Obstruction vs. Interference

Baseball Interference vs Baseball Obstruction

Today, we will cover obstruction and interference and the difference between them.   Let me start with some very basic definitions to avoid confusion as you read the rest of the article:  interference usually refers to an act by the offensive team that impacts the defense making a play.  Obstruction refers to a fielder who hinders a runner.  In the simplest of terms, interference is a ‘penalty’ against the offense, and obstruction is a penalty against the defense.  If you don’t learn anything else from this article, please remember this.  A lot of times I hear coaches of the batting team yelling “Hey – that’s interference!” when there’s a play involving a runner and a fielder, and the last thing they want is for me to call interference, or one of their runners is going to be out!  What they should be saying is “Hey – that’s obstruction!”

Obstruction

Let’s start by covering the obstruction rules.  There are 2 types of obstruction:  type “A” is when a play is being made on a runner, and type “B” is when no play is being made on the impeded runner.   (See rules 7.06(a) and 7.06(b) below).

With type “A”, the play is dead and the umpire will award the bases that he thinks the runner would have reached without obstruction.  It is always at least 1 base past the last base that he acquired.  For example, in a rundown between 2nd and 3rd base, if the runner collides with a fielder in the base path without the ball as he is heading back to 2nd base, obstruction is called, and the runner will be awarded 3rd base  (even though without the obstruction, at best he would have made it safely back to 2nd).  If he is obstructed on the way to 3rd base, he will typically be awarded 3rd base (but may be given  home depending on the situation).

With type “B”, the play continues, and at the end of the play, the umpire will award any bases that he thinks the runner would have safely reached without the obstruction.  The big thing to note, is that an out made on a runner may still stand even though he was obstructed.   The obstruction only protects the runner for the amount of time/distance that he is deemed to have lost due to the obstruction.

For example: If a runner makes slight contact with the 2nd baseman as he’s going from 1st to 3rd, and is thrown out on a bang-bang play at 3rd base, the umpire may award him 3rd base safely, deeming that he would have made it safely without the obstruction.  But if in a similar example, the left fielder throws the ball to the shortstop, just as the runner gets to 3rd base, and the runner decides to try and score and gets thrown out by 30 feet, the out will stand.

Key learning points:

Offense:
  • Continue to run full speed, and don’t take anything for granted (unless the umpire has clearly called “Time!” indicating this is a Type (A) call).    With obstruction, you can STILL be called out.  Do not try to take an extra base if you don’t think you can make it.  Also, if you feel you have been obstructed, don’t stop between the bases and yell at the umpire.  Even if he saw/calls obstruction, you can be called out if you’re standing off a base.
Defense:
  • Continue the play and try to get an out.  If you get a runner thrown out, the ump may award the runner the base anyways, but the more you get him out by, the more likely the umpire will deem that the out would have occurred even without the obstruction and let it stand.

For more examples and coaching tips to give players on handling obstruction, check out the obstruction page on the Rulebook Edge website: https://sites.google.com/site/rulebookedge/get-the-edge/obstruction

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Interference

There are many different types of interference, including umpire, spectator, catcher’s and offensive.  I’m not going to cover umpire and spectator interference here, and catcher’s interference (which is really a misnamed form of obstruction) is covered fully here http://sites.google.com/site/rulebookedge/get-the-edge/ci—option-play.  I want to talk specifically about offensive interference.

The most common is when a runner interferes with a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.   This usually occurs when a runner is running with his head down (maybe on a hit and run) and bumps an infielder as he is in position to field a ground ball.  This is interference on the runner even if he is running on the baseline (see rule 7.08 (b) below).  The onus is on the runner to run around the fielder so as not to interfere with him.  If a runner and infielder collide, while the infielder is attempting to make a play on a batted ball, the runner is out.   The difference between this and obstruction, is that the fielder is making a play.   If a ball is hit towards 1st base and the runner at 2nd base runs into the shortstop, that is obstruction.  But it that ball was hit towards the shortstop, it is now interference.  The baserunner not only is allowed to run outside the baseline to avoid the fielder, he MUST run outside the baseline to do so if the fielder is on it.  Another type of runner interference is when a runner is hit with a batted ball (rule 7.08 (f)).  To be deemed to be interference, the ball must hit the runner before the ball has been touched by or passed an infielder.  In both cases the runner’s intention is irrelevant, and the penalty is that the runner is out, the batter is awarded first base, and runners cannot advance other than if forced.  (e.g., with bases loaded, if the runner on 2nd base is guilty of interference, the runner on 1st will be forced to 2nd to make room for the batter, but the runner on 3rd will stay put).

Interference can also be called when a batter is running outside the 3 foot line on the 2nd half of the way to 1st base, (rule 6.05 (k)) and is judged to interfere with the fielder taking the throw at first base.  This typically happens on a bunt or dropped third strike when the throw is coming from the vicinity of home plate.

The other type of interference that is sometimes called is when a runner deliberately interferes either with the ball or a fielder to break up a double play. (rules 7.09 (f), (g)).   If done by the batter, both he and the runner closes to home plate are called out.  If done by a baserunner, both he and the batter are called out.

Key learning points:

Offense:
  • Remember that you have to let the fielder field the ball.  If you make contact with him (or even if you run in front of him and ‘screen’ him from making the play), you can be called out for interference.
  • If you see a ground ball in front of you that is going to be an easy double play ball, don’t try to be  smart and kick it, thinking that you’ll be giving yourself up but protecting the batter, as you will both be called out.   Your best bet is don’t interfere, and hope the defense boots the play.
  • Try to avoid being hit by a batted ball.  This one sounds obvious, but there are a couple of things you can do to prevent this:  When leading off on 3rd base, always lead off on the foul side of the baseline.  If a batted ball hits you, it will then just be a foul ball.  Also, when stealing bases, glance towards the batter to see where the ball is going if it’s hit.
Defense:
  • If you are trying to field a ball and a runner is barreling towards you, only worry about making the play.  If you move up to avoid the runner, you may boot the play, and if you hold your ground and the runner interferes with you, he is out.
  • When fielding a ball near home plate, if you can’t make a clean throw to 1st base because the runner is in the way, and not inside the running lane, go ahead and throw the ball towards 1st anyways.  If the first baseman doesn’t cleanly catch the ball, interference may be called on the batter-runner.

OBR rulebook references:

7.06 When obstruction occurs, the umpire shall call or signal “Obstruction.”

(a) If a play is being made on the obstructed runner, or if the batter-runner is obstructed before he touches first base, the ball is dead and all runners shall advance, without liability to be put out, to the bases they would have reached, in the umpire’s judgment, if there had been no obstruction. The obstructed runner shall be awarded at least one base beyond the base he had last legally touched before the obstruction. Any preceding runners, forced to advance by the award of bases as the penalty for obstruction, shall advance without liability to be put out.

Rule 7.06(a) Comment: When a play is being made on an obstructed runner, the umpire shall signal obstruction in the same manner that he calls “Time,” with both hands overhead. The ball is immediately dead when this signal is given; however, should a thrown ball be in flight before the obstruction is called by the umpire, the runners are to be awarded such bases on wild throws as they would have been awarded had not obstruction occurred. On a play where a runner was trapped between second and third and obstructed by the third baseman going into third base while the throw is in flight from the shortstop, if such throw goes into the dugout the obstructed runner is to be awarded home base. Any other runners on base in this situation would also be awarded two bases from the base they last legally touched before obstruction was called.

(b) If no play is being made on the obstructed runner, the play shall proceed until no further action is possible. The umpire shall then call “Time” and impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction.

Rule 7.06(b) Comment: Under 7.06(b) when the ball is not dead on obstruction and an obstructed runner advances beyond the base which, in the umpire’s judgment, he would have been awarded because of being obstructed, he does so at his own peril and may be tagged out. This is a judgment call.

7.08 Any runner is out when—

b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball;

Rule 7.08(b) Comment: A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not. If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out. If, in a run-down between third base and home plate, the succeeding runner has advanced and is standing on third base when the runner in a run-down is called out for offensive interference, the umpire shall send the runner standing on third base back to second base. This same principle applies if there is a run-down between second and third base and succeeding runner has reached second (the reasoning is that no runner shall advance on an interference play and a runner is considered to occupy a base until he legally has reached the next succeeding base).

