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Umpire Interference: An Easy Explanation

Baseball has lots of rules that all umpires, coaches, and players need to be aware of. One call that is uncommon, but something you could very easily come across, is umpire interference. However, many baseball fans are unsure of what counts as umpire interference or what it even means. What is umpire interference?

Umpire interference is when an umpire is hit by a batted ball before the ball touches an infielder or before the ball makes it past an infielder that is not the pitcher. Umpire interference also occurs when a plate umpire impedes the catcher from attempting to throw out a baserunner.

Backside view of an umpire holding his mask in his left hand while also pointing with his left hand

However, not every contact made by the umpire qualifies as umpire interference. Keep reading to get an in-depth explanation of umpire interference. We’ll explore what umpire interference is and how it’s signaled. We’ll also explore when umpire interference is the incorrect call and the result of the play when umpire interference is called.

The Two Ways to Call Umpire Interference

According to the MLB rules “Umpire’s interference occurs (1) when a plate umpire hinders, impedes or prevents a catcher’s throw attempting to prevent a stolen base or retire a runner on a pick-off play; or (2) when a fair ball touches an umpire on fair territory before passing a fielder. Umpire interference may also occur when an umpire interferes with a catcher returning the ball to the pitcher” (Rule 6.01(f))

As it turns out, there are two ways a play can be ruled umpire interference – when an umpire is hit by a batted ball and when the plate umpire impedes the catcher’s throw. However, there are also situations within each of these scenarios where umpire interference won’t be called.

Let’s go over each of these scenarios in which umpire interference will be called.

1) Umpire is Hit By a Batted Ball

The most common way you’d see umpire interference being called is when an umpire gets hit by a batted ball. But not every batted ball that hits the umpire is interference. When is umpire interference called during a batted ball?

Umpire interference will be called if the umpire is hit by a batted ball and the ball has not been touched by another infielder (including the pitcher) or has not passed another infielder (excluding the pitcher).

This scenario means the umpire is lined up in the infield, in front of the infielders and behind the pitcher. What happens if a batted ball hits an umpire?

When a batted ball hits an umpire and umpire interference is called, batters are awarded a hit and runners are awarded the next base, but only if they are forced to advance to the next base. Otherwise, the runner remains at the base they were occupying at the time of the pitch.

This means that if there was only a runner on second base and umpire interference is called, the play is called a dead ball, the runner stays on second base, and the batter is awarded a single.

On the other hand, this also means that if a pitcher or another infielder were to first touch the ball, and then the ball hit the umpire, umpire interference would not be called. When an umpire is hit by a deflected ball and there is no umpire interference, the ball is live and the play continues.

Here’s a quick example of umpire interference in an MLB game.

2) Home Plate Umpire Impedes the Catcher’s Throw

There are two scenarios where umpire interference can be called due to the home plate umpire impeding the throw: when the catcher is attempting to throw out a runner or when a catcher is returning a ball to the pitcher.

In both of these home plate umpire interference scenarios, the ruling on the field would be a delayed dead ball, meaning the play will continue as normal, but if an out is not recorded then a dead ball is called and runners must go back to their previous base.

But if the catcher were to throw the runner out, the play would stand and there would be no dead ball.

Umpire Interference When Catcher is Attempting to Throw Out a Runner

When a catcher is either trying to pick off a base runner or attempting to throw out a base runner who is stealing, umpire interference will be called if the home plate umpire somehow gets in the way of the throw.

Umpire interference on the home plate umpire mainly happens when a catcher is gearing back to throw the ball. Sometimes, the umpire is standing too close to the catcher and the catcher’s hand will hit the umpire before the throw is made.

Here is a quick example of this type of umpire interference. And also note that because this type of interference does not happen very often, the announcers bring up the definition of the umpire interference rule so they can better explain it to fans.

Umpire Interference When a Catcher is Returning a Ball to the Pitcher

Also embedded within the rulebook of the MLB is the comment that umpire interference can be called when a catcher is returning the ball back to the pitcher.

This type of interference is very rarely called. If it were to be called, it would only be relevant if a base runner was trying to advance while the catcher was throwing the ball back to the pitcher. In other words, the base runner would be performing a delayed steal.

What is Not Umpire Interference?

It’s important to understand what qualifies as umpire interference, but it’s just as important to understand what doesn’t qualify as umpire interference. Let’s go over 6 scenarios where an umpire is involved in the play, but umpire interference is not called.

1) Umpire is Hit By a Batted Ball After Ball Touches any Fielder

If any infielder, including the pitcher, touches the ball before it hits an umpire, umpire interference is not called.

A scenario you might see this play out is when an umpire is playing inside the infield, in front of second base and behind the pitcher. When an umpire is positioned here, it’s easier for a ball that’s deflected off of an infielder to hit an umpire.

2) Umpire is Hit By a Batted Ball After Ball Has Passed an Infielder

If a batted ball makes it past any infielder that is not the pitcher and hits the umpire, umpire interference is not called. Regardless of whether the infielder touched the ball or not, umpire interference will not be called once the ball has made it past at least one infielder.

3) Umpire is Hit By a Batted Foul Ball

Foul balls are already ruled as dead balls so when an umpire gets hit by a foul ball, umpire interference is not called.

One of the best examples of this occurring is when umpire Joe West was hit with a foul ball while positioned behind first base.

4) Umpire is Hit By a Thrown Ball

On occasion, the defense will accidentally hit an umpire when trying to throw to a base. In these scenarios, umpire interference is not called. The play is still live and the defense must field the ball that was deflected off of the umpire.

