The rules versus the “rules”

I already posted about the runner’s lane once this week. As a reminder, here is the high school rule (8.4.1 (g)):

The batter-runner is out when:

g. he runs outside the three-foot running lane (last half of the distance from home plate to first base), while the ball is being fielded or thrown to first base;

1. This infraction is ignored if it is to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field the batted ball or if the act does not interfere with a fielder or a throw.

2. The batter runner is considered outside the running lane lines if either foot is outside either line.

Since I returned to umpiring 2 years ago (this is the beginning of my third), I have worked about 120 games. I have called this only once. I worked a scrimmage this week and as chance would have it called a player out due to this.

The runner was well outside the running lane. A throw hit him in the back. Sounds like an easy call right?

Except there was a wrinkle. After more research and discussing with other umpires, i realize this wrinkle made my call incorrect.

The play started with an uncaught third strike. The ball bounced into the foul territory down the first base line. The catcher throwing from foul ground to the first basemen set up in foul ground hit the runner running in fair ground. The ball crossed the line to hit him. In other words, the throw was not true.

Going back to the rule book, the language in the exception 1 says the infraction is ignored “if the act does not interfere with a fielder or a throw”. The runner did not interfere. He just got hit by a bad throw.

Each call on the field is a function of two things: rules and judgement. On this call my rules knowledge was fine – I know the runner’s lane rule. But, my judgement was horsecrap. Part of the bad judgement came from a very common cardinal umpiring sin – bad timing. I saw the ball hit the runner and threw up my hands to kill the play too quickly.

That painted me into a corner. Taking an extra split second to think about all components of the play (especially the relationship of the runner to where the throw was coming from would have helped). The good thing is I am a member of an association  that takes the time to teach new guys these skills.

The book Outliers hypothesized to master a craft 10,000 hours of experience needs to be logged. Given my day job, it is going to take me time to get to 10,000 hours of reps on the field. My strategy is to make up for that by becoming really good with the rules. Someone can learn the rules at home through effort – it is a little harder to find a game to ump all the time.

This is a reasonable strategy. But, taken to the extreme I might become what they call a “rule book Charley”. That is someone who applies rules blindly without exercising good judgement around the intent of the rule. Of course good judgement comes from experience and experience is built from bad judgement. And experience is what I continue to get taking all the games I can get and supplementing it with clinics and scrimmages.

Lots of lessons learned in this one through the discussions here and on my association’s FB page. At the end of the day, my goal is the same as it is for life in general.  When a mistake is made – figure out why and don’t make the same mistake again.

I kicked this one. I am not happy about it but cannot linger on it either. If this is the worst thing I do all season – that is a hell of a season.

The CEO of the company I worked for a few years would end each speech with a quote that is apt here – “only the humble improve”. That is certainly apt in umpiring where you see something new each game.

Runner’s Lane Interference is on page 45 of RuleGraphics. 


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