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 discuss what the maximum number of outs per inning is, who sets the ground rules, and what can be appealed. You can also view Part I, Part II, and Part III.   

Maximum Number of Outs in an Inning

Charlie Reliford: There are three outs per inning, but in certain circumstances the defense can get more than one third out (apparent fourth out) on appeal for violations of the offense.

2.00 An OUT is one of the three required retirements of an offensive team during its time at bat.

Regarding Rule 7.10, appeal plays may require an umpire to recognize an apparent “fourth out.” If the third out is made during a play in which an appeal play is sustained on another runner, the appeal play decision takes precedence in determining the out. If there is more than one appeal during a play that ends a half inning, the defense may elect to take the out that gives it the advantage. For the purpose of this rule, the defensive team has “left the field” when the pitcher and all infielders have left fair territory on their way to the bench or clubhouse.

Here is a play on which a team could get five outs. With the bases loaded and one out, the batter hits a line drive to the outfield. All the runners, believing that the ball will fall, do not tag as the ball is caught. The defense throws the ball to first base for the third out. As the batter was retired on the catch, it is not a force play. All runners who have touched the plate before first is appealed would score except the runner from first, who was just appealed. The defense then throws to second to appeal that runner and

it would be the fourth out. This would be more beneficial as no runners behind the third out can score, leaving only the possibility that the runner from third scored before the appeal play. The defense then throws to third for the fifth out and no runs can score. The rule is designed to let the defense appeal violation by the offense.

What can be appealed?

By the official rules an appeal is:

Rule 2.00 An APPEAL is the act of a fielder in claiming violation of the rules by the offensive team.

Charlie Reliford: This appeal rule would cover such things as missed bases, bases left before the runner tagged, batting out of order, illegal bat, and illegal substitute. Although the definition is designed for the defense, the offense can make a request or appeal to the umpire concerning an illegal substitution by the offense, or an illegal glove or other equipment.

Ground rules:

Below is the universal ground rules used throughout Major League Baseball. These are items that are generally present in most ballparks and are ruled one way for consistency purposes.

  • Ball on the top step (lip) of the dugout is in play.
    + No equipment is permitted to be left on the top step (lip) of the dugout. If a ball hits equipment left on the top step it is dead.
  • A player is not permitted to step or go into a dugout to make a catch.
    + A player is permitted to reach into a dugout to make a catch. If a player makes a catch outside the dugout and the player’s momentum carries him into the dugout, then the catch is allowed and the ball remains alive as long as the player does not fall while in the dugout. See Rule 6.05(a).
  • A batted ball in flight can be caught between or under railings and around screens.
  • A catch may be made on the field tarp.
  • Batted or thrown ball lodging in the rotating signage behind home plate or along first base or third base stands is out of play.
    + Batted or thrown ball resting on the rotating signage behind home plate or along first base or third base stands is in play.
  • The facings of railings surrounding the dugout and photographers areas are in play.
    + Any cameras or microphones permanently attached on railings are treated as part of the railings and are in play.
    + Any recessed railings or poles that are in the dugout and photographer areas are out of play and should be marked with red to mark them out of play.
  • Robotic cameras attached to the facing of the backstop screen are considered part of the screen.
    + A batted ball striking the backstop camera is considered a dead ball.
    + A thrown ball striking the backstop camera is considered in play.
  • A ball striking the guy wires that support the backstop is a dead ball.
  • A ball lodging behind or under canvas on field tarp is out of play.
  • A ball striking the field tarp and rebounding onto the playing field is in play.
  • No chairs can be brought out of the dugout or bullpen and onto the playing field.
  • All yellow lines are in play.

Who sets ballpark-specific ground rules?

Charlie Reliford: Other than the universal ground rules, each club establishes its own ground rules in consultation with Major League Baseball. At the major-league level, ground rules are submitted to Major League Baseball, reviewed and ultimately must be approved before the regular season. The umpires enforce the ground rules. An opposing manager has the right to appeal to the crew chief any ground rule that he thinks is unfair and the crew chief will decide whether to use that ground rule or impose another. The umpires will enforce the approved ground rules as submitted and approved before hand.

 3.13 The manager of the home team shall present to the umpire-in-chief and the opposing manager any ground rules he thinks necessary covering the overflow of spectators upon the playing field, batted or thrown balls into such overflow, or any other contingencies. If these rules are acceptable to the opposing manager they shall be legal. If these rules are unacceptable to the opposing manager, the umpire-in-chief shall make and enforce any special ground rules he thinks are made necessary by ground conditions, which shall not conflict with the official playing rules. 

Still to come: discretionary calls, interference, "in the neighborhood" calls, the strike zone, and instant replay.  

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How does the 'ground rule double' fit in? Or is it an actual rule and to call it a ground rule double is a misnomer?
You're correct, that's a misnomer. I remember when it was invariably called a ground-rule double, but some time in the last 15 years, people started pointing the error out and some announcers started to call it an automatic double. I give Jon Miller a lot of credit for that, and I believe other announcers followed his lead, though I don't have evidence for that.
I'm greatly enjoying this series. Many thanks to Charlie Reliford, Larry Young, and David Laurila for putting it together.
Is it just me or is there an error in the line (in max # of outs an inning): "The defense then throws to second to appeal that runner and it would be the fourth out."
Yeah, I see that error too.