Baez and the Baseline

Trailing 1-0 in the top of the 8th, Cub Javier Baez pushed a bunt down the first base line. The first basemen fielded the ball and attempted to tag Baez ultimately missing him. However the umpire ruled Baez out for running out the baseline. It was a pivotal call late in the game. Did he get it right?

Let’s break it down.

First things first, what rule was used to actually call Baez out? Even though the ESPN announcers mention the running lane and you can see Baez running by the lane, the actual lane has nothing to do with this call.

5.09(a)(11) discusses the running lane:

A batter is out when:

(11) In running the last half of the distance from home base to
first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he
runs outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line, or inside
(to the left of ) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment
in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at
first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he
may run outside (to the right of ) the three-foot line or
inside (to the left of ) the foul line to avoid a fielder
attempting to field a batted ball;

The emphasis added is mine. This rule only applies when a throw is involved.

What was called was rule 5.09(b)(1).

Any runner is out when:

(1) He runs more than three feet away from his base path to
avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference
with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base
path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a
straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting
to reach safely; or

Again, I added the emphasis.

First thing first, at the time of the play Baez is officially considered a runner.  Rule 5.05(a)(1) says a batter becomes a runner when he hits a fair ball. Just because he started at home plate does not absolve him of any running violations on his way to first.

Next let’s dig into what “base path” he cannot be more than 3 feet outside of. The key point here is that a runner’s base path has nothing to do with the actual base line. Per the bolded part of the rule above, his base path is established from where the tag is attempted and is a straight line to the base.

When the first baseman first lunges at Baez, he is clearly in fair territory. The camera view is not perfectly down the line making it hard to determine how far in fair territory he is, but he is clearly in fair territory.

For me the trickiest part is “what” exactly needs to be 3 feet outside the base path. Is it part of the body, the entire body, something else. Guidance on this point is not in the rule book. However, I did find it in the Wendelstedt rules manual (the book used in pro umpire school). They state that the runner is out if the midpoint of their body moves more than three feet out of his base path.

So, how far does Baez move? At one point his right foot is completely on the other side of the running lane. Therefore, it makes sense that the midpoint of his body could be over the outside line of the lane.

Per the rule book, the lane is exactly 3 feet wide. If Baez ends with his body over the outside edge of the lane, the furthest over it could legally begin would be the inside line of the lane (the foul line). From the replay, it looks like he clearly started in fair territory.

Put this all together and it is likely he moved more than 3 feet to avoid the tag (disclosure, I am a Cubs fan and was yelling at the TV when the play happened).

In my mind the only rational argument against this call is to say that Baez started moving inside before the tag was attempted. It is not unreasonable to say the tag cannot be attempted until the fielder is close enough to actually reach the runner. Does Baez get back to the foul line before the fielder is close enough to tag? If this is the case, then him going to the other side of the lane is 3 feet out and no more.

Tough call in a tough spot for the umpire. Do I think he got it right? Yes, he probably did. At minimum it is not the egregious miss that fans and broadcasters believed it to be.



The Pine Tar Game

Not shocking that I am rules nerd given the topic of my book and this blog. I had the pleasure of reading a book recently about one of the greatest rules controversies in the history of the game.

I am talking about the famous pine tar game:

Filip Bondy’s book The Pine Tar Game (available here on Amazon) dissects this game from every angle. He does a fantastic job of not only describing the game, but taking time to lay out the context of the moment. I learned a ton about the late 70s Royals/Yankees rivalry, front office personnel for the teams, and players.

Given the amount of time I spend in the rule book during the baseball season, it takes a special book for me to dive into rules in the off season. This is one of them.

The thing I learned that surprised me the most was that Brett was not the first player to be called out on this rule. Yankee Thurman Munson was called out for too much pine tar in 1975 (8 years before Brett’s game).

Here is the Baseball Reference page for that game. Notice how the out in the top of the 1st inning for Munson is listed as a fly ball to the catcher. When an out occurs for something goofy, they usually assign the put out to the nearest fielder – in this case the catcher. The description is just using the scoring to parse out the result, but this was not a fly ball. This Hardball Times article has more on the Munson’s game.

From an umpiring perspective there are a few interesting things from the book. My favorite story is how upon resumption of the game Billy Martin’s first course of action was to appeal runners touching their bases. The new umpires produced signed affidavits from the original crew to deny the appeal.

Martin also took out his frustration by making a ton of nonsensical substitutions including pitcher Ron Guidry playing CF (and being pinch hit for in the bottom half of the 9th) and Don Mattingly playing 2nd base. I believe this is one of the last occurrences of a lefty playing the keystone base in a Major League game. The complete box score for the game is located here.

The most interesting thing to umpires is the evolution of the rule book based on this game. Or asked more eloquently – could this happen again? The answer is no.

Here is rule 3.02 (c):

(c) The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance. Any such material or substance that extends past the 18-inch limitation shall cause the bat to be removed from the game.

NOTE: If the umpire discovers that the bat does not conform to (c) above until a time during or after which the bat has been used in play, it shall not be grounds for declaring the batter out, or ejected from the game.

The emphasis added is mine. In case anyone could read this and think an out is still possible, the rules beat the notion with this additional comment:

Rule 3.02(c) Comment: If pine tar extends past the 18-inch limitation, then the umpire, on his own initiative or if alerted by the opposing team, shall order the batter to use a different bat. The batter may use the bat later in the game only if the excess substance is removed. If no objections are raised prior to a bat’s use, then a violation of Rule 3.02(c) on that play does not nullify any action or play on the field and no protests of such play shall be allowed.

Again the emphasis added is mine. I think it is pretty clear that pine tar cannot cause an out. In 1983 the way the rules were written, the umpires were just in calling an out (by the letter of the law…maybe not from a game management standpoint). The appeal was upheld due to the “spirit of the rules”. This spirit is now the law.

I cannot recommend this book enough if you are a fan of baseball, its history and/or the rules. It is a quick read that will surely teach you something you did not already know about this game. I give it the full 18 inches of allowable pine tar on the handle of the bat.

If you want to learn more about this rule and others in a simple, engaging format, check out our book RuleGraphics. All the details about the rules in one simple place accompanied by illustrations and sample plays.

Something New Every Game

There was a doozy of a play in game 5 of the ALDS. Here is what happened – with 2 outs and a runner on third, a batter takes a pitch. The catcher’s return throw hits the batter’s hand (while he is in the box) and deflects away. The runner from third races home.

At first, the runner was sent back to third. The home plate umpire actually was killing the play before the runner scored.

Upon conferring with the other umpires, they reversed the decision and allowed the run to score.

Did they get it right?

Heck yes they did.

Here is probably the rule going through the home plate umpire’s mind (guessing as I am not a mind reader).

Deep in the rule book is this clause:

Rule 6.03(a)(3) Comment (last paragraph)

If a batter strikes at a ball and misses and swings so hard he carries the bat all the way around and, in the umpire’s judgment, unintentionally hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing, it shall be called a strike only (not interference). The ball will be dead, however, and no runner shall advance on the play.

This is called “weak interference”. The batter is not out but no runners can advance. No harm no foul. Of course this was not the exact situation. My guess is that this ruling popped into his head because it seems the most “fair”.

The actual “rule” for this is no where in the book. It is in the smaller supplemental book called Major League Baseball Rule Interpretations.

It states (emphasis added by me):


If the batter interferes with the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher by stepping out of the batter’s box while he is at bat (no runners attempting to advance), it shall not be considered interference under Official Baseball Rule 6.06( c). In such cases, the umpire shall call “Time” only (no interference). The ball will be dead and no runners shall advance on the play.

The interpretation does not, of course, give the batter license to intentionally interfere with the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher, and in such cases the batter shall be called out. If the batter becomes a runner on ball four and the catcher’s throw strikes him or his bat, the ball remains alive and in play (provided no intentional interference by the batter-runner).

If the batter interferes with the catcher’s throw to retire a runner by stepping out of the batter’s box, interference shall be called on the batter under Official Baseball Rule 6.06( c).

