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A Great Play, But Here’s The Catch…

You’ve seen the video, I’ve seen the video, we’ve all seen the video–Indians center fielder Austin Jackson made a tremendous play Monday night in Fenway Park to rob Hanley Ramirez of a home run.


Austin Jackson: a great, home-run-robbing catch…or was it?

Or did he?

While I’m impressed with the effort, I need someone to explain it to me: why was that play considered a catch for a putout, and not a home run?

This is probably the part where some readers are just going to think I’m stupid. He caught the ball–what part of that don’t I understand?

Yes, Jackson did catch the ball. I don’t question that. I’m sure he gloved the ball and did not bobble it or let it slip out of his mitt as he tumbled over the fence. He held onto it, no doubt.

But he also tumbled over the fence. Which means the ball went over the fence, too. And the last time I checked, when a batted ball goes over the fence–and, crucially, is not brought back from over the fence by a player in a legal defensive position–it’s usually called a home run. (Remember, fielders are allowed to reach into the stands, but not allowed to set themselves up in the stands; that’s not a legal defensive position.)

Think about it: we’ve seen balls that have bounced off gloves and landed over the fence for a home run. We’ve even seen balls hit off a fielder’s head and bound beyond the fence for a round-tripper. (Thanks, Jose; you’re always pure highlight gold.)

One might ask why, logically, these plays are not automatic doubles; after all, when the ball hits the field and leaps over the fence, it’s not called a home run. For consistency, you’d expect that a ball that makes contact with a fielder–in the field of play–and then goes over the fence would be a double, too. But no, they’re considered home runs, despite the fact that their first contact came in the field of play with the outfielder. Fair enough, I guess.

But then you have a ball that makes contact with a fielder, goes over the fence, is not going to bounce back of its own accord…and yet, because it happens to make that contact with the web of someone’s glove, it’s called an out.

Really? That makes no sense.

And this is a much more crucial distinction to be made than what happens when a fielder makes a catch in foul ground and then tumbles into the seats, a la Derek Jeter. In such a case in foul territory, if the player doesn’t make the catch, it’s just a dead ball, no harm no foul (so to speak). Where he goes into the stands–or where the stands stick out into the field of play, more precisely–is an arbitrary matter; theoretically, there could be no stands around the playing surface, and the player could conceivably chase the foul pop as far as he could run.

But you can’t have that on a ball hit to center field. Fair territory, and its outer marker in the form of the outfield fence, represents a specific definition of where the playing field ends. A ball hit out there has to be either a safe hit or an out. And if the ball goes over the fence, it seems to me that it should be a home run, whether it carries the fielder over with it or not.

At the very least, baseball has a huge inconsistency in its rule book. Closing that loophole is something the commissioner’s office should really consider.

Of course, this is the same commissioner’s office that doesn’t seem to get anything right–inability to secure a new stadium in Oakland, the intentional walk screw-up, etc–so don’t hold your breath.

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