In baseball, interference occurs in situations in which a person illegally changes the course of play from what is expected. Interference might be committed by players on the offense, players not currently in the game, catchers, umpires, or spectators. Each type of interference is covered differently by the rules.
The most common incidence of interference occurs when a member of the offensive team physically hinders the defensive team, decreasing its chances to make an out or increasing the chance that a baserunner will advance. Whenever this offensive interference occurs, the ball becomes dead. If the interference was committed by a batter or a baserunner, that player is called out and all other runners must return to the bases they occupied at the time of the interference. If interference is committed by a runner with the obvious intent of preventing a double play, the batter-runner will be called out in addition to the runner who committed the interference. If interference is committed by the batter-runner before he or she reaches first base with the possible intent of preventing a double play, the runner closest to scoring is called out in addition to the batter-runner. If interference is committed by a retired runner or by some other member of the offensive team, the runner who is most likely to have been put out will be called out.
Under Little League (LL), high school (NFHS) and college (NCAA) rules, if interference is committed by a runner with the effect of preventing a likely double play, regardless of his intent, the batter-runner will be called out in addition to the runner who committed the interference.
Also under NFHS rules only, all runners are required to attempt to avoid collisions. If a runner fails to do so, he is guilty of malicious contact, which is one kind of offensive interference. Malicious contact carries the additional penalty of ejection from the game. In contrast, in professional and higher amateur baseball, violent collisions can occur without any interference (or obstruction), especially when a fielder is receiving a thrown ball near a base where a runner is trying to reach. Any collision that occurs in this situation is not interference, because the fielder's action is in regard to a thrown ball. As long as such a runner's actions are related to his attempt to reach the base, he cannot be called for interference. The most common case of this is when a runner is attempting to score and the catcher has control of the ball. If the catcher is in the path between third base and home plate, the baserunner may strike the catcher with his body in an attempt to dislodge the ball from the catcher's hand and then reach home plate. This is usually attempted only when the play is close. When the catcher is set up and ready, the runner has little chance of knocking the ball away. Any such attempt presents a significant chance of injury to the baserunner, which has prompted the malicious contact rule to be used more often. In addition to the general subjective definition of offensive interference, it is also interference by specific rule when:
- The bat hits the ball a second time in fair territory, such as while the bat is being dropped;
- A batter or runner intentionally deflects the course of a batted ball in any manner;
- A member of the offensive team stands near a base to impersonate a baserunner or to otherwise confuse or hinder the defense;
- A coach physically assists a runner in returning to or leaving first or third base;
- A batter, while running to first base, runs outside the three-foot running lane and interferes with the fielder taking a throw at first base;
- A runner makes contact with a batted ball that did not go through or by a fielder, unless no infielder had a chance to immediately field the ball (in this instance, the runner is out, the batter is credited with a base hit, and no other runner advances unless forced to advance one base);
- A runner makes contact with a fielder attempting to field a batted ball, except the batter with the catcher in the immediate vicinity of home plate immediately after the ball was batted; or
- A member of the offensive team intentionally touches a thrown ball, or intentionally hinders a fielder attempting to make a throw.
- The batter physically hinders the catcher's opportunity to throw out a baserunner while standing outside of the batter's box.
There are some exceptions to the penalty for offensive interference.
- If there are fewer than two outs and a runner is trying to score, and the batter interferes with the tag attempt at home plate, then the runner is out for the batter's interference, while the batter is not out. If there are two outs in this situation, the normal interference penalty applies: the batter is out and the run does not score.
- If a runner's interference is caused by his being positioned at a legally occupied base and the fielder is trying to make a play on a batted ball in the vicinity of the base, interference is not called.
At some levels of play, verbal as well as physical hindrance can be called for interference. For example, if a runner or other member of the offense calls out "foul" on a fair ball or "mine" on a fly ball, he may cause the defense to react differently from how they otherwise would have, resulting in an interference call. This is not called as interference in professional or higher amateur baseball.
