The Fan Interference Call Was Probably Good

Let’s just get this out of the way now: That sucked. I mean, the game between the Astros and Red Sox was great, and it couldn’t have ended in a more dramatic fashion, but ultimately, the Red Sox won by two runs. And, in the bottom of the first inning, a controversial call and replay review might well have cost the Astros two runs. Yes, you’re right, the game would’ve played out differently had that call been made differently. We have no idea what that alternate game would’ve looked like. But the Astros have been pushed to the brink now, and a two-run homer would’ve been a pretty big deal. No one ever wants to think a game and season were damaged by umpires. It’s a very unsatisfying kind of disappointment, when the outcomes aren’t solely determined by the players themselves.

I don’t think we’re ever going to know for sure whether the right call was made. As such, it’s the sort of thing that’s going to linger, at least if the Astros fail to advance. Immediately, this has turned into a great What If?, and a target of Astros fan rage. Yet having reviewed all the evidence, I’ve come to the conclusion the call was good. And by that I mean, I think it was more good than bad. In the absence of anything conclusive, some amount of mystery is everlasting. But if you are to render judgment, you go whichever way you’re leaning. I’m leaning toward fan interference.

Let’s bring everybody up to the same place. In the bottom of the first inning, with a runner on base, Jose Altuve lifted a fly ball deep to right field. Mookie Betts gave chase, and as he got to the track, he leaped in an effort to bring the ball down. The ball, though, didn’t end up within Betts’ glove. Here’s the whole thing happening at full speed:

Clearly, the ball was going to be a home run. It had the height, and it had the distance. But it was a potentially robbable home run. Betts came close, but he couldn’t make the grab, crashing into a swarm of outstretched arms and hands. It looked as if Altuve had gone yard, but Joe West immediately signaled fan interference. West had to signal something, and from where he stood, it looked as if Betts had a really good shot. And he couldn’t tell whether arms were in front of the fence or behind it. He made his decision, knowing it was going to be reviewed anyway.

It was reviewed, and the review took a few minutes. The call on the field was upheld — there wasn’t enough to confirm or overturn. Had West initially ruled it a homer, it probably would’ve stayed a homer, for the same reason. But you can understand why he thought what he did at first. He leaned toward interference. It stayed as interference.

This is the part where I show you all the slow-motion angles. Here’s one of them:

Here’s another one of them:

Here’s still another one of them:

You can see why there’s so much disagreement. You can understand why Red Sox fans see one thing, while Astros fans see another. Those replays don’t give you the angle you’d want, and although there was an available replay from a better angle along the wall, that camera just happened to have a security guard in front of it:

Because of the security guard, the preferred camera feed was worthless. Interpretation had and has to be based on the other angles. Screenshots hardly seem very helpful.

You know?

You can see almost whatever you want to in there. It took me a while to settle on meaningful clues. Here’s the core of the whole thing. Here’s a section of the comment from the spectator-interference section of the rule book. We’re talking about Rule 6.01(e).

No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference.

Based on the replays, it’s plainly evident that the fans prevented Betts from making a clean catch attempt. The question is where the fans were. Or, where Betts was. If Betts was somewhere beyond the wall, then there couldn’t be interference. Not according to the rule. But if the fans were reaching over the wall, then interference would be correct. Somewhat importantly, the rule doesn’t address the area directly above the wall, but I assume that counts as in-play territory, since a ball that hits the top of the wall and comes back is in play, and isn’t a homer. It’s a small area, but in a case such as this one, inches matter.

So are we looking at interference behind the wall, or not behind the wall? I’ll remind you, nothing can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt. But I want to show you a couple more clips. Each clip is just a pair of alternating screenshots.

The camera shifts a little between the two pictures, but something that barely changes is the location of Betts’ left wrist. In the second photo, it looks like Betts is reaching almost straight up, and his body hasn’t yet impacted the wall. If his body hasn’t impacted the wall, and if his arm is almost straight up, then it sure doesn’t seem like the glove is on the other side. Here’s the other pair of screenshots, showing the same general thing.

