Saturday, May 19, 2007

Beneficial Fan Interference?

In the top of the ninth inning in the Cardinals-Tigers game, the tying run was on first base with two outs when Scott Spiezio hit a shot down the left field line. A fan wearing a Tigers cap reached over the railing to collect the ball, giving Spiezio a ground-rule double and holding the tying run at third.

We're not talking about a Bartman play here; this ball was clearly in the field of play, with the fan having to reach all the way over the railing and down to the ground to pick it up. This sort of interference simply should not happen, especially at a critical point of the game.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I had a bet on the Cardinals tonight, so I am not totally unbiased. But I believe this is a general issue that deserves discussion.)

Would Aaron Miles have scored from first base on the play? Probably not; he likely would have been thrown out to end the game. However, the fan probably would not have interfered with this ball if it had been the Tigers trying to tie the game, and that's the important thing here.

Not only did this fan affect the outcome of the game, he probably deprived the crowd of a chance to see one of baseball's most exciting plays--the tying run trying to score on a close play at the plate with one out left in the game.

MLB should take a stance on this kind of behavior. I know they want to be fan-friendly and not impose too harsh penalties for this kind of interference, but is the optimal form of entertainment really watching a fan pick the ball up instead of seeing a close play at the plate to decide the game?

I can't really come up with a perfect solution, but if MLB made a statement--say, by awarding Miles the tying run for interference--fans everywhere would take notice and think twice before acting in a similar way in the future. The decision might be unpopular in Detroit, but it would be good for the long-term enjoyment of watching baseball.

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