Cases of offensive interference
On October 19, 2004 in game six of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Alex Rodriguez of the New York Yankees intentionally swatted the arm of Boston Red Sox pitcher Bronson Arroyo, who was attempting to tag Rodríguez out. The ball came loose, initially enabling Rodríguez to advance and the previous runner Derek Jeter to score. The play originally stood but on appeal, Rodríguez was ruled out on the interference and Jeter returned to first, under the general definition of the rule above.
A famous alleged offensive interference occurred in the third game of the 1975 World Series. With a runner on first, Cincinnati Reds player Ed Armbrister laid down a sacrifice bunt. Red Sox catcher Carlton Fisk attempted to field the ball and throw to second base and get the lead runner out. However, Armbrister did not immediately run to first base but instead stood essentially still in the vicinity of home plate, forcing Fisk to jump into him in order to make the throw. As a result, Fisk's throw went into center field, and the Reds ended up with runners on first and third with no outs. The Red Sox protested, saying that Armbrister interfered, but home plate umpire Larry Barnett refused to change the call. The rules at the time did not mention a batter-runner/catcher collision, but the official interpretation issued to the umpires did; there is no violation on such unintentional contact.  The Red Sox lost the game, and the series.
In Game 4 of the 1978 World Series, another possible case, also uncalled, of offensive interference happened when New York Yankees outfielder Reggie Jackson, on first base, stayed in the baseline when, after forcing him out at second base, Los Angeles Dodgers shortstop Bill Russell threw to first base to try to complete a double play. Jackson let the ball hit him, but batter Lou Pinella was not called out as Jackson was not charged with interference.
It is umpire's interference when the umpire hinders a catcher's attempt to throw anywhere. In this case, if the catcher's direct throw retires a runner the play stands. If not, the ball is dead and all runners must return to the bases they had most recently touched (before the catcher's throw).
It is also umpire's interference when an umpire is struck by a fair batted ball before it touches a fielder including the pitcher or passes near an infielder other than the pitcher. This can occur either because an umpire is inside the diamond or because the ball crosses 1st or 3rd base in fair territory then hooks or slices foul into the umpire positioned just outside the line behind the bag. In this case, the ball is dead, the batter is awarded first base, and all other runners advance only if forced. A common example is when a batter hits a fair ball down the first base line so hard that the first base umpire can't avoid it. Even though the hit would have surely been a bases-clearing double or triple without the interference, it is only a single and runners advance no more than one base. This happened in the 1989 All-Star Game when the Pittsburgh Pirates' Bobby Bonilla led off the 9th with a scorching grounder that would have been an easy double, but it hit first base umpire Bob Engel in the legs as he tried to jump out of the way. Instead of being in scoring position down 5–3, Bonilla was forced out at 2nd the next play and the game ended on a double play.
Catcher's interference is called when the catcher physically hinders the batter's opportunity to legally swing at a pitched ball. This occurs most often when a catcher squats too close to home plate, so that the batter's bat touches the catcher's mitt as the batter swings. This is most likely to happen on attempted steals where the catcher is anxious to catch the ball as soon as possible and may move his entire body or mitt forward a bit.
In this case, play continues, and after continuous playing action ceases, the umpire will call time. The penalty here is that the batter is awarded first base, any runner attempting to steal is awarded that base, and all other runners advance only if forced. Additionally, the catcher is charged with an error (although the batter is not charged with an at-bat). However, if the actual playing result is more advantageous than the penalty, the offense may elect to ignore the infraction (e.g., if the batter-runner reaches first safely and all other runners advance at least one base, catcher's interference is ignored by rule, or if a run scores even though the play resulted in an out the offense may elect to take the play versus the penalty by appealing to the calling Umpire.)
Under high school (NFHS) rules only, catcher's interference is instead called catcher's obstruction.
