[일요신문] There are numerous provisions related to ‘interference’ in the KBO Official Baseball Rules. This is because a player has the right to play without interference from other players in all in-play situations, including pitching, hitting, fielding, and running. Whether the obstruction is intentional or unintentional, the result is not different. A player who interferes with the normal play of the opposing team will receive an outcount or a penalty equal to one base.
In particular, ‘defense interference’, in which a batter or a runner blocks the opponent’s catcher or fielder from normal defense, has various provisions and is difficult to apply. Often, the opinions of the bench and referees are divided over the judgment of defensive obstruction, or misjudgment due to inexperience in understanding the rules. It was the same in the Jamsil match between the professional baseball LG Twins and the Hanwha Eagles on May 20th.
#I threw a bat and hit the catcher…
At the end of the 9th inning, where both teams were tied 1-1, LG attacked. LG lead hitter Shin Min-jae got on base with a right-handed hit and took the chance to first base safely. LG showed its will to save the opportunity to finish by appointing pinch hitter Jung Joo-hyeon for the next hitter Lee Jae-won at bat. Then, Hanwha pitcher Park Sang-won threw the second fastball toward Jung Ju-hyeon, and first base runner Shin Min-jae started with second base. It seemed like a hit-and-run (hit-and-run) strategy came out on the LG bench.
Hanwha Battery read this strategy and exchanged signs for a pitch out (a pitcher and catcher agree to throw a ball that is far out of the strike zone to prevent a runner from stealing). Catcher Choi Jae-hoon got up and moved to the right. Upon receiving the ball from Park Sang-won, he threw it to second base to catch the runner. Embarrassed, Jung Joo-hyeon tried to prevent the runner from dying by hitting the ball with the bat. As the ball bounced outward, he stretched his body forward and let go of the bat as if throwing it. However, this bat hit Choi Jae-hoon’s belly, not the ball. Choi Jae-hoon fell down without being able to throw the ball to second base.
When a rare situation occurred, the referees gathered in front of the home plate to reach an agreement in the 4th trial. There was even more tension on the ground as it was a close match in which a single decision could separate the winner and the loser. After the conversation while the benches of both teams watched with bated breath, the referee declared catcher Choi Jae-hoon’s mistake of ‘obstructing the hit’. It was judged that “the catcher moved first and received the ball without keeping the correct position.”
As a result, first base runner Shin Min-jae’s stealing of second base was recognized, and Jung Joo-hyun automatically reached first base and became 1st and 2nd base safely. Hanwha coach Choi Won-ho kicked out the dugout and ran out to protest, but it was not accepted. Even former LG coach Ryu Ji-hyun, who watched as a TV commentator on the field, tilted his head, saying, “It is a decision that is difficult to understand personally.”
KBO Baseball Rule 6.03 states that ‘if the batter hits the catcher (including the mitt) by throwing the bat into fair or foul territory with a third strike pitch or runners present, the batter is out for a foul play’. If this rule is applied, Jung Joo-hyun, who threw a bat and hit Choi Jae-hoon, should be out for ‘defense interference’. The Hanwha bench and TV cast also thought the same. However, the four referees who met that day came to the opposite conclusion.
Fortunately or unfortunately, LG failed to score at the end of the ninth inning. The follow-up hitter Kim Min-seong blew a chance with a double hit to third baseman and a fly by Park Hae-min to center fielder. Both teams played three more offenses and defenses each until the 12th inning, and the game ended in a 1-1 tie. The KBO refereeing committee admitted a mistake before the game was even over. “As a result of additional confirmation, it was a situation that should have been judged as defensive interference, not hitting interference.
Prior to the game on the 21st, the next day, coach Choi Won-ho said, “I saw Jung Joo-hyun’s hand fell off the bat, and of course I thought it was defensive interference and waited for the referee’s agreement. I didn’t qualify for the target, so I went out to appeal myself, but I was only told that ‘the decision cannot be overturned’.”
Coach Choi also said, “They said that the only thing we could do in that situation was ‘withdraw the team.’ did. On the other hand, LG coach Yeom Gyeong-yeop politely refused to interpret the decision. He said, “We had ‘luck’ at the end of the ninth, but we couldn’t take advantage of that opportunity,” he said sparingly.
# Withdrawal of the team and departure of the coach
Coach Won-ho Choi endured, but there was also a coach who insisted on interfering with the defense and forced the ‘withdrawal of the team’. The stage was the 2009 Korean Series, where director Kim Seong-geun faced manager Cho Beom-hyun. The SK Wyverns (now SSG Landers), led by coach Kim, and the KIA Tigers, led by coach Cho, competed for the championship in a single-legged game until the final game 7 of that year. Numerous scenes followed, such as KIA Na Ji-wan’s first ever series-ending home run, and the tense nervous warfare between the two coaches over defensive interference also decorated a page in that desperate journey.
Game 5, where the two teams faced each other with 2 wins and 2 losses. At the end of the 6th inning, when KIA took a 2-0 lead, KIA Lee Jong-beom hit a ground ball to second baseman with one company on first and second base. SK shortstop Na Joo-hwan received a toss from second baseman Jeong Geun-woo, took second base, and threw the ball as hard as he could to first base for a double play. At this time, KIA first base runner Kim Sang-hyun slid to second base and touched Na Ju-hwan’s right foot. The throw missed greatly, and in the meantime, Choi Hee-seop, the KIA second base runner, stepped on the home plate.
