The Corner

Why Lawyers Love Baseball

I missed last night’s no-hitter by Roy Halladay, but I have always been a Halladay fan and would have loved to have seen him in a Red Sox uniform. What is most interesting to me about his no-hitter was the final play, which you can watch here.  

Cincinnati’s Brandon Phillips squibbed a ball about five or six feet out in front of the plate and the stadium went quiet, thinking that a swinging bunt would break up the no no. Phillies catcher Carlos Ruiz pounced on it, however, and made a fine pick of the ball and good throw to first to end the game.

Phillips likely should have been out even if Ruiz was unable to make the play on the ball. When Phillips hit the ball, he let go of his bat in fair territory (apparently unintentionally). And the ball and bat came to rest nestled up against each other in fair territory. Normally, if a ball and bat make contact with one another in fair territory, the umpire can call interference, but only if he determines the bat-throwing was intentional. But where a thrown bat interferes with a defensive player’s attempt to make a play on the ball, interference has to be called, even if there is no intent to interfere.

The official comment to Major League Baseball rule 6.05(h) provides: “If a whole bat is thrown into fair territory and interferes with a defensive player attempting to make a play, interference shall be called, whether intentional or not.”

Now, some may argue that the bat would not have interfered with Ruiz’s ability to make the play, and it obviously did not in this case. But that’s only because Ruiz made a tremendously dexterous play on the ball. It could easily have gone the other way.

I now turn the debate over to Ed Whelan, who can explain why Official Comments to Rules are not Rules, and therefore should not be used as interpretive devices.

Shannen W. Coffin — Shannen W. Coffin is a contributing editor to National Review. He practices appellate law in Washington, D.C.

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