When a spectator or other person not associated with one of the teams (including such staff as bat boys or ball girls) alters play in progress, it is spectator interference, colloquially called fan interference. It is worth noting that the latter is also (incorrectly) used to refer to fan obstruction – for instance a spectator running onto the field and tackling a baserunner. The ball becomes dead, and the umpire will award any bases or charge any outs that, in his judgment, would have occurred without the interference.
Such interference often occurs when a spectator in the first row of seats reaches onto the field to attempt to grab a fair or foul fly ball. If the umpire judges that the fielder could have caught the ball over the field (i.e., the ball would have not crossed over the plane of the wall), he will rule the batter out on spectator interference. Also, the spectator who commits interference is usually ejected from the stadium. Note that spectators are allowed to catch a ball that is in play when the ball has broken the plane of the spectators' side of the wall. The area where both fielders and spectators are legally allowed to catch the ball is colloquially called no man's land.
Umpires typically grab their wrist above their head to signal that spectator interference has occurred.
Cases of possible spectator interference
- On October 9, 1996, Jeffrey Maier became well loved in New York but hated in Baltimore over spectator interference that was not called by the umpire. In the eighth inning of Game 1 of the American League Championship Series, with the Yankees trailing 4–3, Derek Jeter, the Yankee shortstop, hit a fly to the right field wall. Oriole right fielder Tony Tarasco backtracked and positioned himself to catch Jeter's fly ball just short of the wall. Maier, a 12-year-old spectator seated in the bleachers, reached out to catch the ball, and deflected it away from Tarasco and over the fence. Umpire Rich Garcia ruled the play a home run rather than calling Jeter out on spectator interference or awarding him a double. Garcia later said he believed the ball was uncatchable, but video of the play shows the ball was touched in the field of play, although Garcia may not have been in position to see the interference. Maier's interference and Garcia's call resulted in a game-tying home run for Jeter. The Yankees won the game in extra innings and prevailed in the series in five games. Garcia was shown on the national broadcast laughing with fans in the front row and signing autographs at Yankee Stadium shortly before the first pitch of game 2 of the 1996 ALCS in New York.
- On October 14, 2003, the Steve Bartman incident occurred, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, in the eighth inning of Game 6 of the 2003 National League Championship Series (NLCS).
- On July 6, 2010, the Seattle Mariners trailed the visiting Kansas City Royals 3–2 in the 8th inning of a game. With runner Ichiro Suzuki on first base for the Mariners, Mariners designated hitter Russell Branyan hit a double down the right field line. As Royals outfielder David DeJesus attempted to make a play on the ball, a young fan reached onto the field and picked up the ball. The play was ruled an automatic double, and the umpires ruled that Branyan would take second base and that Ichiro would take third base, denying him a potential opportunity to score on the play. Both Ichiro and Branyan would be stranded on the bases, and the Royals held on for the 3–2 victory.
- On October 19, 2010, in the second inning of Game 4 of the American League Championship Series, with no score, Yankees player Robinson Canó hit a fly to the right field wall. Rangers right fielder Nelson Cruz backtracked and positioned himself to jump in the air and attempt to catch Cano's fly ball at the wall. Jared Macchirole, a 20-year-old spectator seated in the bleachers, reached out to catch the ball, and in doing so, made contact with the glove of Cruz, ending his upward momentum, and ensuring that Cruz would not catch the ball, that did reach the seats. Right Field Umpire Jim Reynolds ruled the play a home run rather than calling for Instant Replay review to determine whether spectator interference had occurred as specified by MLB's new rule regarding Instant Replay. The potential interference and umpire's call resulted in a solo home run for Cano, the Yankees taking a 1–0 lead at the time.
- On September 4, 2011, Hunter Pence of the Philadelphia Phillies hit a fly ball to deep right field. Originally ruled a live ball, instant replay showed Marlins right fielder Bryan Petersen was interfered with by multiple fans during his opportunity to catch a ball, under Rule 2.00 INTERFERENCE (d)(1) and (2). After instant replay review, first base umpire and crew chief Joe West ruled Pence out under the provisions of spectator interference, Rule 3.16, and sent Phillies baserunner Ryan Howard back to first base. Phillies Manager Charlie Manuel was ejected and elected to play the game under protest. On September 7, 2011, MLB VP of Baseball Operations Joe Torre denied the first ever protest associated with authorized instant replay usage.