Manager Kim Seong-geun ran like a winner and insisted that Kim Sang-hyun interfere with the defense. If a runner touches a fielder in a manner other than a ‘legal slide’ to prevent the opposing team from making a double play, a defensive obstruction may be declared. However, the referees did not accept Kim’s appeal, saying, “It was a normal base run play.” It was judged that Kim Sang-hyun did not deliberately change the main course and slide for the purpose of bumping into Na Ju-hwan.
In the end, coach Kim made a strong effort to take all the SK players off the ground, and after an 11-minute delay in the game, he was sent off according to the rules. After leaving, he refused to express his position and went back to his dorm. It was the 5th postseason record (4th in the Korean series) and the 1st exit from the manager. Afterwards, Lee Man-soo, then head coach, directed the game instead. Some speculated that “Isn’t it intentionally taking a more violent gesture to shake the referees?”
Coach Beom-hyun Cho, the head of KIA, did not sit still. This is because the exact opposite scene came out in the final 7th game where the championship was at stake. In the top of the 8th inning when the score was tied at 5-5, the first baseman was out. When SK Choi Jeong’s sacrifice bunt, first base runner Jeong Sang-ho slid to second base and attacked KIA shortstop Lee Hyun-gon. It was a strange situation reminiscent of the collision between Kim Sang-hyun and Na Ju-hwan. Coach Beom-Hyeon Cho also ran out and protested, saying, “It’s a defense obstruction,” but the referee’s decision did not change this time either.
Kim Tae-gyun, Lee Yong-gyu, and Kim Hyun-soo also did it
Even top hitters in the league, such as KBS N commentator Kim Tae-gyun, Kiwoom Heroes Lee Yong-gyu, and LG Kim Hyun-soo, have a past of breaking records due to defensive interference. On June 24, 2020, when he was a Hanwha player, Kim Tae-gyun unintentionally helped the opponent’s triple-slaughter in the Daegu Samsung Lions match. At the beginning of the third inning, leading 2-0, Hanwha seized the opportunity to secure first and second base with a double hit by lead batter Kim Min-ha and a walk by Kim Tae-gyun. However, the next hitter Choi Jin-haeng’s well-hit ball went straight to Samsung’s third baseman Choi Young-jin.
Choi Young-jin first stepped on third base, forced out second base runner Min-ha Kim, threw to second base, and got the second out count. After receiving the ball, Samsung second baseman Kim Sang-soo threw the ball back to first base. Samsung’s triple play seemed to fail as batter runner Choi Jin-haeng narrowly reached the base first. At this time, the second base umpire declared that runner Kim Tae-gyun, who was running from 1st to 2nd base, interfered with the defense. The reason was that Kim Tae-gyun slid to second base and bumped into Kim Sang-soo’s foot, delaying the throw to first base. In the end, even Choi Jin-haeng was out, and Samsung caught all three out counts in one play. The 74th triple kill in the KBO league was completed like that.
Lee Yong-gyu also left a rare scene where he was hit by a bat thrown after trying to bunt against the Daejeon Doosan Bears on May 22, 2018, while playing for Hanwha, and was out due to defensive interference. At the end of the 4th inning, Hanhwa led 5-1 with 1 out and 1st and 3rd base. Lee Yong-gu, who attempted a surprise bunt, rolled toward the foul line on the first base side. Oh Jae-il, who was Doosan first baseman at the time, waited for the ball to cross the line and then slowly picked it up.
However, the referee shouted ‘out’ instead of ‘foul’. This is because Lee Yong-kyu threw the bat forward after bunting and ran to first base, when the ball bounced on the ground and hit the bat once more. If the ball touches the bat again while in play, it is automatically considered defensive interference and the batter is out. Also, runners must return to the base before a situation arises to keep their place. Accordingly, Lee Yong-gyu headed to the dugout without income, and the runners only increased the outcount without moving.
Kim Hyun-soo was dumbfounded when he was unexpectedly judged to interfere with defense while practicing batting in the waiting at-bat. This happened at the beginning of the first inning of the Jamsil rivalry against Doosan on May 5, 2019, Children’s Day. Kim Hyun-soo, who started as LG’s designated hitter No. 3, took a practice swing in the designated at-bat while No. 2 batter Oh Ji-hwan faced off against Doosan starter Seth Frankoff. In the meantime, Oh Ji-hwan, who was at bat, hit Frankoff’s 5th pitch on a ball count of 2B-2S, and the ball flew high behind the catcher. It was a ball that Doosan catcher Lee Heung-ryeon could easily catch.
The problem is that this ball fell near the waiting at-bat where Kim Hyun-soo was standing. Kim Hyun-soo was swinging the bat with his back to the ground, so he couldn’t see the game situation. Lee Heung-ryeon tried to catch the ball while dodging his body to avoid bumping into Kim Hyun-soo, but eventually missed it. After discussion, the referees decided that Kim Hyeon-soo interfered with Lee Heung-ryun’s defense and declared a catcher foul fly-out to Oh Ji-hwan. This is because the baseball rules stipulate that the provision that ‘offensive players, base coaches, and other members must vacate their seats to fielders attempting to handle batted balls or thrown balls’ is stipulated as ‘fielder’s rights’. After belatedly realizing the situation, Kim Hyun-soo, embarrassed, acknowledged the defensive obstruction and bowed down to apologize.
Reporter Bae Young-eun of the JoongAng Ilbo