(f) He is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder. The ball is dead and no runner may score, nor runners advance, except runners forced to advance. EXCEPTION: If a runner is touching his base when touched by an Infield Fly, he is not out, although the batter is out;

Rule 7.08(f) Comment: If two runners are touched by the same fair ball, only the first one is out because the ball is instantly dead.

If runner is touched by an Infield Fly when he is not touching his base, both runner and batter are out.

6.05 A batter is out when—

(k) In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball;

Rule 6.05(k) Comment: The lines marking the three-foot lane are a part of that lane and a batter-runner is required to have both feet within the three-foot lane or on the lines marking the lane. The batter-runner is permitted to exit the three-foot lane by means of a step, stride, reach or slide in the immediate vicinity of first base for the sole purpose of touching first base.

7.09 It is interference by a batter or a runner when—

(f) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.

(g) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball, with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead; the umpire shall call the batter-runner out for interference and shall also call out the runner who had advanced closest to the home plate regardless where the double play might have been possible. In no event shall bases be run because of such interference.

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  • Sbradley

    Recently in a varsity baseball game this situation happened. Runner on third2 outs, pitch thrown inside and bounces past catcher. Runner on third advances home. The batter backed out of the batters box on the pitch. As the catcher went to retrieve the ball and make a play on the runner at home by throwing to the pitcher at the plate, the batter ducked out of the way of what he thought was going to be a thrown ball. The catcher then held the ball and ran into the ducking batter in an attempt to reach the runner himself at the plate. Umpires ruled interference. My opinion is that the batter did all he could to avoid the play. The catcher ran into the batter on purpose knowing he couldn’t get the runner either by throwing or trying the tag himself. What is your call?

  • http://twitter.com/rulebookguru Rulebook Guru

    Tough to call if without being there. But I think the umpire got it right and this play is a great learning opportunity. Note that for batter interference “intent” does not matter. This is rule 6.06 (c) which I did not touch on above. It reads that the batter is out if “he interferes with the catcher’s fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter’s box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher’s play at home base”. Nowhere does it say that he had to mean to interfere. Doing everything he can to get out of the way is commendable, but does not prevent interference from occurring.

    As far as “the catcher ran into the batter on purpose knowing he couldn’t get the runner either by throwing or trying the tag himself”. This is an interesting observation, but again the rule does not say that the defense needed to have a good chance of making the out. Even if they have no chance it is still interference. A lot of times catchers will give up on that play and the umpires won’t call anything. But if there’s contact, then it makes it easier for the umpire to call the interference. The rulebook isn’t necessarily fair. But umpires are given the responsibility of upholding the rules, not applying them only when they are fair.

    Having said all of this, I’ll go back to it being tough to comment on without being there. If the catcher went out of his way to run into the batter, and he was not going directly towards home plate or the runner, then I may judge that the batter being there did not interfere with the play.

  • Phil Glasser

    Here is another play that requires a keen eye and some experience to get right; do you agree with what we called:

    With the bases loaded and one out, the batter hits the ball to the SS who moves into make the play; at that point the runner advancing from 2nd to 3rd moves behind the SS (which he must do) to avoid the collision. Then, the SS, realizing that he has moved in too far and has mis-played the batted ball, attempts to adjust by backing up 2-3 steps in an effort to make the play and the runner and fielder collide. As the plate umpire, I delayed any call since the primary call belongs to my field partner…he no-calls the play so I called an obstruction on the SS (delayed dead ball). after the play, one run scored, all runners and the batter-runner were safe on the next base, and the defense asked for the interference call citing only 7.08 b. My partner and I conferred and when my partner told me that he had the SS taking 2-3 chop steps back to change his first fielding position after he set up the first time, we held with our initial call (no interference and disregard the obstruction since all runners and the batter-runner ended up where they would have been – one run scored).

    I was always taught and have read that the play turns on what the fielder does, and if he moves more than a “step” or a “step-and-a-reach”, he becomes the obstructor and there is no interference. What say you?

    • http://twitter.com/rulebookguru Rulebook Guru

      Perfect! From your description it does sound like obstruction – and no extra bases need to be awarded.   

      • Fast Walk to Fresno

        Wow. I’ve both umpired and managed a long time, and while I’m normally very respectful to umpires, if that call happened to my team (as the defensive team), I would be thrown out of the game from how angry and all over your ass I would have been. That is a 100 percent HORRIBLE call. The fielder has the right to field the ball, period, and he has every right to adjust in the case of an initial misjudgment. In fact, if you read the rules and the casebooks/manuals, you see that fielders are even protected in the case of an initial error as long as the ball is still within a reasonable distance (a reach or a step). So, in light of that, knowing that a fielder is still protected when he boots a ball and it’s three feet away, you think he’s guilty of obstruction when he mis-judges the speed of a batted ball and has to back up to make the play? WOW!!! Both of you need to go take another umpire clinic before getting back on the field.

        If a ball is hit anywhere in the general vicinity of a fielder, he has a 100 percent right to go after the ball in any manner he sees fit as long as he’s not making a farce of his act of pretending to be fielding the ball and is CLEARLY going out of his way to interfere with the runner. Otherwise, he’s allowed to adjust his position in regard to the ball and the runner has to do whatever he has to do to get out of the way. In the scenario you described, not only is it CLEARLY, NO QUESTION interference on the runner, but it should have been 100 percent avoidable. Even though the rules DO NOT state that interference has to be intentional or avoidable, this one was avoidable. R2, had he been paying attention at all, could have easily adjusted his route more to stay behind F6.

        Think of the scenario if it were a pop-fly. Think of how much players need to shuffle around and adjust when there’s a high pop on the infield, especially if there’s wind. Are you saying that if the fielder didn’t find the exact right spot to camp out under the ball immediately and had to wander six feet to catch the fly that you’d call obstruction?!?!?!? If not, how is a ground ball any different?!?

        There are many calls where you “had to be there” (HTBT calls, we call them), but this is not one of them. From your description, I have ZERO doubt you completely blew this call, and Rulebook Guru’s agreeing with you shows he needs to go back and read that rulebook a little more thoroughly. Wow… just… wow.

        • Northfield_NJ

          Thanks for your reply. I was worried there. Its no doubt INTERFERENCE. Dead Ball R2 is out R3 goes back to 3B R1 to 2B and battter stays at 1B

  • ed

    Suicide squeeze. Runner on third leaves before pitcher starts his wind up.  The pitcher then steps off the pitching rubber and throws to the catcher in an attempt to put out the runner stealing home from third base.  The batter doesn’t recognize this as a throw and not a pitch and continues to attempt to bunt the ball.  He makes contact with the catcher and prevents him from making the catch. The ball squirts away and the runner slides into home.  Our “wise” umpire calls him safe, and yet does not count the thrown ball as a pitch (no strike even for an attempted bunt).  Claims he didn’t see the batter interfere with the catcher.  Big play in a big game.  Ouch. 

    • ROB

      Had similar thing happen just two hours ago.  Catcher stands up to tag runner out, batter hits catchers glove- ump call catcher interference and allows run to score eventhough catcher makes the tag? Obstruction by by batter? Interference by runner? Out at home? Safe at first and dead ball runner returns to 3rd?  Who knows

      • http://twitter.com/rulebookguru Rulebook Guru

        IF it was pitch (i.e. thrown while the pitches was on the rubber) then the correct call is that it catcher’s interference (CI), and when there is CI with a runner stealing home, it is automatically a balk as well.  So, dead ball, runner scores, batter at first.  
        (Rule 7.07: If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or a steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps on, or in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or his bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk, the batter shall be awarded first base on the interference and the ball is dead.)

        IF the pitcher stepped off and just threw the ball home, then we got a huge mess. I think I have offensive interference on the batter, dead ball, and call him and the runner going home both out. 

  • Troy Webb

    A ball is batted past shortstop to left field. Two runs score with batter rounding second. Throw from left field the ball gets past the catcher as the second runner scores. Runner advances to third but some kind of interference happens behind the plate with one of the runners and the catcher which doesn’t allow the catcher to throw to third. Both runs count but the base runner was called out. Then the runner was sent back to 2nd then defensive coach comes out and 4 umpires discuss the play for 5 minutes and call the runner out. College game online unable to view what actually happened behind the plate. What did the runner have to with with anything. Do you think that was the right call?