Betts’ left wrist barely moves. But while the wrist is temporarily stable and steady, Betts’ body keeps moving underneath. Again, in the second photo, it looks like Betts’ arm is almost straight up, and he still hasn’t impacted the wall. He’s some number of inches away from the wall, and the front of the wall is some number of inches away from the back. Based on these images, it seems more likely that Betts’ glove was still somewhere in or over the field of play upon colliding with the spectators. One more screenshot to focus on:

The point of reference here is the guy in white in the front row. This was taken moments after the ball first came down, but Betts’ left hand has barely moved. Betts’ left arm is almost straight up. He hasn’t yet crashed into the wall. The guy in white is holding the wall with his own left hand. And he’s leaning forward with his upper body, such that his shoulders are over the wall’s top. And now look at the guy’s right arm, outstretched. Even though the wall itself fades away to the left, because of the angle, the guy in white’s arm is reaching toward the camera. It’s reaching to the front and the side of his right shoulder. His hips are almost against the wall. His shoulders appear to be above the wall. His right hand appears to be in front of his shoulder. It’s nothing easy, it’s nothing obvious, and it’s nothing conclusive, but it’s enough for me to lean. It’s enough for me to think the chances Betts was still in play are greater than 50%.

By the way the rule is written, that’s enough. But as long as we’re here, we might as well also consider the spirit of the rule itself. I don’t think baseball has ever wanted to encourage fans to try to prevent players from making defensive plays. Fans aren’t supposed to be direct actors in a game, and I imagine the idea is that players should be given a reasonable chance to make catches. If those fans in Houston weren’t there in right field, or if there were a seatless buffer between the fans and the wall, Mookie Betts presumably makes that catch. Not only is he the best defensive right fielder in the game — he’d already done all the hard work. He got himself into position, and he timed his jump right. His glove was where it was supposed to be. Even if that had been ruled a home run, it would feel a little like a home run by technicality. I can’t think of a compelling reason why baseball would want fans to get in the way. The fans are there to watch. The players are there to play.

If you think about what baseball has probably intended, Betts should’ve been able to make that catch. And if you just go by the letter of the law, it seems to be more likely that, when Betts’ glove collided with arms, it was either in front of the wall or above it. I can’t say that with 100% certainty. There will never be any 100% certainty, unless some fan nearby just happened to have a camera out. More important to me is just getting past 50%. I’ve gotten past 50%. I think the interference call was more right than wrong. That’s all you can ask for in a situation like this, and I’m glad it’s not a complete and utter coin flip. Then no one would be able to make peace.

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Jeff made Lookout Landing a thing, but he does not still write there about the Mariners. He does write here, sometimes about the Mariners, but usually not.

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Mike
Member
Mike

This take is so bad I had to re-activate my account. Jeff, you’re the best writer on FG and have enjoyed 99.9% of the things you write. But just look at the photos and GIFs you posted in the article! Your article literally has visual evidence it was not interference.

And something for the league to consider- worst case there should be an option for ump’s discretion. I *think* Betts does catch it, but you can’t assume it. Maybe he hits the wall and opens the glove and the ball rolls out. So 1) it is not interference 2) even if you think it was, you can’t assume the catch so ump should be able to place Altuve at 2b with a double. That changed the game, the series, and potentially the World Series.

mikejunt
Member
Member
mikejunt

Hello friend,

This was umpire’s discretion. Joe West called it interference on the field, and replay review needed to find conclusive evidence to overturn that call

That conclusive evidence doesn’t exist.

The call on the field was ‘fan interference, batter out’.

If the call is ‘double’, yeah, maybe its hard to find conclusive evidence to call interference.

There is not really a conclusive camera angle because of the security guard.

mikecav19
Member
mikecav19

Huh, are you as blind as Joe West? There was not fan interference. It was crystal clear. Read the rule book.

Freshy
Member
Freshy

Rule 6.01(e) states: No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk.

oozyalbies1
Member
oozyalbies1

A quick Google search of the definition of the word “over” yields the below result:

preposition
1. extending directly upward from.

So the rule doesn’t specify that the player needs to pass the threshold into the actual stands, he just needs to break the plane extending directly upward from the fence.

In this case, it seems pretty clear, if not completely conclusive, that, without contact from any fans or Betts, the ball may have, in the best-case for the Red Sox, hit the top of the wall and bounced back into play if not cleared the fence outright.

Therefore, Betts has, at least, extended directly upward from the top of the fence in order to attempt to make the catch, rendering an interference call not to be allowed.

Freshy
Member
Freshy
wonjo
Member
wonjo

This is a wall, not a fence, railing, or rope. You should be googling the definition of the word “into” instead of the word “over” since the phrase “into a stand” applies.

oozyalbies1
Member
oozyalbies1

The distinction between the conjunctions “and” and “or” is relevant here. A quick Google search of the definition of the word “or” yields the below result:

conjunction
1. used to link alternatives.

The rule does not state “No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope AND into a stand to catch a ball.” It states “OR into a stand”, or an alternative to reaching OVER a fence (wall).

Which Betts did pretty conclusively.

twroble
Member
twroble

Nah you’re reading it wrong. Go back to school.

