Fair or foul? Wacky high school baseball play sparks debate

The batter got a piece of the ball. It deflected off the mask of the catcher. It sailed up into the air and right down into the glove of the pitcher awaiting below. Then, confusion.

The umpire had called it foul while the ball was in the air. The pitcher held up the ball to show he had caught it. From the sidelines of this St. Louis high school baseball game, parents in attendance could be heard yelling “That’s an out!” and “It’s a foul ball!” on the video posted to Twitter.

Debate raged on social media too, with Jomboy himself getting involved:

At St. Louis University High School, the umpire appeared to speak toward the home team’s dugout along the third base line, though the video did not pick up what he said. Given as the umpire ruled the play dead, it’s fair to assume the game resumed with his foul ball call.

Over on Twitter, some people were also confused. The ball never hit the ground, so shouldn’t it be fair? Was it a foul tip, and only the catcher was allowed to touch it?

This wasn’t a foul tip — MLB defines a foul tip as “a batted ball that goes sharply and directly to the catcher’s hand or glove and is legally caught.” It also says “If the ball is not caught by the catcher, it is considered a regular foul ball.”

If that’s the case, it appears it’s a foul ball. The rulebook states a batter is out when “His fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder,” and it also says a catch is legal “if the ball is finally held by any fielder, even though juggled, or held by another fielder before it touches the ground.”

So does that mean it should have been an out?

I couldn’t find anything in the rulebook about this specific example. There was plenty about third strikes and dropped third strikes; there were explanations about catching foul tips; there were clauses about the ball deflecting off an umpire. I didn’t see anything about a non-third-strike foul-tip that was caught by a non-catcher.

Feel free to peruse the rulebook and find for certain if you don’t trust me. It’s entirely possible I missed something in this umpire bible.

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