09 October 2009

Fan Interference

While I think about maybe changing the unfair loss share allocation from game 2 ( Holliday doesn't really deserve two ) I thought it would be fun to talk about the fan interference aspect of that infamous play where he couldn't catch Loney's fliner.

Now, I think this post by Jon Weisman pretty much debunks the notion that the waving of towels had anything to do with Holliday's misplay, so this is more of a hypothetical discussion, a meandering exploration, if you will.

My reaction was fascination when I first read Adam Wainwright's comment that "he lost the ball in the 50,000 white towels shaking in front of his face." That such a thing could happen never occurred to me. They have the batting eye in center field, of course, so something similar doesn't occur to hitters. Hitters get a black backdrop so they can pick up the ball out of the pitcher's hand and not lose it in bright colors or motion. This both helps the hitters hit and helps them get out of the way of balls thrown at them. But fielders get no fielding eye, else there would be no stands at all! They are at the mercy of fan motion and color, but since the initial flight of the ball usually starts much farther away than it does for batters, and since the path of the ball is usually above or below the plane of the stands, it usually isn't a problem. The lights or the sun are much more likely to be the problem, as was the case for Holliday in game 2.

Is there is a pitcher's eye, so hurlers can pick up the flight of the ball without fan interference, and duck out of the way of a ball hit right back at the head? I'm not really sure about that, but in a lot of cases the ball is hit back hard it wouldn't matter. I don't think anything could have saved Kuroda back when he gave up a ground rule double off his head.

Is there anything the fans could do to really interfere with the fielders, short of climbing onto the field? I don't really think so. I'm not sure I believe that there is a great risk of losing a ball in a sea of waving towels. The motion is too fast, too much like static. It reminds me of the wholly ineffective tactic of NBA fans trying to distract free throw shooters by shaking those snake things behind the basket. It's just random background static to the shooter. If they wanted to really distract the shooter they would have one fan hold up a long pole with a target or streamer at the end and move in a back-and-forth or circular pattern behind the basket. Give the basket some competition for a solid thing to aim at. You could try something similar in baseball against the road pitcher. Have a fan behind the plate wave around a target to compete with the catcher's glove. I think neither the NBA or MLB would allow these kinds of shenanigans, and rightly so.

In football the crowd can interfere by being really noisy and drowning out the snap count. They used to enforce a 5-yard penalty on the home crowd being too noisy and interfering with the game, but everyone hated that so they got rid of it. Well, almost everyone. Paul Zimmerman ( Dr. Z ) of Sports Illustrated hates the fact that the crowd would influence the game like that, and he advocated for the rule, had a bee in his bonnet about it, really. I kind of was swayed by his arguments, very logical and principled, but, well, it was a losing cause.

I remember back when baseball fans started doing the wave some players would complain about it being distracting, and coming at inappropriate times in the game. And that's the thing -- there was no sense of timing with the wave -- no real plan to use it to disrupt the opposing team. Who does it hurt more, anyway? The defense, pitcher, or hitters? I have noticed that a home team home run can kill a wave. On field events can interfere with fan games, it seems.

Ah, speaking of fan games, what about the dreaded beach ball? Now there is something that could interfere with the game. I'm still waiting to see one of these drop into the outfield just as a fielder is going back to make a catch. There could be a nasty injury if a player stumbled over one of those. Or it might just prevent an out. What would the umpires rule? Would the call be different depending on which team home or road was at the plate?

The fans can always interfere by reaching over the wall for a batted ball. Forgot about that earlier. Jeffrey Maier, and Bartman, though in his case he didn't reach over the wall, so it wasn't really interference except in a more poetic sense. Except for the famous postseason cases this kind of fan interference is routine and regrettable. Just kick the fan out and move on.

Daaaaarrrrryyyyylllll Daaaarrrryyyyyyllllll --- old enough to remember how opposing fans would greet Darryl Strawberry? Did this distract him in the field? Surely not. Maybe only in that Simpson's episode. And it also seems to me that sometimes home fans would chant his name this way, so it seems unlikely this rather soothing chant could have been an issue. I think, overall, a chant wouldn't be distracting, again, too much like static. Maybe a randomly heard outburst from the crowd could distract, if it was sufficiently provactive --- either offensive, or funny, perhaps. Wouldn't it have been something to shout something really funny at Barry Bonds and make him laugh just as a ball was hit to him? But probably most fielders are too zoned in on the ball to really hear what is being said. That's what they say, anyway. Not sure if I believe it. I know that when I played outfield in little league my attention span was terrible out there. Once I didn't see a fly ball until the very last minute and it nearly quite literally caught me. I was so lucky. When I came in to the dugout after the inning someone asked me if I had fallen asleep out there and I denied it, saying I saw it the whole way. What a lie. I'm sure major leaguers don't have this happen to them, though. Right? They're being paid, after all.

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