Baseball Question: Legal Catch of foul in the stands

From watching games it would appear that if a fielder reaches into the stands and catches a foul ball that is slightly touched by a fan also reaching for it, the catch is ruled valid. On the other hand, I’m pretty sure that if the balls trajectory was significantly altered – say, for example, it bounced off a fan’s hands back into the air and was caught – then the catch would not be allowed.

I can’t, however, find a ruling on this. I would have thought that any ball in the stands even slightly touched by a fan is no longer catchable for an out? I do know that if a fielder reaches into the stands, then fan interference is not called, so an out cannot occur that way. But as I said, I’ve seen catches that have been slightly touched when the fan and the fielder both reach for the ball.

I found this in the official rule book:

When there is spectator interference with any thrown or batted ball, the ball shall be dead at the moment of interference and the umpire shall impose such penalties as in his opinion will nullify the act of interference.
APPROVED RULING: If spectator interference clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out.
Rule 3.16 Comment: There is a difference between a ball which has been thrown or batted into the stands, touching a spectator thereby being out of play even though it rebounds onto the field and a spectator going onto the field or reaching over, under or through a barrier and touching a ball in play or touching or otherwise interfering with a player. In the latter case it is clearly intentional and shall be dealt with as intentional interference as in Rule 3.15. Batter and runners shall be placed where in the umpire’s judgment they would have been had the interference not occurred.
No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. However, should a spectator reach out on the playing field side of such fence, railing or rope, and plainly prevent the fielder from catching the ball, then the batsman should be called out for the spectator’s interference. Example: Runner on third base, one out and a batter hits a fly ball deep to the outfield (fair or foul). Spectator clearly interferes with the outfielder attempting to catch the fly ball. Umpire calls the batter out for spectator interference. Ball is dead at the time of the call. Umpire decides that because of the distance the ball was hit, the runner on third base would have scored after the catch if the fielder had caught the ball which was interfered with, therefore, the runner is permitted to score. This might not be the case if such fly ball was interfered with a short distance from home plate. *

Though, doesn’t this mean that when a fan reaches for a borderline HR hit ball and catches it at the edge that it becomes interference? Example: 2003 Cubs postseason incident when the fan grabbed the ball from moises alou.

It’s hard to get from the official rules, but I believe a foul ball would be considered dead if touched by a fan, the same as if the ball hit a seat or wall in foul territory before being caught by a fielder. Imagine what could happen if it were otherwise: with the visiting team at bat, a fan could deliberately deflect a foul ball to a home fielder (or even catch a foul ball and then drop it into the glove of a home fielder).

It wasn’t a home run ball - it was a foul ball that was one row into the stands. Steve Bartman, the Cubs fan in question, caught the ball even though Alou was in position to catch it. It wasn’t interference because there can’t be interference when the ball is already over the wall. Bartman caught a lot of flak from other Cubs fans because they thought he should have gotten out of the way and let Alou make the catch. The Marlins went on to score eight runs in the inning to win the game.


Rule 3.16 is irrelevant to this question because there is no spectator interference when a fielder reaches into the stands.

Instead, we need two definitions from Rule 2.00:

Ergo, a ball which touches a fan is no longer in flight, and cannot be legally caught.

That can’t be completely right since there are a number of covered stadiums in which a ball that hits the roof or a speaker may be in play and can legally be caught.

As for lightly grazing a spectator (not a fan–a fan would either deliberately ruin the catch, if it were an away team, or allow it to be caught if it was the home team) and being caught, well the rule seems clear but the umpire has to see it.

Roof shots are an exception which is covered in the ground rules for particular parks, not in the playing rules. For example, the rules governing play in the Metrodome are typical: