There have been many articles written about interference, but most predominantly cover runner interference. The other acts of interference that may be perpetrated by the offensive team are team personnel and loose offensive equipment interference. The following is a breakdown of both of those types and the rules concerning them.
Offensive Team Personnel
Offensive team interference should be called on any offensive team personnel other than active runners and base coaches who are in the field of play and confuse or add to the difficulty of the defensive player making a play. This may happen during playing action or after a dead ball. Important note: Interference should be called only when the defense is disadvantaged by said action — that is, there was a reasonable opportunity for the defense to make an out.
Base Coach Interference
Base coaches are allowed on the field, but they can be called for interference, so let us cover them first. The coach’s box is not a sanctuary — the coach must attempt to avoid a fielder making a play. Here is an unfortunate situation that sometimes occurs: The base coach is doing the right thing by trying to avoid the fielder or the foul ball popped up in the vicinity, but in doing so, unintentionally interferes with the fielder trying to catch the pop up. Despite the coach’s good intentions, this is interference.
The rulebook does try to balance the equation. If an errant throw, or a throw missed by the fielder covering the base, strikes a coach during the normal action of play, interference should not be called. This goes under the concept that we should not impose a penalty on a team when it was the other team that caused the action (errant or missed throw). However, it is interference if the base coach intentionally disrupts a thrown ball or the fielder attempting to make a play. All of the above is the same for all softball codes.
Team Personnel Other Than Runners, Retired Runners or a Base Coach Commit Interference During Live Ball
This rule is similar to the rule for runner interference: Team personnel may not interfere with a fielder who has a reasonable chance to make a play on a thrown or pitched ball within the field of play. The ball is immediately dead and the runner closest to home plate at the time of the interference shall be declared out. Each baserunner must return to the last base legally touched at the time of the interference, unless forced to advance.
Team members may not stand or collect around a base to which a runner is advancing. The ball is dead and the runner being played on is out. Each other runner must return to the last base legally touched at the time of the interference.
The rules among codes for team personnel interference are similar. One wrinkle to this rule can be best explained by a play.
Play: F5 is attempting to catch a foul fly ball near the opposing team’s dugout when players in the dugout reach out to support her from falling down the stairs.
Ruling: USA Softball, NFHS and USSSA rules do not give us a definitive ruling and the umpire may judge this as interference. If the umpire does, it is an immediate dead ball and the batter is called out. In NCAA, a casebook play (A.R. 6-17) states if the fielder never contacts dead-ball territory and makes the catch, since the contact was not initiated by the fielder, it is a legal catch and the ball remains live. Although the batter would be called out on the catch, the runners could tag up and advance.
Team Personnel Commit Interference During Dead Ball
USA, NFHS and USSSA rules make no mention of possible offensive team interference during a dead ball. The NCAA has added such a rule due to the action of dugout players running onto the field after an out-of-park home run. During this “celebration,” offensive team personnel shall not interfere with a runner(s) who is legally running the bases on a dead-ball award until the runner(s) contact home plate, nor with the umpire’s ability to see all bases are properly touched.
Offensive team personnel, other than base coaches and baserunner(s), shall not touch a runner(s) until the runner(s) contacts home plate (NCAA 22.214.171.124.1).
Offensive team personnel shall congregate only in foul territory around home plate to congratulate the runner(s) (NCAA 126.96.36.199.2).
The effect for these two violations is a warning for the first instance and penalties for subsequent violations. College umpires should read this rule as the penalty is different depending on the action of the dugout denizens.
Loose Offensive Equipment
It would be easier to explain what is not considered loose offensive equipment. The only items of offensive equipment that may be on the field are the bat dropped after the batter hits the ball and a helmet that has inadvertently fallen off a runner’s head. Any other item belonging to the offensive team that is on the field and prevents the defense from making a play could be cause for interference and an out called on the offense. Similar to the above , interference should be called only when the action disadvantages the defense — that is, there was a reasonable opportunity for the defense to make an out.
When a fair batted ball or live thrown ball contacts loose offensive equipment not involved in the game, but on the playing field, the ball is ruled blocked and dead. The runner closest to home plate at the time of the blocked ball shall be declared out and each other runner must return to the last base legally touched before the ball became blocked, unless forced. However, if no apparent play is obvious, no one is called out. Each runner must return to the last base legally touched at the time the ball becomes blocked, unless forced to advance.
Interference is the correct call for a number of actions. Do not be so focused only on runner interference that you forget the other types of offensive interference that may occur. You may get another out by glancing at the throw that ends up in the vicinity of the offensive team’s dugout.
John Bennett, Anaheim, Calif., works NCAA, high school and travel softball, and is involved with training umpires at all levels. He worked the 2014 NCAA Division II championships and multiple other championship series.
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