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.

Today, we’ll delve into what constitutes a hit-by-pitch, boundary calls, and how to safely reach first base. You can also view Part I and Part II.  

Enforcement of the HBP Rule

This question is clearly answered in Official Baseball Rule 6.08:

If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.

APPROVED RULING: When the batter is touched by a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runner may advance.

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

2.00 A FAIR BALL is a batted ball that settles on fair ground between home and first base, or between home and third base, or that is on or over fair territory when bounding to the outfield past first or third base, or that touches first, second or third base, or that first falls on fair territory on or beyond first base or third base, or that, while on or over fair territory touches the person of an umpire or player, or that, while over fair territory, passes out of the playing field in flight. A fair fly shall be judged according to the relative position of the ball and the foul line, including the foul pole, and not as to whether the fielder is on fair or foul territory at the time he touches the ball.

Rule 2.00 (Fair Ball) Comment: If a fly ball lands in the infield between home and first base, or home and third base, and then bounces to foul territory without touching a player or umpire and before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball; or if the ball settles on foul territory or is touched by a player on foul territory, it is a foul ball. If a fly ball lands on or beyond first or third base and then bounces to foul territory, it is a fair hit.

Clubs, increasingly, are erecting tall foul poles at the fence line with a wire netting extending along the side of the pole on fair territory above the fence to enable the umpires more accurately to judge fair and foul balls.

FAIR TERRITORY is that part of the playing field within, and including the first base and third base lines, from home base to the bottom of the playing field fence and perpendicularly upwards. All foul lines are in fair territory.

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:

  1. A ball in flight is touched (offense, defense, or umpire) or leaves the playing field in flight.
  2. A ball in flight lands on or past first, or third base.
  3. A bounding ball is touched before first or third base.
  4. A bounding ball stops before reaching first or third base.

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.

6.05(j) After a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base;

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.

7.01 A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out. He is then entitled to it until he is put out, or forced to vacate it for another runner legally entitled to that base.

This applies to two areas in particular:

  • With the ball in play, while advancing or returning to a base, he fails to touch each base in order before he, or a missed base, is tagged.
  • 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. If the runner fails to touch the base to which he is entitled and attempts to advance beyondthat base, the defense may put the runner out by tagging him or the base the runner missed, as provided in the Note to Official Baseball Rule 7.04(d).

NOTE: The batter/runner is not prohibited from overrunning first base on a base on balls (i.e., the batter/runner may overrun first base on a base on balls and is not in jeopardy of being put out provided he returns immediately to first base). (See Official Baseball Rules 7.08(c)

(EXCEPTION), 7.08(j), and 7.10(c).) The MLB Umpire Manual states:

Batter/runner hits a ground ball and beats the play at first base but misses the bag.

 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.