However, if the batter is standing in the batter’s box and he or his bat is struck by the catcher’s throw back to the pitcher (or throw in attempting to retire a runner) and, in the umpire’s judgment there is no intent on the part of the batter to interfere with the throw, consider the ball alive and in play.

The interpretation clearly covers this situation. The batter did not intentionally interfere. The ball is live and the runner advances at own risk.

The umpires got together and got this right.


A catch for the ages

Anyone who watches SportsCenter or surfs the web for anything sports related has certainly seen this play.

Cub Anthony Rizzo goes up the tarp, on the lip and eventually into the stands to make a catch. The umpire originally ruled this play a no catch. After conferring as a crew, the play was changed to a catch and then a one base penalty.

Did they ultimately get it right? Yup – and here is the basis.

First – was it a catch?

The Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation Manual has this to say:

In order to make a legal catch, the fielder must have one or both feet on or over the playing surface (including the lip of the dugout) and neither foot on the ground inside the dugout or other out-of-play surface.

(2014-08-11). PBUC Umpire Manual (Kindle Locations 1880-1882). . Kindle Edition.

It is clear that Rizzo did not have a foot on the ground outside the field of play before catching the ball. He also had one foot in play and one foot over ground in the field of play.

PBUC further states:

A fielder may not jump over any fence, railing or rope marking the limits of the playing field in order to catch the ball. A fielder may (1) reach over such fence, railing or rope to make a catch; (2) fall over the same after completing the catch; (3) jump on top of a railing or fence marking the boundary of the field to make a catch; or (4) climb onto a fence or on a field canvas and catch the ball. In all four cases the catch would be legal, as dictated by the best judgment of the umpire. The same restrictions apply to a foul ball descending into a stand. A catcher or fielder may not jump into a stand to catch

(2014-08-11). PBUC Umpire Manual (Kindle Locations 3207-3212). . Kindle Edition.

On top of fence is fine. Established out of play is not fine. This was clearly a catch.

So what about giving the Brewers runner an extra base? This is correct as well.

Rule 5.06 (b) (3) (C):

(3) (7.04) Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when:

(C) A fielder, after catching a fly ball, falls into a bench or stand, or falls across ropes into a crowd when spectators are on the field;

In the end it was a great call on an even greater play.

Walkoffs, appeals, and abandonment, oh my!

To say the end of the Reds/D’backs game was interesting last night is an understatement.

Here is the play:

To recap, the bases were loaded with one out when the batter hits a ball to the OF wall. The batter touches first. The runner from third touches home. The runners from first and second don’t touch their next base.

And to add to the fun, a security guard touches the ball on the field.

A few members of the Reds stayed on the field hoping to be able to appeal but ultimately the umpires said the game was over.

I have been digging around my rule and interpretation manuals this morning. I cannot see why the Reds were not allowed to appeal.

First, here is the explanation from the umpires after the game. Larry Vanover, who is 1000 times the umpire I am, is the crew chief and had this to say.

“There are two or three different rules that come into play in game-ending type situations. Now you’re talking about appealing bases. (Rule) 4.09(b) talks about how a run scores and it also gets tied into game-ending situations.

“Let’s say the bases are loaded, and you get ball four. The guy on third has to come and score and the batter has to go and touch first. If they don’t fulfill those two obligations, someone can be called out for that, and the game continues with two outs. We didn’t have that situation, but that’s what they were asking. Then they were asking, ‘Can we throw it around and tag all the bases and get force outs?’ In that situation you can’t.

“First of all, they didn’t play the ball. The infielders were leaving the infield. The runner from third touched the plate, and the runner from the plate touched first. Those two things right there met the obligation of the rule. When that run scores and the batter has touched first, the game’s over.”

With respect to Mr. Vanover, I have some problems with this statement. In the second paragraph he states when the bases are loaded and ball four happens, the runner from third and batter have to touch-up in order for the game to be over.

I am on board with this. In fact he quotes 4.09(b) (old format) which is printed here:


(b) When the winning run is scored in the last half-inning of a regulation game, or in the last half of an extra inning, as the result of a base on balls, hit batter or any other play with the bases full which forces the runner on third to advance, the umpire shall not declare the game ended until the runner forced to advance from third has touched home base and the batter-runner has touched first base.

