A balk so nice, I did it twice

Reds pitcher Johnny Cueto was a little too deceptive for his good the other night. He was called for a balk in the 1st inning.

The umpire does an elaborate chicken dance to explain the call. What is he trying to convey? He is saying he “broke” or “buckled” his front leg before turning to throw to first. This is a movement associated with going to the plate. Once you make a movement associated with throwing home, you have to throw home.

This is a classic start/stop balk. Good on the ump to catch it. It happens really fast. Given that Cueto did not protest, the Reds manager did not protest, and the quickness of the call, I am willing to wager the Brewers tipped the umpire off to this move.

Did Cueto learn his lesson? Nope.

He got nabbed an inning later for the same move. Back to the drawing board for the pitcher.

Balks are confusing. RuleGraphics takes some of the confusion out through rule book language, key points, and illustrations. Find out more at our website.

Start the car

Instant replay is in its second year. The process is pretty well down pat now. But, I have rarely seen it to end a ballgame.

Check out this play:

I think it is funny how the players just stick around on the field knowing the replay is coming. In the end the umpire got this one right.

Stop and think about that for a minute. The umpire got it right in real time. This was a whacker where he had to watch the first baseman’s feet, the runner’s feet, the ball bouncing and then the glove all at the same time. The ball beat him by about 1/4 step. Umpire nailed it.

The bounce makes this a bit harder. Umpires listen for the sound of the ball entering the glove and watch the base. The bounce will often make the sound less pronounced. Again the umpire had a lot of things working against him and wound up making a great call.

Pretty entertaining to see an umpire take off the headset, say out, and then just start walking to the clubhouse.

Gettin’ it right

Chalk up this play to “it happens to all of us”. MLB is not allowing this to be embedded yet.

The ball clearly hits the base yet the umpire calls a foul ball. Right away from the look on his face, you can tell he was unsure.

He got together with his crew and they decided to overturn the call. At this point they had to choose where to put the runner. Second base seemed like a reasonable place.

There are a lot of new procedures in place to help “get the call right”. In MLB obviously they can get together – otherwise this crew would have not followed protocol. In college there are rules for when a crew can get together. I believe that fair/foul is one of them once it goes to the outfield (I don’t do college baseball).

Consider high school baseball to be the outlier. If this were a high school game, the umpire would have to eat his call. Once an umpire calls “foul” and the ball hits the ground – it is a foul ball.

Page 37 of RuleGraphics covers fair/foul balls. Click on our website to see samples and find out how to order a copy.

I said stop

This play happened last week. It involves a potential play that hardly ever happens – interference by a base coach.

7.09(h) is the pertinent rule.

7.09 It is interference by a batter or a runner when—

(h) In the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base, or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.

First, the myths to be broken. A runner is not out if merely touched. Giving a runner a high five would not constitute an out. The base coach has to physically assist him.

A runner is only out if a coach helps him (and this is extended to any playing personnel not on the bases). They are not out if a runner on base assists. Of course a runner cannot pass another runner, but they can sure push them or help them.

Remember this awesome sportsmanship story from women’s softball:

The other runners on base could have helped her round the bases. The umpires could have allowed a sub as well. But let’s not let the rules get in the way of an awesome story. Good sportsmanship all. (Note, the softball rules could very well be different than baseball)

Back to this play now that the myths are out of the way. Should the umpires have grabbed an out? I think the umps got this one right.

The runner was already breaking down and looking to stop. The base coach did not grab him to stop him. I don’t think the contact assisted the runner at all.

Now, that said, what in the heck is the coach doing? Just get out of the way and don’t even bring this rule into the conversation.

Interesting thing about this rule is that the runner is ruled out, but the ball is not dead immediately. The ball stays alive giving the defense a chance to get more outs. Say the coach did assist the runner and the cut off man threw behind the runner at 2nd for an out. That would have been an inning ending double play.

This one happens a lot at youth levels. The key is knowing the difference between a mere touch and actual assistance.

This and about 50 other rules are covered in RuleGraphics. The book is a visual primer/reference for the rules. More information including samples are at our website.

Breaking the 4th wall

On TV and movies “breaking the 4th wall” is when characters speak to the camera. Think House of Cards, Ferris Bueller or Zach Morris. Basically they are going to a place that is not usually allowed.

