|This article does not cite any references or sources. (January 2008)|
In baseball, a neighborhood play is a force play where a fielder receiving the ball in attempting to force out a runner at second base, catches and quickly throws the ball to first base in a double play attempt without actually touching second base, or by touching second base well before catching the ball. By every rules code, such a play is not an out, because to record a force out, the fielder with the ball must actually touch a force base before the forced runner arrives (OBR Rule 7.08(e)).
The neighborhood play is called differently at various levels and in various leagues in amateur baseball (such as men's amateur, college, high school, or youth leagues). Its appropriateness and necessity in amateur and even professional baseball is debated. The safety necessity of the rule is lessened by most amateur leagues' use of the force play slide rule, which requires forced-out runners to either slide directly to the base or completely avoid the fielder, but some amateur umpires still treat the neighborhood play as an out.
The traditional application of the neighborhood play for an out developed because it is common for a sliding runner to collide with the fielder at second base, sometimes causing injury. On a double play attempt, the fielder must throw the ball to first base, which would generally require a step directly into the path of the incoming runner. On a close force out at second, a fielder often cannot avoid a collision while completing a throw to first base unless he stays some distance away from second base. For the sake of safety, umpires allowed fielders to score the first out of an attempted double play without actually touching second base as long as it "looked like" an out, i.e. the fielder made a clean catch, turn, and throw near second base before the runner arrived. This allowed the tradition of the take-out slide to continue while still providing a means of safety for middle infielders.
There is some evidence that the culture among umpires is changing, and that the neighborhood play will not be called an out when the fielder obviously fails to touch the base in question. The neighborhood play is less likely to be called if the fielder is not being threatened by a take-out slide. For example, in Game 2 of the 2009 American League Championship Series, Los Angeles Angels shortstop Erick Aybar, straddling second base, caught a throw for an out at second base and immediately threw to first to put out the batter-runner in an apparent double play. Second base umpire Jerry Layne called the runner safe at second base; replays showed that Aybar never came close to touching the base. Aybar was not threatened by the incoming runner on this play.