We’ve all seen those tremendous plays where a first baseman makes their way to the stands during a high-fly foul ball, makes the catch, and ends up falling over the railing and into the stands. Because of how difficult and how unusual this play is in baseball, the crowd goes wild when the umpire calls the catch an out. But what happens if this scenario was a home run?
Is it a home run if you catch the ball and fall over the fence? If an outfielder catches the home run with one foot on or over the playing surface and maintains possession of the baseball then the batter is called out. However, if no part of the player is on or over the playing surface then the play is ruled a home run.
This seems pretty straightforward, but let’s see what the official MLB rules have to say about this scenario (and take a look at some great highlights while we’re at it).
The Official MLB Rules For Catching Home Runs
There are two rules to consider when reviewing the scenario of a baseball player leaving the field to make a catch, and these rules apply for both home runs and foul balls.
Determining if the Play is a Catch or an Out
According to the official rules of the MLB, Rule 5.09(a)(1) has a comments section that states “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. Ball is in play, unless the fielder, after making a legal catch, steps or falls into a dugout or other out-of-play area, in which case the ball is dead. Status of runners shall be as described in Rule 5.06(b)(3)(C) Comment“
In short, the comments section of Rule 5.09(a)(1) says that for either a fair ball or a foul ball, a player must have at least one foot in or over the playing area when making the catch and that player must maintain possession of the baseball.
If the player does not have at least one foot in or over the player area then the catch does not count and the play is ruled a home run or a foul ball (depending on where the ball was hit).
If the player successfully makes the catch for the out, but then that player falls into the out-of-play area (the stands or the bullpen), then the play is ruled dead and we move on to the second rule to consider in this scenario where an outfielder falls over the fence while catching a home run.
Base Runners Advance If Player Falls Into the Out-Of-Play Area
Rule 5.06(b)(3)(C) of the MLB’s official rules has a comments section that states “If a fielder, after having made a legal catch, should step or fall into any out-of-play area, the ball is dead and each runner shall advance one base, without liability to be put out, from his last legally touched base at the time the fielder entered such out-of-play area.“
The comments section of MLB’s Rule 5.06(b)(3)(C) states that the ball is dead and each runner is awarded a base when a player makes a catch and that player falls into the out-of-play area.
So if there are less than two outs and a baseball player leaves the field to make a catch, the play is first ruled a catch if the player keeps at least one foot on or over the playing area. Then the play is ruled a dead ball and the base runners are awarded the next base.
Examples of Catching the Ball and Falling Over the Fence
For a great example of an outfielder falling over the fence to catch a home run, watch the video below from the MLB’s YouTube channel where Jay Buhner makes an incredible catch to rob the batter of a home run. Notice how he has at least one foot over the playing area when he initially makes the catch, which turned this potential home run into an out.
Let the Ball Go Foul if There is a Runner on Third Base
As a player, you need to be aware of the situation of the game. A vast majority of the time it makes sense to go for the out when you’re fielding, but due to the one-two punch of the rules outlined above, there is a situation where it doesn’t make sense for the player to risk going into the stands to make an out.
The scenario in which to let the ball go foul is when there is a runner on third, there are less than two outs, and the defensive player risks falling into the out-of-play area.
When this scenario occurs we want to let the ball go foul because there is a runner on third base and there is a good chance that your momentum takes you into the out-of-play area.
When you move into the out-of-play area by accident, the base runners are awarded a free base. And because of that runner on third, catching this ball in this scenario would lead to the opposing team scoring a run.
What Happens if You Catch a Ball and Your Glove Falls Off?
Sometimes it’s not so easy to maintain possession of the baseball, especially if you’re running at full speed and trying to scale the wall in order to get the out. So what happens if you catch a ball and your glove falls off?
When catching the ball results in the glove falling off and the glove goes over the fence, the ruling is that the player did not make the catch and the play is live.
As described in the official rules above, in order for the outfielder to complete a catch the outfielder must maintain possession of the baseball all the way through the catch. If the outfielder’s glove falls off, this means the outfielder failed to maintain possession of the baseball and the play is still a live ball.
Because the play is still a live ball when the player’s glove falls off, the ball is ruled a home run if that glove falls over the home run fence with the ball inside.
On the other hand, if the player touches the ball in foul territory and the glove goes over the foul-line fence then the play is ruled a foul ball (a lucky break for the fielder).
When asking the question “is it a home run if you catch the ball and fall over the fence?” the answer is that it depends on where the player’s foot was when that player caught the ball.
Unlike college football, where a player needs one foot down, baseball players just need one foot in the playing area. If their foot is in the playing area then they have successfully made the catch and completed the out. If their foot was not in the playing area when the catch was made then the play is ruled a home run.