I don’t need to tell you that Victor Martinez’s disputed home run in Tuesday night’s ALDS Game 4 will go down in baseball lore as but another example of a questionable call that led to a turning point in a crucial game. A lot has been made of this scenario in the fight for more instant replay in baseball, and with the introduction of this method for disputed calls, the accuracy of correct calls has definitely improved, although not entirely. But this plight is even harder when a fan is involved, because like on Tuesday night, an umpire must determine what would have happened had the fan not been involved. This is difficult not only because the umpires have to project a possible trajectory (maybe umpires should have degrees in Physics?), but also because of the size of the screens they use. But how crucial are these fan interference home run plays in actuality? Here I will take a look at some disputed home runs via fan interference, ranked by WPA.
4. September 4, 2011, Phillies vs. Marlins: .049
This plays comes with an asterisk, because although the effect of the ruling was inconsequential on WPA, one can only project what the WPA would have been if the call were the other way around. On this play the Phillies’ Hunter Pence hit a deep fly ball to right field and fans interfered with Marlins RF Bryan Petersen’s attempt to catch the ball. Upon ruling it was decided that Petersen would have caught the ball had the fan not interfered, and Pence was ruled out. This one is interesting because this is the only case of fan interference (with a home run involved) where the umpires determined that the ball would have been caught without interference; that’s a pretty bold assumption, considering Petersen’s glove wasn’t directly under the ball.
3. 2010 ALCS, Game 4: .102
In the bottom of the 2nd in Game 4, with Texas up 2 games to 1, the Yankees looked to get off to an early lead. Robinson Cano skied an inside fastball to the short porch in right field and Nelson Cruz attempted to leap to catch the ball when 20 year-old Jared Macchirole interfered with Cruz’s leap and the ball just barely cleared the wall. Of course Cruz protested, claiming that Macchirole had stopped him from making a leaping grab. Unlike with Pence’s fly ball, the umpires determined that Cruz would not have been able to make the catch without fan interference. Still, that’s a tough decision to decide whether or not a catch could have been made. Luckily for the umpires and unluckily for the Yankees, the Yankees were crushed 10-3 and it meant little in the scheme of the game.
2. 2013 ALDS, Game 4: .227
In the bottom of the 7th inning, the Tigers were down 4-3 and facing elimination as the Oakland bullpen was ready to close the door. Victor Martinez launched a pitch to right field and two fans standing over the wall reached over, blocked the ball from Josh Reddick and it fell back into the field of play. The umpires ruled this a home run, and one can see that Reddick probably would not have made the play, and it was clearly above the yellow line on the wall. The Tigers went on to win 8-6, and their fate has yet to be determined as they play a deciding Game 5 tonight.
1. 1996 ALCS Game 1: .299
I think that every baseball fan, especially fans of the Yankees and Orioles, is familiar with this “home run”. The Yankees were trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 8th and Jeter hit this pitch to the short porch in right and, as we all know, the eminent (or infamous) Jeffrey Maier snagged the ball from Tony Tarasco and the Yankees went on to win that game, the series, and the World Series. This is more blatantly obvious than the Pence call because it is clear Tarasco would have made the catch; he was clearly camped out underneath the ball. Had replay been available, Jeter would have been out and the Orioles would have had about a 75% chance of winning that game from that point. This is easily the most significant call in that not only was there fan interference, but that it was a missed call. Some say that it was the play that started a dynasty and ended Oriole dominance, but who can really speculate about that. But in the context of this game, that call was huge.
There are other non-Home Run cases with fan interference (cough cough Steve Bartman), but I think that Home Run cases are interesting in that they directly result in a run scoring or a lack there of, not a “maybe there would be a run scored if such and such happened” case with fan interference. Luckily for umpires and fans, this doesn’t happen very often, and there are only two cases where this has had a significant impact. But, two cases in playoff situations is all that it takes to justify the importance of instant replay in baseball. At this point, baseball has done the best it can do in dealing with these rare cases. The last step in ending this would be on the part of the fans; all they need to do is follow a simple adage common in Kindergarten classes: “Keep your hands to yourself”.
Image courtesy of Gawker Media.
Videos courtesy of MLB Advanced Media.
Stats courtesy of Fangraphs.com and Baseball-Reference.com.
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