MAKING THE RIGHT CALL
(DID YOU KNOW?)
RULE FACTS / MYTHS / MISCONCEPTIONS
---LEARNING FROM OUR OWN MISTAKES---
Applies to both General Baseball Rules and SDABL-Specific Local Playing Rules
Every umpire at some point in time has made some pretty bad, if not downright embarrassing, mistakes. It's just something that happens. And though we all try to deny it, there's no doubt about the fact that we are certain to go down that dark, lonely road again. Some of us try to solve the problem by giving ourselves a good smack upside the head in the hope of clearing out the cobwebs. Doesn't work, and I've got a flat head to prove it. Besides it's a waste of energy. After all, there's always going to be someone around willing to do it for us---from the disgruntled Little League Mom to the freaked-out adult ball player. So before we hire the Marque de Sade as our consultant, let's try to solve the problem in a much less painless way. Let's evaluate our own misconceptions and look at some of the rules that periodically pop-up to bite us on our proverbial butts.
NOTE: If you have been the victim of one of your own "brain fizzles" and would like to share it, or have heard about something in particular, then by all means email me directly (click here). Names aren't important, only the situations. We aren't trying to point fingers here.
I also encourage you to share any thoughts you might have to what is contained below by emailing me directly (link above) in order to get me straightened out. Whether you agree, disagree, are still confused, or figure an item below is totally out in left field, then let's talk about it. You may be better able to provide insight into some particular rule or event that will clarify things.
All the topics below relate to baseball rules in general. Some, however, may be SDABL specific and will be identified as such. Each topic below basically falls into one of two categories---MYTH or MISCONCEPTION. Myth is defined as something which came from those "ghosts" in our past, particularly during our childhood sandlot days. Misconception is defined as the "lazy man's" rulebook. That is, someone's refusal (in particular the umpire) to read and understand a specific rule himself, thereby enforcing what he's picked up "along the way." Or, worse, what he's heard from some sportscaster who, not knowing his bat from his balls, gives his own interpretation of why a certain rule was enforced.
HOWEVER . . .
. . . like any myth or folk tale there are those things that do have some basis of fact. So, some of the below myths and misconceptions do have some real history, which, not surprisingly, goes back to the beginning days of baseball, as far back as the days when umpires used to actually ask spectators for their opinions on calls. Imagine that! Now that was a long time ago.
In any case, for those cases below that do in fact have some real history, I've provided a link that gives an overview of the specific topic. Some of these histories have come about through my own research, while many others have been the result of inputs from others who have read the below and were kind enough to provide the particular details
---1. THE 45-DEGREE MOUND LINE---
DID YOU KNOW that there is No Such Reference in any official baseball rulebook on the planet Earth that addresses, or infers whatsoever, that a left-handed pitcher has some imaginary 45-degree mound line that establishes some kind of "no balk zone" with reference to where and how he steps when throwing over to 1st base during a pick-off attempt? No way, now how---zero, zilch, nothing, nada. Period, the end. Really.
RULE FACT: MLB Official Baseball Rules, Rule 8.05(c):
(". . . it is a balk when---The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward the base before throwing to that base)."
Well that's it, the official rule in its entirety. If anybody can find any reference to the use of any "45-degree angle" within this rule, I would love to hear from him.
BLUE MISTAKES: Three things to consider. First, assuming that there really is a 45-degree angle rule. Second, assuming that left-handed pitchers should be treated differently than right-handers when it comes to applying 8.05c. Third, failure to interpret and enforce 8.05c exactly as written.
WHAT IS THIS "45-DEGREE" THING ANYWAY? Basically, and in a nutshell, it is the (incorrect) assumption that the left-hander can step down anywhere on the 1st base side of this imaginary line that cuts the mound in half at a 45-degree angle without the risk of being called for a balk. And I stress the word "anywhere" again. This is a bad assumption on the part of left-handers. And it's bad umpiring on our part if we truly think, as umpires, that "anywhere" is in fact allowed.
SO HOW DID ALL THIS GET STARTED? Good question. Personally, I have absolutely no idea. I've spent a lot of time reading through a variety of rulebooks and casebooks and haven't come across one word that addresses the subject or supports the notion whatsoever. Maybe it was started by some left-handed pitcher who was trying to avoid being accused of what we all know left-handers are guilty of---cheating. Or maybe it started when two-man mechanics became the norm. Umpires while in the infield just got too frustrated trying to see exactly where the left-hander was actually stepping during a pick-off move to 1st base. (Truly a problem, or just a poor excuse)? And rather than try to fight off the opposing team's complaints every time it happened, the umpire came up with this 45-degree angle thing just to shut them up. Who knows.
