I saw a great example of Interference versus Obstruction during the State All-Star tournament in California this year. Late in a close game, there were runners on first and second with nobody out. A grounder was hit hard about 10 feet to the shortstop’s left between her and second base. She broke for the ball and about half-way to the ball she and the runner from second unintentionally collided and both went to the ground. The base umpire signaled a delayed dead ball as the ball went into the outfield and the base runner got up and went to third. Did the runner interfere with the fielder, or did the fielder obstruct the runner?
Boy, was this a tough one, and it took about 10 minutes for the umpires to sort it out. The rules themselves seem to contradict each other. ASA Rule Supplement (R/S) #33 states that “Defensive players must be given the opportunity to field the ball anywhere on the playing field or throw the ball without being hindered.” However, R/S #36 says that “obstruction is the act of a fielder 1) not in possession of the ball, or 2) not in the act of fielding a batted ball, which impedes the progress of the…runner who is legally running the bases.” Because R/S #36 is an “or” statement, R/S #33 conflicts with R/S #36 1) in the case I gave above.
My initial reaction on the play (besides being thankful both girls were OK – they blind-sided each other pretty hard) was that it was runner’s interference, because the runner is allowed to leave the base path to avoid interfering with a fielder. Indeed, that was the base umpire’s call, and the visiting team’s (the team that was batting) coach came out and argued at length that the call should have been obstruction because the shortstop did not have the ball when the players collided, and asked for the home plate umpire to make a ruling. After the umpires conferred for about five minutes, the home plate umpire overruled the base umpire and called obstruction on the shortstop, allowing the runner to be safe at third. Now the home team coach came out and argued the call, but the call stood. The visiting team ended up winning by one run, and the ruling on that play ended up determining who would win the game.
This was a very tough call but, as the rules are written, the umpires made the right call. Indeed, in the umpire’s case book, every single case in the Interference vs. Obstruction section where the fielder did not have the ball resulted in a call of obstruction for the play.
The rules try to make the game safe, and I would like to see the fielder protected in such a case. She has a narrow route she can take to field the ball, and the base runner is allowed to veer wide of the base path to avoid interfering the fielder. The fielder has her eye on the ball, and the runner presumably has her head up running to the base and has a better view of the impending collision. I recommend that R/S #36 changed to read “obstruction is the act of a fielder a) not in possession of the ball, [em]and[/em] 2) not in the act of fielding a batted ball, which impedes the progress of the…runner who is legally running the bases.” This would remove the conflict between RS #33 and #36, and make it safer for the players overall.