Rainmaker
Member
Member
Rainmaker

The sheer volume of downvotes suggests this was anything but crystal clear, and maybe (based on the poll so far) even leaning toward the opposite of your argument…

Mike
Member
Mike

According to the current rules, as I understand it, if the ump called an out on interference, it has to stay an out if replay confirms (or lack of evidence to overturn) interference. What should be allowed going forward, is that middle ground. While it was not interference, if it’s called that way and “confirmed”, the ump should at least be able to use his discretion after watching the replay and award a double to Altuve, opposed to having to keep the original out call. It’s not 1996 with the Orioles fielder camped under the Jeter ball. Betts was crashing into a wall, there is no way you can call that a catch/out even with interference.

But I really am astounded people don’t think Betts was past the field of play. Even the still of the guy in the white shirt that convinced Jeff it was interference- Bett’s arm is in the crowd! I can’t believe I have to defend a guy who was wearing a Reagan/Bush hat…

sportsfreak2744
Member
sportsfreak2744

“Betts was crashing into a wall, there is no way you can call that a catch/out even with interference.”

It has 0 to do with whether Betts was going to make that catch. And I think the majority of people would agree that he would have considering his glove was right in line with the ball and only closed because of the fans touching his glove.

dl80
Member
dl80

He started to close the glove before making any contact with the fan. Watch it frame by frame

Llewdor
Member
Llewdor

Well obviously. You need to anticipate the arrival of the ball so that the glove is closed when the ball hits the back of the glove. Otherwise the ball could bounce out.

Yes, the ball in these shots actually misses the glove, but it’s not clear that the glove’s path isn’t deflected by the fans.

If Joe West had called that a homerun, there probably isn’t sufficient video evidence to overturn that. If Joe West had called it a double, there probably isn’t sufficient video evidence to overturn that, either.

The lack of conclusive video evidence means that the right call is whatever call Joe West makes on the field.

Doug
Member
Member
Doug

“The lack of conclusive video evidence means that the right call is whatever call Joe West makes on the field.”

And who ever thought THAT would be a reasonable sentence? But there it is.

Dave T
Member
Dave T

Personally, I come down on having a tough time really figuring out if it was interference or not from these videos.

This claim looks simply to be incorrect based on the wording of the rule, however: “It has 0 to do with whether Betts was going to make that catch.”

Read the rule in the middle of Jeff’s post: “and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball” is a component of what’s required for a fan interference call.

If MLB’s intent is that fan interference can be called when a fan reaches over into the field of play and simply disrupts a player’s chance of catching a ball that might be catchable, then the rule ought to be re-worded to say something like “and hinders or impedes the fielder’s attempt to catch the ball”. We also, by the way, see exactly such wording in some of the MLB rules about batters or runners interfering with fielders. For example, part of rule 6.01(a) is that it’s batter or runner interference when “Any batter or runner who has just been putout, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner.”

HarryLives
Member
HarryLives

Yes. I’ve been arguing this point all day in another forum, but you put it particularly well.

Richard Bergstrom
Member
Richard Bergstrom

If Betts and his glove are both in the field of play i.e. he made the catch at or before the wall without reaching into the stands, isn’t having a bunch of people’s hands between your glove or your line of sight and the ball considered “plainly interfering”?

BaseballinDC1968
Member
BaseballinDC1968

People believe what they want. Anyone who tells you they know anything is a liar. We need to be able to deal with uncertainty and move on.

TheSherminator
Member
TheSherminator

I have no idea how you intended that last sentence to read – either “I can’t believe I have to defend someone who is clearly beyond reproach” or “I can’t believe that I find myself defending someone whose politics I disagree with”… but either way, that is a decidedly weird thing to bring up in this context.
I’m downvoting you for basic incoherence and non-sequiturial negligence. Also because you appear to be wrong about your baseball argument.

Freshy
Member
Freshy

Joe West also has the dubious distinction of taking away a perfect game. Not his first bad call rodeo.

Dave from DC
Member
Dave from DC

Are you thinking of Jim Joyce, or did Joe West do this too and I missed it? If so, shame on me.

Freshy
Member
Freshy

Joe West – Armando Galarraga on what should have been the final play of the perfect game.

Doug Lampert
Member
Member
Doug Lampert

That was Jim Joyce unless Galarraga had two perfect games taken away on a bad call in the final out, which I find prohibitively unlikely given that I’ve never heard of a second such game.

Dave from DC
Member
Dave from DC

Yeah, that was Jim Joyce, not Joe West.

