You can catch ’em all, but will it count?
If you read classy news sites like my co-worker does, you may have seen this story: http://sports.yahoo.com/blogs/highschool-prep-rally/outfielder-makes-amazing-over-fence-catch-gives-home-100944382.html
A high school baseball player made a fantastic catch over the left field “netting” to take away a 3 run home run. Upon review, the umpires ruled it a home run, stating that the fielder was “outside the playing area” when he secured the ball. Obviously the “flimsy netting” issue isn’t relevant to the big leagues, but the justification of a legal catch is.
My co-worker then posed the following questions in regards to MLB: “when is a home run robbing grab ‘legal’?” “If you catch the ball and fall into foul territory, do you have to wait to throw it back in until you step back on the playing field? If you throw it in while still outside the field, is your play reversed?” All great questions. I took to my favorite reading material – THE RULE BOOK! – to solve the mystery.
To my knowledge there is nothing in the book regarding at what point the player can throw the ball to the infield. As far as catching a ball that has exited the playing field…
Rule 6.05(a) Comment: A fielder may reach into, but not step into, a dugout to make a catch, and if he holds the ball, the catch shall be allowed. A fielder, in order to make a catch on a foul ball nearing a dugout or other out-of-play area (such as the stands), must have one or both feet on or over the playing surface (including the lip of the dugout) and neither foot on the ground inside the dugout or in any other out-of-play area. Ball is in play, unless the fielder, after making a legal catch, falls into a dugout or other out-of-play area, in which case the ball is dead. Status of runners shall be as described in Rule 7.04(c) Comment.
So in theory if a ball was hit into the air and the outfielder had enough time to scale the wall and sit in the center field stands and wait to catch the ball, and then successfully make the catch, it wouldn’t matter. Home run.
Similarly, a player could scale the wall and sit atop it with his feet dangling over the playing field. That catch would be legal and ruled an out.
(Separately, and to be addressed further at a later date, did you know: Rule 3.01(e) Comment: After a home run is hit out of the playing grounds, the umpire shall not deliver a new ball to the pitcher or the catcher until the batter hitting the home run has crossed the plate. Let’s start counting those violations.)
The problem with the catch made by the high schooler is not his fault in the slightest. It’s the flimsy “wall” that causes the problem. Did he step on the netting, thus lowering the wall and extending the playing field? According to those umpires, yes. Thankfully his team won, but I hope they played under protest. (If I had known about playing under protest in my high school days the IAAM email reader would’ve gotten even more obnoxious messages from me.)
Last night, Mariners first baseman Kendrys Morales made a diving grab into the stands. His entire torso was in the stands when he made the catch, but his left foot was still over the field. If it weren’t for that left foot, his catch would’ve been voided.
Next time we see Daniel Nava dive over the right field wall at Fenway to make a WebGem worthy grab, look closely to see if even the tip of his spikes are still over the field.