History, Part 1 History, Part 2
BLUE SOLUTION (1): Interpret and enforce Rule 8.05c exactly as written, with special emphasis on the following: ". . . directly toward the base . . ."
BLUE SOLUTION (2): Maybe the solution doesn't lie with the umpire at all, but rather with opposing teams instead. Consider the following by Carl Childress:
5. Pitcher steps toward first. No, I'm not going to talk about lefties. Everybody knows they cheat. Last season the Memorial High School lefty was doing fairly well in one game, when you consider he'd picked off three of the first four runners. Finally, the Hanna coach, Rey Lerma, jumped me: "What am I gonna do, Carl? That kid is balking, but you guys aren't calling it."
"Rey," I asked helpfully, "why don't you find yourself a left-hander?" Lerma was not amused, though he did get my point.
[Carl Childress was from 1984 to 1996 the major contributing editor and columnist for baseball for Referee Magazine. His resume includes two trips to the NBC World Series and over 400 NCAA Division I games. He retired from the field in 1996, but he remains the umpire-in-chief of the NBC Southern Regional Tournament. Writer of 19 books on baseball rules and mechanics, he is most proud of his unique Baseball Rules Differences, carried by Gerry Davis Umpire Education (www.gerrydavis.com).
[The above excerpt was from Chapter 7, "Making the Tough Calls: The Plate Ump" contained in the following publication: TAKE CHARGE! Baseball Umpiring by Carl Childress, edited by Scott Ehret, Associate Editor, Referee Magazine, February 1992 (second printing)].
Now, there's an honest umpire!
---2. PITCHER WHO STEPS ONTO THE MOUND WITHOUT THE BALL (BALK?)---
DID YOU KNOW that a pitcher who steps onto the mound without possession of the ball (for example, during the "hidden ball" play) should not be balked for doing so unless he stands on or astride the rubber or makes any motion associated with pitching the ball? (NOTE: This applies to leagues or teams playing under the guidance of the Official Rules of MLB Baseball, which includes the SDABL).
RULE FACT: MLB Official Baseball Rules, Rule 8.05(i):
(". . . it is a balk when---The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher's plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch;)"
BLUE MISTAKES: A few. First, reading something into the rule that isn't there. In particular, any mention of the word "mound." Second, umpires who work different types of baseball---for example, high school, college, and SDABL---causing them to mix the rules over the whole lot, or applying only one set of rules to each lot. The problem here is that Federation rules (high school) and NCAA rules (college) don't allow the pitcher to step onto the mound without possession of the ball. This causes a lot of confusion in the SDABL, especially for the rookie umpire who may be working with the "cross-over" umpire, not to mention the players themselves. Of course, the players don't so much become confused as they do pissed off by the fact that the balk rule seems to change from week to freakin' week. (Sigh). Third, umpires who absolutely refuse to distinguish between "astride" and "a stride." That is, "astride" is a single word that means "With the legs separated so that one is on each side of something." Whereas, "a stride" is two separate words that indicates somebody is "within one step of" something. Leading some umpires to balk a pitcher without possession of the ball because they were "one step away" from the rubber. (Hey, don't laugh. I wish I had a dime for every time I've heard that explanation from an umpire).
BLUE SOLUTION: Know the type of baseball you are doing and only apply the rules that are specific to that type. If you know the differences in the rules, don't be "bullheaded" or "lazy" by simply applying the rules you personally favor. Pay attention to how you read the rulebook. In particular, don't turn single words that have a specific meaning into a phrase that means something else entirely.
---3. BATTER DELAYS ATTEMPTS TO ACQUIRE 1ST ON DROPPED 3RD STRIKE---
DID YOU KNOW that the batter has until he goes into the dugout (or any other dead ball area) to run to 1st base when the 3rd strike is dropped by the catcher? (NOTE: Assuming that 1st is not occupied with less than 2 outs. REMINDER: Batter may acquire 1st if it is occupied when there are 2 outs).
RULE FACT: MLB Official Baseball Rules, Rule 6.09(b)/Casebook interpretation following (b):
("The batter becomes a runner when---(b) The third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing (1) first base is unoccupied, or (2) first base is occupied with two out;" Casebook Interpretation: "When a batter becomes a base runner on a third strike not caught by the catcher and starts for the dugout, or his position, and then realizes his situation and attempts then to reach first base, he is not out unless he or first base is tagged before he reaches first base. If, however, he actually reaches the dugout or dugout steps, he may not then attempt to go to first base and shall be out)."