- On June 8, 2014, Brian Roberts of the New York Yankees was at bat against the Royals at Kauffman Stadium in the top of the 4th inning. He hit a ball down the first base line that the first base umpire ruled fair. Thinking it was a foul ball, a ball person in foul territory in right field picked the ball up and gave it to a fan. The play was ruled dead and Brian Roberts was awarded a double. However, the Yankees did not score that inning and they lost the game 2-1.
- On August 17, 2018, during the fifth inning of a game between the San Diego Padres and Arizona Diamondbacks, Padres batter Eric Hosmer hit a fly ball to deep left center. Diamondbacks outfielder Jon Jay moved to the wall in an attempt to catch it, but a fan seated in the front row reached over the wall with his cup of beer. The ball struck the cup and bounced over the wall into the outfield seats; the play was initially ruled a home run, then reviewed at the Diamondbacks' request. Fan interference was not called, and the play was allowed to stand. The Padres ultimately lost the game, 9-4.
When a fielder hinders a baserunner, the situation is called obstruction, not interference. Baseball commentators will often mistakenly refer to obstruction as interference.
Not all physical contact in baseball is interference. Accidental contact that has little or no effect on play will usually be ignored; physical contact must result in an advantageous situation for the offense to be considered offensive interference. Nor must physical contact occur for interference to be called. A runner may interfere with a fielder simply by hindering the fielder's ability to attempt to make a play on a batted ball.
If a base runner is hit by a fair-batted ball while standing on a base, the runner is out, unless the ball has already passed an infielder or the infield fly rule has been declared. The base is not a sanctuary.
Being in contact with a base may protect a baserunner from being called out for interference in the case of a fielder attempting to field a batted ball.
Per MLB rules:
"If [a] runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders [a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball], he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out."
Per Little League rules:
7.08—Any runner is out when –
(b) intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball. (NOTE: A runner who is adjudged to have hindered a fielder who is attempting to make a play on a batted ball is out whether it was intentional or not.)
- Official Baseball Rules (PDF) (2016 ed.). Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. 2016. Definitions of Terms - Interference (pp. 146-7). ISBN 978-0-9961140-2-8. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
- Official Baseball Rules (PDF) (2016 ed.). Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. 2016. Rules 5.09, 6.01. ISBN 978-0-9961140-2-8. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
- 23 Ways to First – Eephus League Archived February 26, 2011, at the Wayback Machine.
- "BB Moments: Fan helps Jeter's HR". MLB.com. MLB Advanced Media, L.P. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
- Wade, David. "Inside the rules: fan interference". The Hardball Times. Hardball Times Inc. Retrieved 29 June 2016.
- "Mariners run out of options against Royals, Greinke". Seattle PostGlobe. Retrieved July 7, 2010.
- "Ejections: Joe West (7)". Retrieved September 4, 2011.
- "Ask the Umpire". MLB.com. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
So, the only time a [runner] in the infield is ever protected from being hit by a ball is if there's been an opportunity for somebody to field it and nobody's behind him, or if it's an infield fly, which is a pop-up, and it hits him while he's standing on the bag.
- Official Baseball Rules (PDF) (2016 ed.). Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. 2016. Rule 5.09(b)(7) (p. 46). ISBN 978-0-9961140-2-8. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
- Official Baseball Rules (PDF) (2016 ed.). Office of the Commissioner of Baseball. 2016. Rule 6.01(a) Penalty for Interference Comment (Rule 7.08(b) Comment) (p. 63). ISBN 978-0-9961140-2-8. Retrieved 2016-07-31.
- Little League Umpire School Rules Instruction Manual (RIM). PREPARED FOR THE 2010 REGIONAL LITTLE LEAGUE UMPIRE SCHOOLS