Freshy
Member
Freshy

I stand corrected…apologies

apt41790
Member
apt41790

That was Jim Joyce, dolt

BaseballinDC1968
Member
BaseballinDC1968

Well, if there’s not conclusive evidence I guess we can’t know whether Joe West got it right – just that the decision to uphold was (just as a decision to uphold a call the other way would have been).

werneckpedro21
Member
werneckpedro21

Dude, you didn’t bother to read the rule.
It’s not about assuming a catch, it’s about whether or not the fan(s) reach out into the playing field (over the wall in this case).
As Jeff states, it’s not 100%, but the screenshots (especially the last one in my opinion) do seem to show that it was interference.

mikecav19
Member
mikecav19

Yeah, the rule is clear and the fan did not reach out into the field of play. It was clear. No no no fan interference.

benulitron
Member
benulitron

There’s no camera angle that’s clear. The questions “Would he have caught it?” And “was his glove closed? ” Have no bearing on the call.

Heathcliff Slocumb
Member
Heathcliff Slocumb

Can we get this clown of this site?

Patrick
Member
Member
Patrick

Anybody who thinks this is “clear” reveals themselves to be, well, kind of ignorant. There is nothing “clear” about this, as evidenced by the gazillion arguments all over the media. You may have an opinion, but to call it clear reveals your bias and ignorance of so, so many things.

Mean Mr. Mustard
Member
Mean Mr. Mustard

The rule may be clear, but your interpretation of it is not.

Joe Joe
Member
Member
Joe Joe

Fan reaching out into the field doesn’t matter. If a part of Betts’s glove reaches over the wall (it strikes guy in blue on his wrist), interference can’t be called. If “over” means “above”, I have a hard time believing it is clear cut. Joe West making the call determined the ruling.

peli
Member
Member
peli

“Fan reaching out into the field doesn’t matter” – that’s literally the thing that matters

Joe Joe
Member
Member
Joe Joe

Fan reaching into the field only matters if Betts isn’t reaching over a fence. If both a part of the fan is over the fence and a part of Betts is over the fence, it should be a home run. If “above” is included in part of the area “over” a fence, I would say there is greater than a 50% chance Betts was reaching over the fence. If “above” the fence is not included as part of reaching over the fence, there is less than a 50% chance Betts is reaching over the fence.

I’d like to hear Sheryl Ring’s take on what she thinks the rule means in regards to the area above the fence.

Cheeknbut
Member
Cheeknbut

I’m not so sure this is true. Per the rule the spectator has to “plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball.” If Mookie wasn’t going to make the catch, then he can’t be prevented from making the call by a spectator. Therefore, no interference can be called. For example, if a fan reaches over the railing in LF while the play is being made, it certainly wouldn’t (shouldn’t) be an interference call, which is the extension of your point.

Freshy
Member
Freshy

Rule 6.01(e) states: No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. The entire cruz here is whether the ball crossed the plane or not…if it did, the fans could rip off his glove and there would be no interference.

Llewdor
Member
Llewdor

But that’s not the rule in question. What matters here is whether inconclusive video evidence can overturn the call on the field. And it can’t.

You’re describing the rule Joe West used to make the call in the first place. Overturning that call requires that we can demonstrate the opposite hypothesis conclusively, and we can’t.

Freshy
Member
Freshy

We’re saying the same thing. I think the ball crossed the plane, I see him over the fence with a bent back glove, others don’t.

mikecav19
Member
mikecav19

I completely agree with you. This take is terrible and Jeff should be embarrassed. I though he knew something about baseball. Read the rule book and look at the video, it is simple. I do disagree with you that Betts does not catch it. His glove was closed already. He definitely would not have caught it.

sportsfreak2744
Member
sportsfreak2744

His glove was closed because the fans hands pushed it closed

Freshy
Member
Freshy

This doesn’t matter in the least. Only thing that matters is whether the ball crossed the plane of the fence or not before the fans touched it or him.

oozyalbies1
Member
oozyalbies1

Agreed.

bosoxforlife
Member
Member
bosoxforlife

Joe West said it did not break that imaginary plane so it is interference and there is no irrefutable evidence that it did. There is absolutely no way for Joe West, with a fore-shortened view, to see if it did or not and he properly made a judgment call. That call was upheld. Betts was clearly interfered with but if the ball had crossed the plane it wouldn’t make any difference.

Garyth
Member
Garyth

Betts’ glove was forced closed by the collision with the hands and arms of the fans. There is no certainty that he would have caught it had there not been interference (either legal or illegal by the rule book), but I think it’s fair to say given Betts’ glove proximity to the ball that he had a legitimate chance of catching it had the fans not been there.