BLUE PLAY: Two (2) outs, no runners. The 3rd strike is dropped by the catcher, who picks up the ball and looks over at the batter who is now walking slowly towards his dugout. Catcher goes to tag the batter, shrugs and changes his mind. Seeing the reaction of the batter, the plate umpire---a rookie doing his first year in adult recreational baseball---brings up his arm and "fists" the batter out. The defense begins to leave the field. The catcher, hesitating for only a moment as if something flashed through his head but vaporized just as quickly, rolls the ball out towards the mound. The batter, not quite to the dugout yet, looks slyly over his shoulder and sees what is happening. Suddenly he tosses his bat to the ground and takes off for 1st base. The catcher stops and stares and his shoulders sag. The 2nd baseman, the only other defensive player not yet in the dugout and standing just in foul territory, also stares. Meanwhile, the batter has touched 2nd and is heading for 3rd. The 2nd baseman with wide eyes and a confused look turns his attention to the plate umpire. The plate umpire looks back with wide eyes and a crazed look of his own. Meanwhile the catcher has run out to the mound, retrieved the ball, and now stands between 3rd and home. The batter stands proudly on 3rd base, smiling over at his teammates. Not quite turning all the way around, the catcher calmly asks the plate umpire for time. The plate umpire, nowhere near calm, starts screaming for time in a shrill voice on the verge of panic. Then, seeming to remember something, he awkwardly throws his arms up over his head and just stands there desperately looking for his partner. The entire defense comes storming out of the dugout. Accidentally, or by design, they gather in small freaked-out groups and run around in tiny circles as if all their butts are on fire. Indeed. After a few chaotic moments there comes a collective flame-out and they all turn to the plate umpire with their mouths hanging open. The plate umpire, having found his veteran partner standing calmly out in the "C" position, stares at him with his own mouth hanging open. His arms are still in the air. He doesn't seem to know what else to do with them. But the veteran umpire doesn't notice. A subtle grin on his face, his head nodding slightly up and down, he just looks over at the runner on 3rd as if silently tipping his hat to him. He finally decides the fun is over and walks calmly towards his rookie partner and the defensive team. It's time to go to school.
BLUE MISTAKE: And it's not limited to rookies. Too many ( and if there are two, that's too many) umpires are under the impression that if a batter has "given up" any obvious attempt to acquire 1st base on a dropped 3rd strike, that he has in fact "officially" given up his right to do so. When the umpire has made this determination, you will usually see him "fisting" an out, sometimes even vocalizing his call loudly. Unfortunately, or otherwise, this usually results in the batter thinking that this is really the case, so no attempt is made on his part to run to 1st base, further preventing a "can of worms" for the umpire. Potential problem with this? If the batter decides to run to 1st base anyway despite the umpire's call and acquires it safely, only to be removed from the base by the umpire, the Offensive Manager would have a valid protest if he decided to file one. Not good.
BLUE SOLUTION: Know the rule. Pass it on to other umpires (and catchers who seem too "lazy" to walk the 5 feet to tag out the batter). Don't "fist" or vocalize the batter as "Out!" until he does in fact go into the dugout or into any other dead ball area.
---4. FAIR BATTED BALL HITS RUNNER STANDING ON BASE
(SAFE or OUT?)---
DID YOU KNOW that the base is NOT A SAFE HAVEN for a runner when it comes to being hit by a batted fair ball? That is, the runner will be called OUT when hit under these circumstances. (There are Exceptions, or rather Clarifications, following the Rule Facts immediately below).
RULE FACTS: MLB Official Baseball Rules, Rule 7.08(f) , Rule 5.09(f):
(Rule 7.08 - Any runner is out when---(f) he is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder. The ball is dead and no runner may score, nor runners advance, except runners forced to advance. EXCEPTION: If a runner is touch his base when touched by an infield fly, he is not out, although the batter is out.
Rule 5.09 - The ball becomes dead and runners advance one base, or return to their bases, without liability to be put out, when---(f) A fair ball touches a runner or an umpire on fair territory before it touches an infielder including the pitcher, or touches an umpire before it has passed an infielder other than the pitcher;
As stated in Rule 7.08, if a runner is hit while standing on a base on an infield fly he is not out. (The ball will be called "dead").
