April 14, 2011
YOU Make the Call! Part III
Most baseball fans feel they know the rules, but many of them are actually misunderstood, at least their nuances and technical definitions. Even you are fairly well-versed in the rulebook, a primer never hurts, so BP asked the MLB Umpiring Department about 10 of them. Major League Baseball umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford, a 19-year major-league umpire, and Major League Baseball umpire supervisor Larry Young, a 23-year major-league umpire, provided the definitions and clarifications.
Enforcement of the HBP Rule
This question is clearly answered in Official Baseball Rule 6.08:
Charlie Reliford: The batter does not have to lean into the pitch to violate the rule. The rule states that if, in the umpire’s judgment, the batter made no attempt to avoid being hit, then the batter is not entitled to first base. This certainly is a more difficult call than a batter leaning into a pitch. One pitch may freeze a batter and he can be awarded first while another batter can be kept at the plate for making no attempt to avoid the pitch. If this rule is enforced, the pitch is a ball or strike by location of the pitch and the ball is dead and no advancement by batter or runners.
Fair and Foul
Charlie Reliford: First, we must make the distinction between a ball that is over fair or foul territory from a ball that has become fair or foul. A ball that is in flight that has not been touched or left the playing field is in flight over fair or foul territory but is not yet fair or foul. A ball becomes fair or foul in one of four ways:
The most common misinterpretation is the ball rolling anywhere in the infield is not yet fair or foul. It hasn’t bounded past the base, been touched, or stopped. That is why the ball that hits the pitcher’s plate and bounds into foul territory where it stops or was touched is foul. It is not yet fair at the
pitcher’s mound, it has not been touched or stopped before first base. Any ball could land well within the infield and eventually roll foul or conversely land in foul territory and roll fair. In your question about the pitcher’s plate, the ball that is over fair territory when it touches the plate it is not fair or foul yet.
Some of the other prevalent misconceptions are that on a bounding ball the judgment is made whether a ball is fair or foul the moment it reaches first base or third base. The ball may pass over the base, which is in fair territory and land in foul territory for a fair ball. This is never to be confused with a ball in flight to or past the bag. That distinction is the position of the ball still in flight becomes fair or foul when touched or it lands. Whether the fielder is in fair or foul territory is not the deciding factor; it’s solely the position of the ball.
On home runs, fair territory extends to the base of the outfield fence and perpendicularly upward. The moment the ball passes out of the playing field is the point of judgment, not where it lands past the fence. Clubs erect tall foul poles to aid the umpires in making this determination. As an aside, this really could be called the fair pole as it is entirely in fair territory, as are both foul lines, home plate, and the bases.
When has a Runner Safely Reached First Base?
Charlie Reliford: Any runner is out if he or his base, if forced, is tagged before they touch the base. Any runner who misses a base is considered to have touched it once he goes beyond that base. That runner may be put out by appealing the base he missed or appealing the runner by tagging him. There is nothing in the Official Baseball Rules that addresses about breaking the plane; rather, the Rule Book considers it missed when the runner goes beyond the base to which he is entitled.
A batter/runner may overrun or over-slide first base without jeopardy of being put out. That said, that right occurs when the batter/runner touches first. If he misses first, he may be put out by tagging him or his base just as with any missed base. This missed base would be a force play and an appeal play.
If the batter/runner overruns or over-slides first, he is not in jeopardy to be put out unless he attempts to advance to second. It does not matter if he turns toward second as he returns to first as long as he does not attempt to advance. Many want to put some quantitative value such as a step or particular movement.
If such an unusual play at first base happened where the runner is beyond first base but failed to touch it before first base was tagged by a fielder, MLB umpires are directed to signal safe as he beat the throw to first. If a legal appeal then retires that runner, he will be declared out.
If, in advancing, the baserunner thinks there is a play and he slides past the base before or after touching it, he may be put out by the fielder tagging him. If he fails to touch the base to which he is entitled and attempts to advance beyond that base, he may be put out by tagging him or the base he missed.
This applies to two areas in particular:
Ruling: The proper mechanic is for the umpire to call the runner safe, indicating he beat the play. If the defense appeals by tagging the runner (or base) and appealing that the runner missed first base before the runner returns to first base, the batter/runner would be declared out. Note also Official Baseball Rule 7.08(k) Casebook Comment and Section 5.3.
Next up: the number of outs in an inning, who sets the ground rules, and what plays can be appealed.