What Happens If A Fan Touches The Ball In Play?

What Happens If A Fan Touches The Ball In Play

Official MLB baseballs are a coveted souvenir of baseball attendees. Because of this, fans will sometimes reach into the field of play to catch a ball coming toward their section. However, doing so can greatly interfere with the game. A fan touching the ball in play is considered a form of spectator interference, and therefore has a set of guidelines to determine the placement of the runners and the number of outs. Read on to find out more about the rules and consequences of a fan making contact with a ball in play.

Spectator Interference Rules

When attending a Major League Baseball game, fans are expected to spectate without disturbing the play. Thus, if a fan reaches into the field of play to catch a fair ball and consequently prevents the fielder from making a play, then the umpires will declare the ball dead. The umpires will then enforce the most likely outcome of the play, had there been no interference.

Officials can even eject a fan if they deem the fan’s interference had malicious intent. However, this rarely occurs. If a fan makes contact with the ball in the spectator’s seating area, then the umpires would likely not consider this interference, as contact was made outside the field of play.


Below are two examples of the most likely instances where a fan may make contact with the ball:

Example 1: If a fly ball is hit towards left field and a fan leans over the railing to catch the ball, then this would be declared as interference due to that fan hindering the fielder’s ability to catch a ball in play.

Example 2: A batter hits a popup into foul territory. The third baseman attempts to catch the ball, but the ball falls into the seating area. A fan catches the ball before the third baseman. Even though the third baseman may have been able to catch the ball, the stands are not considered to be the field of play; therefore, no interference would be called.

The Steve Bartman Incident

Because the consequences of spectator interference are based on the umpire’s judgment, the penalty has led to many controversial calls. For example, the Steve Bartman Incident is one of the most famous cases of a fan touching a fair ball. The incident occurred on October 14, 2003, during Game 6 of the National League Championship Series (NLCS) between the Florida Marlins and the Chicago Cubs.

In this fateful game, the Cubs were one game away from winning the NLCS for the first time in about 50 years. However, when the Marlins’ batter hit a flyball over foul territory, spectator Steve Bartman made contact with the ball, throwing it off of its original trajectory. Despite this, the umpires would not declare interference, and the Cubs would go on to lose both the game and the series, eliminating them from the postseason.