Many of you will already know which play I am describing; some may have seen it live and for others they may know it thanks to the ever-delightful replay videos that MLB.tv have shown us in the past. But here is the play which I am going to talk about today.
In a game against Boston, back in August 2017, Austin Jackson leapt against the centre-field wall and flipped upside down. He ended up landing in the Red Sox bullpen and robbed Hanley Ramirez of a home run.
Fantastic piece of fielding and great composure to hold on throughout but I have a real issue with this play. I am a Cleveland fan and should love this play, but it winds me up every time I see it because I grew up watching and playing cricket.
Jackson completely leaves the field of play, ends up entirely over the home run fence and in the bullpen. For me, this should be a home run as he has not stopped that ball from going over the fence. He hasn’t reached over the fence and ended up back in fair territory, he’s on his knees inside the bullpen.
In cricket, if this were to occur, the batter would score six runs (the amount you get for clearing the boundary ropes) and it wouldn’t be an out.
You see some amazing plays on the boundary in cricket precisely because of this. Fielders going over the boundary ropes, catch and throw the ball back infield to someone else (or themselves) before landing outside the ropes. This highlight video shows you some of the top catches of this variety.
So, this play in baseball is out and cricket is not out. Let us look at the rules in MLB to see why it is an out.
MLB Rule 5.09(a)(1) states ‘A batter is out when his fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder’. It goes on to define a catch.
A catch is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession. It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball.
That gives us the definition of a fair catch and by those standards Jackson caught the ball fairly. There are two further comments to this rule which add more context for our situation.
Rule 5.09(a)(1) Comment: A fielder may reach into, but not step into, a dugout to make a catch, and if he holds the ball, the catch shall be allowed. A fielder, in order to make a catch on a foul ball nearing a dugout or other out-of-play area (such as the stands), must have one or both feet on or over the playing surface (including the lip of the dugout) and neither foot on the ground inside the dugout or in any other out-of-play area.
Catch Comment: A catch is legal if the ball is finally held by any fielder, even though juggled, or held by another fielder before it touches the ground. Runners may leave their bases the instant the first fielder touches the ball. A fielder may reach over a fence, railing, rope or other line of demarcation to make a catch. He may jump on top of a railing, or canvas that may be in foul ground. No interference should be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball.
These both suggest that Austin’s play would have been fine going into foul territory or dugout but there actually isn’t any clarity about what happens when a fielder goes over the home run fence. So, let’s check the home run rules.
After doing some reading there aren’t really home run rules, they are a subsection of the rules of when a batter becomes a runner. Rule 5.05(a)(5) states ‘A fair ball passes over a fence or into the stands at a distance from home base of 250 feet or more. Such hit entitles the batter to a home run when he shall have touched all bases legally.’
And Rules 5.05(a)(9) states ‘Any fair fly ball is deflected by the fielder into the stands, or over the fence into foul territory, in which case the batter shall be entitled to advance to second base; but if deflected into the stands or over the fence in fair territory, the batter shall be entitled to a home run.’
There are no additional comments to these rules and that leaves me a slight conundrum. The rules don’t actually tell us if Austin Jackson catch was legitimate or not. You could infer from the added comments about fielders going into foul territory or the dugout that is an out but it isn’t a cut and dry case. There is some room for interpretation by the on field umpires.
There is probably precedent for how this is handled or more details given to umpires about how to handle this case but in the official rules on the MLB website it is ambiguous.
For me it’s a home run but what do you think, should it be a home run or an out?
Russell is Bat Flips and Nerds’ resident analytical genius, and arguably Europe’s finest sabermetrician. If you’re not following Russell on Twitter @REassom then you’re doing baseball wrong.