Fielding errors--a play when a fielder mishandles the baseball--can have a significant impact on a baseball game by shifting momentum to the offensive team. There are a number of factors that must be taken into consideration before ruling a play as a fielding error. With the various situations in which a fielding error could occur, scoring and defining a fielding error can be difficult.
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Fielding errors have been around since the start of baseball. The Major League Baseball rule book defines an error as a play in which a defensive player mishandles the baseball, resulting in the offense advancing a base or scoring a run. Since the baseball rule book was introduced, the scorekeeper has been responsible for making the final decision on whether a play was a fielding error.
Errors can only be committed by the defense. Every time an error occurs, the defense may be forced to get another out resulting in the offense gaining momentum and potentially scoring additional runs. The pitcher, most of all, feels the effects from fielding errors by being forced to throw extra pitches and spend extra time on the mound.
There are several considerations that the official scorekeeper must take into account in judging fielding errors. Fielding errors shall be charged to the specific defensive player who committed the error. Situations that require a fielding error include a misplay--bobble, fumble or wild throw--that results in a runner or batter advancing one or more bases. For example, if a shortstop fields a ground ball but bobbles the ball before he throws to the first baseman, that results in the throw being late and the batter being safe.
Fans can easily mistake fielding errors for defensive mistakes. Examples of defensive plays that can be confused with fielding errors include slow handling a batted ball. This occurs when a player cleanly fields a ball but the runner beats the throw to the base. It also includes mental mistakes when the defense throws to the incorrect base. Other situations that are not ruled fielding errors include misjudged fly balls by outfielders or wild pitches and passed balls.
One of the most famous fielding errors occurred during the 1986 World Series with the Boston Red Sox and New York Mets. In the sixth game of the series, Mookie Wilson from the Mets hit a ground ball down the first base line to Bill Buckner. The hit was a routine play the Buckner should have fielded easily but the ball rolled through Buckner's legs allowing base runner Ray Knight to score from second base. The run eventually allowed the Mets to win the World Series.