Baseball is beautifully complex. I know it sounds like a cliché, but I really do learn something every time I work a game. Heck, every time I watch a game I learn something. I believe that if you don’t, you just aren’t trying.
Case in point: earlier this year I worked a high school game for a small rural school. With the runner on first stealing, the batter swung through the pitch and hit the catcher with his backswing. What is the correct rule?
Backswing Interference in Professional Baseball and College Baseball
When a batter swings through a pitch and makes contact with the catcher (his mitt or his person) during his backswing, the ball is delayed dead. If the catcher throws and the throw directly retires the runner, the interference is disregarded. Otherwise, the ball is dead and runners return to TOP bases. [OBR Rule 6.06(c) CMT]; [NCAA Rule 6-2d-2]
If the batter swings, the ball is not caught, and the backswing hits the catcher, the ball is dead and the batter is out. [PBUC]; [NCAA Rule 6-2d-1).
In this video example, R1 is stealing. The batter hits the catcher with his backswing and the catcher does not throw. This is backswing interference and R1 is returned to 1B.
In this video example, R1 is stealing. The batter strikes out and his backswing hits the catcher. The catcher’s throw does not retire R1, so the batter is out and R1 must return to 1B.
In this video example, R1 is stealing. The batter hits the catcher with his backswing and the catcher’s throw does not retire R1. Since the initial throw did not retire R1, he must return to 1B even though R1 is out on subsequent play.
Backswing Interference in High School
Inexplicably, the National Federation of High Schools rule on backswing interference is an immediate dead ball, the batter is out for interference, and all runners must return to TOP bases.
I kicked the call by enforcing the pro rule at a high school game. Of course, no one in the ball park (including my partner) knew I had made the mistake. Heck, I spoke with a state rules interpreter later in the year that didn't know the high school rule off the top of his head (he is also a college official). But that's our job, right? This is one of those plays that occur from time to time, and you need to be aware of the rules differences at the various levels.