The batted ball must in fact be fair. That is, if the batted ball is in foul territory when it hits the runner, who is standing on a base, the runner is not out. It's simply a foul ball. (Seems logical enough, right? Yeah, right. Here's an example just in case). Example: R3 is touching 3rd base with his left foot, but his right foot is in foul territory. (Why on earth he would be doing this is anyone's guess). The batter hits a ground ball down the 3rd base line. It is in foul territory by the time it reaches the base and hits R3 in the right foot. Foul ball, R3 is not out.
BLUE MISTAKE: Assuming, like many players, that a base provides a safe haven from being called out when hit by a batted ball (according to the definition of the above rule).
BLUE SOLUTION: Don't think like a player. Know the rule.
Related Links: Rule Flowcharts
---5. TIE GOES IN FAVOR OF THE RUNNER---
DID YOU KNOW that there is NO SUCH RULE that states a "tie" goes in favor of a runner. No way, no how, and certainly no such thing.
RULE FACTS: There is no rule. Rather, common sense and reality prevail. That is, a runner is either safe or out. He has either beat the throw or he hasn't. Period. Besides, it is impossible to determine whether or not there really was a "tie." And if an umpire can see that clearly, then, well---he should get himself a job as an umpire. Something To Consider: If an umpire explicitly states to the arguing defensive manager that he called the runner safe "Because there was a tie, and ties go in favor of the runner," then that manager has a legitimate right to protest---and will win that protest based on a misapplication of rules---or rather, "non" rules. (And, no, 9.01c does not apply here).
BLUE MISTAKE: Laziness and/or fear of commitment, leading to the inevitable "cop-out" call. Unfortunately for most of us, this "rule" comes from our childhood sandlot days when we had to serve dual roles---as players and umpires. And while most of us could certainly play, it's probably safe to say that none of us knew squat about umpiring, not to mention the rules.
BLUE SOLUTION: Loose this "rule." Make a decision as to whether or not the runner beat the throw. If you are not sure take a guess, then defend it as best you can. Trust me, it will be easier to defend your guess than it will be your absurd argument for a tie.
---6. FAILURE TO RETOUCH ON A CAUGHT FLY BALL DOES NOT CONSTITUTE A "FORCE" OUT ON APPEAL---
(To Score a Run or Not To Score a Run)
DID YOU KNOW that if a runner fails to retouch his base on a caught fly ball and is subsequently called out on appeal, the out is not recorded as a "force" out? That is, he is simply called out on appeal for failure to re-tag. Why all the semantics and why does this matter? Because if the appeal results in the 3rd out of the inning, then all runners who had scored legally before the appeal was made are allowed to score. (As opposed to the fact that no run may score if the 3rd out is the result of a "force" out, such as a runner failing to touch a base he was forced to touch as the result of a batter hitting safely. Including two other situations listed in the below rule).
RULE FACTS: MLB Official Baseball Rules, 4.09(a) (EXCEPTION), 2;00 A FORCE PLAY (Example: Not a force out):
(Rule 4.09 HOW A TEAM SCORES: (a)(EXCEPTION): A run is not scored if the runner advances to home base during a play in which the third out is made (1) by the batter-runner before he touches first base; (2) by any runner being forced out: or (3) by a preceding runner who is declared out because he failed to touch one of the bases.
Rule 2.00 A FORCE PLAY (Example: Not a force out. One out. Runners on first and third. Batter flies out. Two outs. Runner on third tags up and scores. Runner on first tries to retouch before thrown from fielder reaches first baseman, but does not get back in time and is out. Three outs. If, in the umpire's judgment, the runner from third touched home before the ball was held at first base, the run counts).
Clarification of Example sited in above rule: In reality, the above statement ". . . the ball was held at first base . . ." is in effect an appeal by the first baseman (or any defensive player) that R1 failed to retouch on the caught fly ball even though there is no "verbalization" or "announcement" by the defensive player. (No need, since it is "obvious" what is taking place). This is of course different than the appeal made as a result of R1 never having even attempted to go back to first in the hopes that nobody saw him fail to retouch. In this case the ball would have to be thrown over to first and an appeal "vocalized" by the defensive player, at which time R1 would be called out for failure to retouch. In either case, it has no consequence as to whether or not R3 scores. He does---period.
BLUE MISTAKE: Assuming that every appeal upheld under these circumstances is a "force" out simply because the runner is---in effect---"forced" to tag up on a caught fly ball. While that may be true in terms of semantics, it is not true in the official terms of A Force as it applies to baseball rules. That is, a runner who is "forced" (by definition) is one who is required to advance to the following base as a result of a batter hitting safely.