Alex Gordan is the clubhouse leader for catch of the year after this grab where he went where he is not usually allowed.

First of all, what a catch. But, was the catch on the up and up from a rules standpoint?

Here is where the rule book makes this a bit difficult. The ruling is not located in the section on making a catch. It is in the section on the batter. Rule 6.05(a)

6.05 A batter is out when—

(a) His fair or foul fly ball (other than a foul tip) is legally caught by a fielder;

Rule 6.05(a) Comment: A fielder may reach into, but not step into, a dugout to make a catch,and if he holds the ball, the catch shall be allowed. A fielder, in order to make a catch on a foul ball nearing a dugout or other out-of-play area (such as the stands), 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 in any other out-of-play area. Ball is in play, unless the fielder, after making a legal catch, falls into a dugout or other out-of-play area, in which case the ball is dead. Status of runners shall be as described in Rule 7.04(c) Comment.

In English, the fielder has to have at least one foot on or over the playing surface and no feet completely on the ground outside the field of play. Gordon certainly did not have a foot out of play. Good catch and good call on the field.

By the way, this is another rule that is different in high school baseball for no earthly reason. In high school, a fielder can have one foot in play and one foot out of play and still make a legal catch.

Back to this play, what happens if the player steps out of play before making the catch? It is just a foul ball.

The rule above also discusses what happens if the player falls into a dugout or out of play after making the catch. Gordon did fall, so what else could happen?

7.04 (c)

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;

It did not matter on this play as no runners were on base. But imagine this, bases loaded with 1 out in the 9th inning of game 7 of the World Series. Gordon makes this catch. The umpires then kill the ball and correctly award the game and the series to the opponents because he fell out of play. How crazy would that be?

In high school, the ball is dead if a fielder carries a ball out of play. He does not have to fall. I have actually called this before as some high school fields only have lines marking in play from out of play. The players look like football wide receivers dragging feet to make a legal catch.

in the short season, this might be the major league catch of the season. This college player might have done him one better.

2 things on this: 1) I am a Evansville alum, so awesome job on the catch young Ace. 2) the umpire on this did a great job. He hustled down the line to gain as much ground as possible. Then he clearly stops and gets set to make a call. After seeing the play he hustles to ensure the ball is caught. Good work all the way around.

RuleGraphics breaks this down on page 28 of the book.



Just like he drew it up

Here is something you don’t see every day. Eric Young Jr “bunts” the ball into short right field for a base hit. I like how he stands on first and has the look of “I meant to do that”.

Regardless, this play does have one interesting rules component to it. It is one of the things that defensive coaches say most to me when I am doing kiddie ball.

Watch where his foot it at when he contacts the ball. It is a) pretty close to touching the plate and b) pretty close to being out of the box. So, should he have been out? Nope – unless you are calling high school ball.

Rule 6.06(a) covers this.

6.06 A batter is out for illegal action when—
(a) He hits a ball with one or both feet on the ground entirely outside the batter’s box. Rule 6.06(a) Comment: If a batter hits a ball fair or foul while out of the batter’s box, he shall be called out. Umpires should pay particular attention to the position of the batter’s feet if he attempts to hit the ball while he is being intentionally passed. A batter cannot jump or step out of the batter’s box and hit the ball.

Where do most coaches get caught up – notice how the rule makes no mention of home plate. Is it possible for a batter to have his toes on the plate and his heel in the batter’s box? Sure – the distance between the plate and the batter’s box is only six inches.

The keys are that the foot has to be entirely out and entirely on the ground when contacts occurs. Foot in air? Batter is fine. Heel on the line and rest of foot out? Batter is fine as lines are part of the box.

As the comment says, the intent of this rule is to prevent people from stepping out and hitting intentional balls. This is probably the only time this will be get called at the major league level.

Not because the umpires treat this rule like NBA refs treat traveling, but because the home plate guy should be focusing on the pitch. If he is looking where a foot is at, he is not doing his primary job. Unless egregious, it is not worth grabbing an out on this one.

I bet this umpire wishes he would not have grabbed that out.

As to my other note about high school baseball, under that code a player is out if he is stepping on the plate or completely out of the box when contacting the ball. On this play, there might have been an out (I cannot see if his toe is on the plate).

Page 38 of RuleGraphics covers this including a great illustration on what is required to get an out.

