Baseball Spectator Interference Rule
Spectator interference in baseball happens when a fan crosses into the field of play and disrupts the play. This can happen in the outfield, the side fences, or even a ball boy or ball girl catching a live ball. After this happens, the umpires have to determine what the outcome would have been.
Spectator interference occurs when a spectator (or ball boy or girl) reaches into the field of play to grab the ball while it is live. This could occur over the outfield fence or in the foul ball territory if the ball was initially ruled live.
This rule doesn’t apply if the ball the spectator grabs is out of play, even if a player could have made the catch. So, if a foul ball flies into the first row of the outfield, a fan can make the catch without causing spectator interference.
If a spectator reaches out into the field of play and affects the ball, the ball is immediately called dead. The umpires then have to decide what the outcome would have been if not for the interference.
If the ball was not going to be caught, the umpires can award as many bases as they think the batter and base runners would have gotten if not for the interference. If the ball had been caught, then the batter would be out.
However, if a fan stops a fielder from making a catch, so long as they are in the stands, spectator interference cannot be called.
- A fan in the front rows reaches over the fence to pick up a live ball that started fair but wound up in foul territory. This would result in a base being awarded.
- A fan in the outfield reaches over the wall to catch a deep fly ball, preventing the ball from bouncing back into play. This, again, would result in a base being awarded.
- A ball girl picks up a ball that had been ruled fair, causing it to become a dead ball. This would result in the batter being called out.
History of Spectator Interference
The spectator interference rule was implemented in 1931, allowing umpires to decide on the outcome of interference. This rule has had no change, and its usage has increased with fan attendance over the past 90 years.
There are a few instances where fan interference has caused some controversy, most notably when Chicago Cubs fan Steve Bartman caused Moisés Alou to not catch a ball in the 2003 NLCS. Spectator interference was not called, allowing the infamous Cubs championship drought curse to continue.
It took until the 2014 season, when the replay review rules were expanded, for spectator interference (under potential home runs and non-homerun boundary calls) to be eligible for replay review.
What is spectator interference in baseball?
Spectator interference occurs when a fan reaches into the field, disturbing the expected play. Whether a fan is reaching over the outfield wall, reaching over the foul ball fence, or even if a ball boy or ball girl is picking up a live ball, spectator interference is called. However, if the live ball goes out of play (into the stands), a fan can catch the ball without worrying about causing fan interference.
What happens after spectator interference occurs?
After spectator interference occurs, umpires confer and decide on what the outcome of the play would have been if there had been no interference. They can either award bases to the batter and base runners, depending on where the ball was hit, or call the batter out.
Can you use replay review to challenge a spectator interference call?
Yes, when spectator interference is called or not called, a manager can challenge using replay review. Reviewing spectator interference became legal during the 2014 season when replay review was expanded to include potential home runs and non-home run boundary calls (both have cases involved with spectator interference).