I voted home run because in my view the fans were not in-play, but I agree with Jeff and probably the replay review room that there is no conclusive evidence to overturn the call. Ultimately I think the call was fair.

Psychic... Powerless...
Member
Psychic... Powerless...

“I thought [Jeff] knew something about baseball.”

Congrats, you’re now in the conversation for worst comment in FG history.

Planet Dust
Member
Member
Planet Dust

It seems extremely unlikely that he 1) mistimed the glove-closing that badly (I’ve never seen any player do that) and then 2) had the presence of mind to complain to JBJ about having his glove forced shut, so he could sell his theory.

murphyluke
Member
Member
murphyluke

Also it looks fairly clear from one angle that his glove hand is moving to his left and then the left side (from his perspective) of the glove stops moving as soon as it hits the guys hand. The right side of the glove keeps moving though. You would expect to see both sides move inward if it was Mookie closing the glove (I’m assuming that the glove-closing velocity is greater than that of Mookie flying in the air, which I think is fair?).

Los
Member
Los

Hi glove was closed because it hit a fan that was in the field of play.

tramps like us
Member
tramps like us

“I though he knew something about baseball”

mikecav19-you don’t help with this statement. It so happens I agree with your conclusion, which is that it should have been a dinger. But, Jeff made a cogent, solid argument for his opinion, and clearly he based it on the rules. Ridiculing a very, very highly knowledgable writer about his knowledge because you disagree with his opinion is disqualifying from considering yours. Pure tribalist tactics. Right or wrong, Jeff has nothing to be “embarassed” about. If anything, your conclsuion that this is “simple” reveals only your narrowmindedness.

Patrick
Member
Member
Patrick

You add nothing to any discussion. It’s you who should be embarrassed by your ridiculous, unfounded self confidence masking idiot ness.

dodgerbleu
Member
Member
dodgerbleu

Can you just go ahead and deactivate that account again?

vtadave
Member
vtadave

Thanks for reactivating your account.

Sincerely,

No one

tylerdurden31
Member
tylerdurden31

dang, i remember you from WAY back. was it the Scout board?

tb.25
Member
tb.25

I don’t think I’ve seen a comment with this many downvotes so quickly. All deserved.

Can we get it to 1,000?!

marchandman34
Member
marchandman34

Assist, Jeff is a thoughtful, entertaining, and knowledgeable writer that I try to read every article of. Cherry on the top for being a good man/having awesome chats.

tb.25
Member
tb.25

We’re at -600! Creeping closer to 1000!

rallj818
Member
rallj818

Is this the most thumbs-down’d comment in recent FG history

tramps like us
Member
tramps like us

wow. -330, that’s impressive.

Dooduh
Member
Dooduh

Yeah, not in a good way tho.

Alby
Member
Member
Alby

The Astros are cheaters, and what goes around comes around.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

This is the most downvoted comment I think I’ve ever seen. Honestly, I think the comment basically saying it was good that Dave Cameroon had cancer had fewer downvotes than this.

TKDC
Member
Member
TKDC

I went back and looked. I was a bit off. Someone commented that they would pray for Dave, and the first response to that was “I will do nothing for you, but act like I am.” (quotes in post). It has 322 downvotes: https://www.fangraphs.com/blogs/when-probability-is-not-helpful/

This comment is far past the comment of a person being an ass about cancer.

thestatbook
Member
thestatbook

It takes a really special comment to more than double the dislikes of an asshole.

Congrats, Mike.

merizobeach
Member
merizobeach

I read that quote as a dig at people who pray as being self-righteous and virtue signalling without offering any actual help.

thestatbook
Member
thestatbook

Paging Dave Appelman:

Is there a record for largest number of downvotes on a comment? This one has to be in the running.

ryanredsox
Member
ryanredsox

Has this set a FanGraphs record for downvotes?

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

How does this question have a downvote? That is the real question IMO.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

Negative 580 for you! Bad day to be first!

twroble
Member
twroble

You’re an idiot so hard that I had to create an account. It’s very obvious the fans were at the very least directly OVER the wall, and I’d even say into the playing field. Mookie would have made that catch had his glove not collided with their hands. Sorry don’t be salty.

RonnieDobbs
Member
RonnieDobbs

You sir, are the very definition of salty.

Nats Fan
Member
Member
Nats Fan

I raised you a point, but you were already minus more than 700. Clearly a huge number of Red Sox fans on this site. I thought it was a terrible call by the umpire and I could have cared less who won. Jeff fails to notice the curve in the wall and the obvious fact it all happened above the wall in the stands. His glove hit the hands of people a row back. How someone could reach into the field from a row back is not possible to me.