  • Were4titans

    Please assist with this call.  Runner on 1st is stealing, and the pitcher leagally throws to 1st to create a rundown.  1st baseman chases the runner toward 2nd base much to far.  Runner committed to 2nd and as he turned the 2nd baseman was in his direct path to the base (within the legal baseline) about 4 feet in front of the bag.  Runner raised his arm and made contact with the 2nd baseman at the chest.  Could have been defensive or an attempt to create contact.  But, in the moment, looked to be like and attempt to fight toward the bag.  As this is happening, 1st attempts to toss the ball to 2nd and the ball tips off of his glove.  Runner falls on 2nd base after contact as the ball rolls away.  No further advancement was attempted and time was called.  My evaluation of the play would have been obstruction, but it happened so quickly, that I simply called safe as the runner was on the bag before I could raise my arm to call obstruction.  Coach of the defensive team objected.  He argued interference because I did not call obstruction.  I explained that I would have called obstruction if it had not happened so quickly with the runner being safe anyway.  He, of course disagreed.  Conferenced with my partner and upheld the call.  My question is, obviously, did I make the right call?

    Second, if I did not make the right call, at what point did the call change?  When, in this situation, does the 2nd baseman have to give the runner clear access to the bag?  And when does the runner contact with the 2nd baseman become interference? 

    Thanks in advance.

  • Tjfeltner

    does a right handed batter have to duck or move when catcher is throwing to third base as player is trying to steal third if the batter stays in the box?

    • http://www.fullwindup.com/ Phil Tognetti

      Tjfeltner, thanks for the question.  No, a RH batter has the right to the batter’s box.  He does not have to move out of the catcher’s way during a throw to 3rd.

  • Todd

    Defese is attempting to turn 2. Runner running from 1B to 2B is called out on 2nd baseman’s tag. 2nd baseman throws the ball to first, runner going to 1B is safe.  1st Baseman has ball.  The runner that was called out is in baseline heading off the field to dugout, shouts “Hey 1st Base,” and holds his hands up.  1st baseman throws away ball to 3rd base, runner now on 1st runs safely to 2nd base.  What is the call?

    • Phil Glasser

      Todd…I’d see that play as interference and a dead ball based on the verbal/oral (shouting) interference of R1, that just-put-out runner…he was clearly trying to confuse the defense…I would not call another out, rather, would put the batter-runner back on 1st base where he’d ended up on the fielder’s choice and not leave him at 2nd base where he’d ended up after the wild throw drawn by the act of interference by R1 who was out on the tag at 2nd base…a read of the Rule 2.00 definition of “Interference” shows…INTERFERENCE
      (a) Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with,
      obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play.
      If the umpire declares the batter, batter-runner, or a runner out for interference,
      all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the
      umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise
      provided by these rules. (emphasis added by me)

  • Joe

    Runner on second base heads to third on a ground ball hit towards the shortstop playing deep in the hole.  Shortstop charges the ball and runs into the base runner on his blindside as the baserunner just ran passed the ground ball.  Would this still be considered interference even though the baserunner cleared himself of the ball and the shortstop’s path to the ball wasn’t direct to the ball.  Runner never saw the shortstop hitting him from the blind side.  Shortstop seemed intentially wanted to make contact with the runner. 

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  • Tim Hughes

    In the case of obstruction ruled in game 3 of the 2013 World Series, I feel the umpire erred in ruling obstructing the runner at 3rd base attempting to advance to home on an overthrow. The runner clearly opted to run INSIDE the base path, thus tripping over the 3rd baseman who had attempted to catch the overthrow and was lying on the infield-side of 3rd base. The runner DID have a clear path to home, unhindered, had he just stayed in the base path when he initially ran from third on the overthrow. At the very least, the home plate umpire should have called the runner out at home on the subsequent throw home even with obstruction being called since the runner would not have made it safely to home had he not been obstructed.

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  • Mike

    High School Game. batter hits ball down left field line. batter rounds first heads for second where my second baseman is waiting for the throw from left field. The second baseman is straddling the base. The throw and the runner arrive at the same time. Instead of sliding the runner continues on to third base but in the meantime knocks my second baseman over and the ball ends up in right field. Do we have interference on runner or do we have obstruction on the fielder.
    Thanks for your answer