner may not unnecessarily wave her arms or verbally distract the fielder. Other examples:
• Runner yells loudly, “I’ve got it” as the fielder attempts to catch a fly ball.
• Runner stops directly in front of the fielder attempting to field a ground ball, then at the last moment moves out of the way
• The runner at 1b is put out at 2b on a force play, then while still advancing toward 2b waves her hands to distract the fielder trying to throw the ball to 1b to complete a double-play
Note: merely running or jumping over the ball is not interference, even if it may be distracting to the fielder.