He then ends his statement in the second paragraph by saying We didn’t have that situation.”

Again, I agree. 4.09(b) applies in instances when a batter is awarded a base via walk, hit batter, or something else.

The Wendelstedt Umpire School Manual is very clear that being awarded a base in a game ending situation is different from hitting the ball. When hitting the ball all runners must advance or are liable to being forced out or called out for abandonment.

Back to Vanover’s statement. In the last paragraph he says when the runners touch home and first, the obligation of the rule is met and the game is over.

So in one instance he quotes the rule about only two runners (batter and guy on 3rd) touching up, says this play was not that situation, and then states he applied that rule to end the game. I find this very confusing.

I just don’t think this is the right rule reference that was applied.

Other media outlets are reporting that the number of outs in the situation mattered. The play happened with 1 out. They are stating with 2 outs, the Reds could have gotten a force and continued the game.

In preliminary research, I don’t see how this claim is supported either.

Rule 4.09(a) states:

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.

If the third out is a force out, no runs can score. There is no mention to how many outs there are (also no mention of outs in the other rule cited above).

In fact the force out (or out at first) can happen out of order and still cancel the run. Here is a play that is in the rule book:

Example: One out, Jones on second, Smith on first. The batter, Brown, hits safely. Jones scores. Smith is out on the throw to the plate. Two outs. But Brown missed first base. The ball is thrown to first, an appeal is made, and Brown is out. Three outs. Since Jones crossed the plate during a play in which the third out was made by the batter- runner before he touched first base, Jones’ run does not count.

This sample play starts with 1 out. In it a second out is gained during the play, THEN the defense appeals the batter-runner missing first. This becomes the third out. It is a third out before the batter-runner touching first. The run is wiped off the board.

Even though per their explanation the umpires ruled the game over when the runner hit home and batter hit first, there are a few other rule theories out there to explain this. Let’s go through them one at a time.

  1. When Phillips threw the ball into the infield, the Reds touched second base first. This eliminated the force at third.

I can buy this one. With the force at third base eliminated, the runner not making it to third can be ruled out for abandonment. This however is not a force out. As long as the runner hit home before the runner abandoned, the run would count.

2. The security guy touching the ball killed the play

I only buy this one about 20%. Yes, the interference was intentional. Yes, the ball would be dead and yes, the umpires can impose such penalties (including awarding of bases) to nullify the interference per rule 3.15.

But, even if the umpires awarded touches of bases, a runner is still legally required to touch them. If a batter hits a ground rule double, he cannot skip first base!

With the play dead, the ball would have to be made live for the appeal. But, the umpires never gave the Reds a chance to do this. The Reds even stayed on the field hoping to get an appeal.

Putting all this together, I personally think the umpires misapplied a rule. As such, the Reds would be able to protest. Protests have to be made before the next pitch, play or on a game ending play, before noon the next day. The clock is ticking.

This is a strange one. If I had something similar in a game at my level, I bet with enough confidence I could talk my way out of an issue. It looks like the MLB guys did this last night as well.

But, those guys are held to higher standards because they are better umpires. I hope the league comes out with a statement on this. On its merits as of now, I am not sure they got it right.

Our book Rulegraphics attempts to take the complexity of the rule book and boil it down to the essentials. Find out more at our website.

It happens

I work a lot of summer ball. A lot of times in summer ball there is not a scoreboard. Coaches come up to me all the time and ask the score. I honestly don’t know. I have enough to keep track of.

I usually make a quick joke about umpires being taught only to count to 4.

The larger point to this is that there is a lot to keep track of – sometimes a guy can lose the count. This happened in a recent game.

The batter thinks he is getting  a free one and takes off to first. He has a sheepish smile coming back to the box. He almost got away with it.

This is why I usually don’t say “ball 4” after a walk. I just call the ball and let people figure it out. Sometimes less is more.