Below is another video of umpire Joe West getting hit by a ball. This time, Joe was positioned in the infield, in front of second base and behind the pitcher. This play is not umpire interference and it turns out that hitting the umpire ended up helping the defense on this play.

5) Umpire is Hit By a Pitch

Plate umpires can more easily be involved in any play because the pitcher is always throwing the ball in their direction. If a catcher misses the ball for any reason and the pitch hits the umpire, umpire interference is not called.

The video below is an example of how that situation might occur. If there were runners on base when the umpire was hit by a pitch, the play would be live and the catcher would need to run after the ball to prevent the runner from advancing.

6) Umpire Runs Into a Base Runner

Although it’s quite uncommon, a scenario can occur where an umpire runs into a base runner. What happens if a player runs into an umpire?

If the umpire accidentally runs into a base runner, there is no umpire interference and the play continues. Because the ball is still live, the base runner would need to advance to the next base to avoid an out.

The most likely scenario where this type of play would occur is when the umpire is trying to reposition themselves on the field in order to get a better view of the play.

As you could imagine, the entire offensive team would be pretty upset about a call like this. The good news is that this type of play almost never happens.

How Is Umpire Interference Signaled?

Now that you know what umpire interference is, it’s time to learn how umpires signal the umpire interference to players through hand gestures and words.

Umpire interference is signaled by the umpire throwing both of their hands up and calling “time”. They will then point at themselves, indicating that umpire interference is the call.

For any umpire interference call, a dead ball is called. If the interference call was on the home plate umpire obstructing the catcher’s throw, the runner must go back to the base they were at when the pitch occurred. If the interference call was from a batted ball, the batter is awarded a hit and runners are only awarded the next base if they would have been forced to advance.

Are Umpires In Play?

Backside view of a first base umpire watching the pitcher deliver a pitch

Umpire interference is a rule that refers to specific instances and not just every time the umpire gets in the way. Are umpires in play or is hitting an umpire considered umpire interference?

Umpires are considered to be part of the ground and are in play, but there are specific circumstances where hitting an umpire results in a dead ball and umpire interference being called.

The umpire may contact the ball after a player throws it or when the ball travels in the outfield areas, and umpires can contact players (except the catcher). In such cases, umpire interference isn’t signaled.

In other words, if the umpire comes into contact with the ball that is not directly from a hit, it’s not interference and the umpire is in play.

If the ball hits an umpire that comes from a batted bat, it’s not interference when the umpire is behind the first infielder and the umpire is considered to be in play. Similarly, if the ball hits the pitcher after being hit and then hits the umpire, it’s not umpire interference and the umpire is in play.

At the same time, if the umpire runs into a player or interferes with an offensive or defensive player, it’s not an umpire interference. The one exception to this is when the umpire interferes with the catcher as they’re throwing the ball in an attempt to throw out a base runner.

If an umpire interferes with play outside of the scenarios outlined in the umpire interference rules, the play continues. Therefore, the ball may contact an umpire and change directions, resulting in runs or outs because it doesn’t count as umpire interference.

Do Umpires Get Penalized for Bad Calls or for Interfering?

Umpires are human beings, which means they’ll make mistakes no matter how much training or experience they have. However, sometimes the best umpires can make terrible calls or interfere with play, which can spoil a good game. When this happens, do umpires face penalization for bad calls or for umpire interference?

Umpires don’t get penalized for bad calls or interfering with play. The umpires that officiate in the MLB are experienced, highly trained, and selected to be an umpire at the highest level. As a result, the MLB never punishes them for incompetence as the selection process is so rigorous.

MLB umpires typically have at least 7 or 8 years of professional experience in minor league baseball before making the jump to the majors. Therefore, umpires that reach the top level are highly experienced in a professional sport before taking a position in the MLB.

These umpires aren’t just experienced, but also highly capable. Just like the players in the league, umpires are brought up to the highest level when they have proven themselves to have talent and consistency. All of this allows umpires some leniency when it comes to making bad calls or unintentionally interfering with play.

What’s the Difference Between Interference and Obstruction?

Now that you have a better understanding of umpire interference and interference in general in baseball, it’s time to clear up some other standard calls made by umpires. What’s the difference between obstruction and interference in baseball?

The difference between interference and obstruction is that anyone at a baseball game could commit interference, whereas only defensive players may commit obstruction. Obstruction occurs when fielders interfere with runners as they advance from one base to the next.

Interference may occur when players, umpires, or even spectators interfere with play in an inappropriate manner. Obstruction, on the other hand, refers to when a defensive player who’s not in the act of fielding a ball blocks the path of a runner as they attempt to make it from one base to the next.

If a fielder is fielding the ball while standing the way of a runner, it doesn’t count as obstruction. However, if the fielder isn’t catching the ball or attempting to catch the ball, and they get in the way of a runner, the umpire awards obstruction. If a fielder attempts to catch a ball but fails, and they’re still in the path of a runner, it’s usually called obstruction.

Once the obstruction is called, the ball immediately becomes dead. The runners between bases may advance to the base they would’ve reached if the obstruction hadn’t occurred. The umpire decides whether they think the runners would have advanced to the next base.

Final Thoughts

Umpire interference occurs when the umpire interferes with a catcher’s throw or when a ball strikes an umpire directly from a hit before the ball has passed an infield player, excluding the pitcher. If an umpire interferes with the play in any other way, umpire interference isn’t called.

After umpire interference is called, the ball is dead, and the play is either reset, or the batter is awarded first base. Several interference calls in baseball can heavily influence the outcome of games. Even spectators can interfere with okay, resulting in fouls during play.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.