BLUE SOLUTION: Understand the meaning of 2.00 A Force.
--- 7. HANDS ARE PART OF THE BAT ---
DID YOU KNOW that there is no such rule that states the hands are part of the bat? That is, if a batter is hit by a pitch on his hands he will be awarded 1st as if he’d been hit on any other part of his body. If the pitch hits his hands while he is swinging, the ball will become immediately dead and a strike will be called (not a “foul”).
NOTE: If the ball hits his hands when he is swinging and subsequently ends up in fair territory, the ball will still be called “dead” and counted as a strike. If it is the 3rd strike, the batter will be called “out.” (Just as he would if the pitch had hit him, say, in the chest while swinging and subsequently rolled into fair territory. If any runners were stealing on the pitch, they must be returned to the bases they had occupied at the time of the pitch).
RULE FACTS: MLB Official Baseball Rules, 2.00 The Person, 2.00 A Strike (e), 6.05(f):
Rule 2.09 The Person of a player or an umpire is any part of his body, his clothing or his equipment.
Rule 2.00 A Strike is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which---(e) Touches the batter as he strikes at it.
Rule 6.05(f): A batter is out when---He attempts to hit a third strike and the ball touches him.
BLUE MISTAKE: Remembering those crazy rules from our glorious "sandlot" days as a kid.
BLUE SOLUTION: Nuke that part of your past.
--- 8. RIGHT TURN AT FIRST BASE MYTH ---
DID YOU KNOW that there is no such rule that states the batter-runner is required to “turn right,” or rather into foul territory, to prevent him from being tagged out before he’s able to return to 1st once he overruns it?
REALITY: What actually puts the batter-runner at “risk” of being tagged out when going back to 1st is whether or not there was an obvious attempt on his part to run to 2nd. (That is, a couple of steps towards 2nd with obvious intent, or even a "jerk" towards 2nd, even if he is "faking" an attempt, definitely puts him at risk). Simply turning “in” towards 2nd to return to 1st after overrunning it should not be interpreted as an “attempt” towards 2nd, so long as the batter-runner “immediately” returns to 1st.
RULE FACTS: MLB Official Baseball Rules, Rule 7.08(c):
Any runner is out when---He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base. EXCEPTION: A batter-runner cannot be tagged out after overrunning or over sliding first base if he returns immediately to the base.
Notice, there is no mention of his having to turn "right" (into foul territory) or can't turn "left" (into fair territory).
BLUE MISTAKE: Again, remembering those crazy rules from our glorious "sandlot" days as a kid.
BLUE SOLUTION: Again, of course, nuke that part of your past.
--- 9. BREAKING THE WRISTS/CROSSING THE FRONT PLANE OF PLATE WITH BAT ---
(Did He Go?)
DID YOU KNOW that there is no such rule or “requirement” that either a batter’s wrists must “break” or that the bat must cross the front plane of the plate when he attempts to check his swing in order for the umpire to rule it as a swing?
REALITY: It is simply a matter of umpire judgment as to whether or not a batter attempted a swing.
RULE FACTS: MLB Official Baseball Rules, Rule 2.00 A Strike (a):
A STRIKE is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which---Is struck at by the batter and is missed.
Pretty direct and to the point.
NOTE: The “wrist” break or bat passing over the front plane of the plate are merely “guides” used by the umpire to make a determination of “swing” or “no swing.”
BLUE MISTAKE: Another one of those crazy rules from our glorious "sandlot" days as a kid.
BLUE SOLUTION: Have a beer, maybe it will nuke that part of your brain that contains that particular fond memory.
--- 10. SQUARING AROUND TO BUNT/FAILING TO PULL BACK ---
(Did He Go?)
DID YOU KNOW that just because a batter simply “squares around” to bunt a pitched ball and subsequently leaves the bat in that position does not automatically result as an attempted swing?
REALITY: Same as the wrist/plane of plate thing above. That is, umpire judgment prevails as to whether the batter actually attempted to strike the ball.
RULE FACTS: MLB Official Baseball Rules, Rule 2.00 A Strike (a):
A STRIKE is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which---Is struck at by the batter and is missed.
Pretty direct and to the point.
BLUE MISTAKE: Those "lazy, hazy, crazy days of (childhood) summer." Didn't realize what an impact your "sandbox" had on your life, eh?
BLUE SOLUTION: Don't have any more beer. It's actually making you remember things you should be forgetting.