Crash Into Me

The baseball rule book does not get additions very often. On top of that, casual fans cannot recite very many rule numbers. There is one circumstance where these two rarities become a reality: Rule 7.13 (old format).

Some folks call it the Buster Posey rule since his injury was the catalyst leading to the rule. It is the home plate collision rule.

Here it is in all of its glory:

(1) A runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate). If, in the judgment of the umpire, a runner attempting to score initiates contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate) in such a manner, the umpire shall declare the runner out (even if the player covering home plate loses possession of the ball). In such circumstances, the umpire shall call the ball dead, and all other base runners shall return to the last base touched at the time of the collision.

(2) Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the umpire the catcher without possession of the ball blocks the pathway of the runner, the umpire shall call or signal the runner safe. Notwithstanding the above, it shall not be considered a violation of this Rule 7.13 if the catcher blocks the pathway of the runner in order to field a throw, and the umpire determines that the catcher could not have fielded the ball without blocking the pathway of the runner and that contact with the runner was unavoidable.

Without reading the rule most fans believed this rule outlawed collisions – like in high school. A closer reading of the rule shows this is not the case.

What does the rule say? In a nutshell, part 1 says a runner cannot go out of his way to crash a catcher. If a catcher is set up away from the plate, a guy cannot get a cheap shot on him. The runner has to make an attempt to get to the plate.

Part 2 says the catcher cannot block the plate without possession of the ball or without fielding a throw that takes him into the baseline.

What happened in this play?

The catcher had the ball before the runner got to the plate. Once he has the ball he can block the plate. Also, the runner did not deviate from his path to the plate. He can (and actually does) touch the plate.

Since neither provision of the rule are violated this is a…wait for it…a completely legal collision. It is a baseball play. The umpires correctly ruled this is an out and the out stood after replay.

Home Plate collisions are covered on page 59 of RuleGraphics.


Most of the time I am not puzzled by a call (or non call) on the field. This is not the case with this play:

I cannot for the life of me see how this is not a runner’s lane infraction. Here is the rule (6.05 (k) in old format):

6.05 A batter is out when—

(k) In running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, he runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire’s judgment in so doing interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base, in which case the ball is dead; except that he may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball;

The guys who do MLB are 800x the umpire I am. But, I read this rule and cannot figure out why the runner is not out. Give the umpire credit for good game management though. Whatever he said to the Boston manager placated him enough to get back in the dugout.

Interpretations of this rule state that a “quality” throw has to be present to get this call. That is, there can be no interference if there was no chance at an out. Maybe from his angle, the home plate umpire did not feel this was a good throw.

I would love to hear the explanation so I could learn from it.

Runner’s Lane Interference is covered along with a multitude of other topics in RuleGraphics. Find more information at our website.

Goofball fans

There are two guys who dress like umpires, sit right home plate, and mimic the home plate umpire all night. Here is a clip:

I actually think this is pretty funny. The guy on the left (from the camera)  actually looks the part a little better. The backwards hat kills all credibility for the other dude.


While the main purpose of our book is to make learning the rules easier. This is done by better organization of the various rule sources. The ancillary benefit of it is mythbusting. If rules are easier to find and understand, then myths can start to die. I am probably over my skies with that dream, but I might as well aim big.

I saw this video this morning and realized it was a chance to bust two myths at once a two-fer. This play was so weird that the guys are MLB Advanced Media mislabeled it.

Here is the play:

The announcers claim it was an appealed strike three, uncaught, followed by an immediate tag by the catcher. They look at the replay and say that the Cub did not swing and the Sox got a break. Did they?

Look at the replay closely.

The ball hits the dirt and then Castro’s bat. A lot of fans think this is not legal at worst or a foul ball at best. Fact is, a player can hit a ball that strikes the ground first.

Then the ball lands on home plate. The catcher scoops it up and makes the tag. A lot of folks think that home plate is in foul territory. It is not.

Add it all up and this is a ball hit into fair territory with a tab being applied. There is no strike out as the announcers state (and how the video is labeled). How do I know the umpire did not call a strikeout?

The play by play lists this at bat a soft ground ball to the catcher.

Find out about this and other myths by visiting our website.