Tricky Tricky

Brandon Phillips is one tricky(and smart) player. Here is a play from yesterday’s game:


(MLB not allowing embedding on this clip yet).

Some folks would cry foul and think the runners should not be out. Let’s break this down.

First question – is this an infield fly?

Rule 2.00 has the definitions:

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.

A FLY BALL is a batted ball that goes high in the air in flight.

There were runners on first and second, but the ball was not really a fly ball. It did not go high in the air. I would call it more of a soft line drive. I think the umpires got this one right.

Now – should the batter have been out because of an intentionally dropped ball?

Rule 6.05(l) states:

A batter is out when—

An infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases;
APPROVED RULING: In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.

Phillips clearly let the ball ht the ground. He did not glove it and then drop it. Again, great call by the umpire. Also a super smart play by Phillips.

Compare this play to one he made 2 years ago:

In this play, the infield fly is called. The batter is out even though the ball dropped to the turf. The runner on 1st forgot about the infield fly, thought he was forced to run and got tagged out. Tagging is key. The force was removed so the shortstop smartly laid on a tag. If the runner would have stayed on 1st, the double play would not have happened.

One other quick note on this one…back to the rule book in the comment for infield fly

When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05(l). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

In the second instance, Phillips could have gloved the ball and dropped it. The ball would not have been dead. The runners are already protected due to the infield fly so no need to kill the ball. Of course, the runner on 1st might have stayed put if he did this, so it all worked out.

Confused? RuleGraphics makes this and other rules easier to understand. Pages 31 and 32 cover these rulings.

When the Rules aren’t the Rules

Baseball at its heart is a very simple game. Hit the ball, run in a circle and score a run. Other side, try to get three guys out before they circle the bases. Yeah, there are nuances and oddities in there, but for the most part weeks will go by when all that is called is out/safe, ball/strike and fair/foul.

The challenge becomes really knowing the rules when something odd does happen. Then, for umpires that do multiple leagues, the challenge on top of the challenge becomes knowing the rule differences.

I wanted to write a quick post discussing all the potential leagues out there and what rule set they use.

There are 3 base rule sets:

  • OBR – stands for Official Baseball Rules. These are the rules that govern Major League Baseball. RuleGraphics is based on this rule set
  • NCAA – College rules are very similar to OBR rules with some differences based on participation and safety. RuleGraphics would be the same in about 80-85% on instances.
  • NFHS – High school rules are a bit different from OBR. In addition to changes for participation and safety, this rule set has some differences making in “simpler” for umpires in some situations. There are about 220 differences between OBR and NFHS rules. Most are small. RuleGraphics would be the same in about 70-75% of instances

The key question becomes how does this relate to your child’s ball game. Again, I am taking broad strokes, but in general here is a breakdown.

  • Little League – uses the same base rules as OBR. They do have added safety and participation rules. But the core rules are similar. RuleGraphics would apply to these leagues.
  • Babe Ruth / Cal Ripken – uses the same base rules as OBR. In fact, the Babe Ruth Rulebook is a direct copy of the Major League Baseball rule book with sections added noting the difference. Again, most are safety and participation related. RuleGraphics would apply in these leagues
  • Pony League – OBR based like LIttle League and Babe Ruth. RuleGraphics would apply. Again, some age based modifications made for safety and participation
  • Other Youth Leagues – Dixie, and USSSA use OBR based rules with modifications. RuleGraphics would apply
  • Travel Tournaments – In my neck of the woods most of these tournaments use NFHS rules. Check your local listings

If you are super interested in learning all the minutia around the differences. This is a great resource.

If your desire is to learn the basics of the rules for your child’s game, there is a good chance RuleGraphics will get you what you need to know.

Appeal to a higher power

I love appeal plays. It rewards a heads up defensive team. They don’t happen very often. You get to see the umpire make a nice solo out performance. They are just fun all the way around.

Since I returned to umpiring 3 years ago, I have actually never called a runner out on appeal. Like I mentioned above, they don’t happen all that often in the bigs, but they do.

Case in point from the Nats/Cards game a few nights ago.

Rule 7.02

7.02 In advancing, a runner shall touch first, second, third and home base in order. If forced to return, he shall retouch all bases in reverse order, unless the ball is dead under any provision of Rule 5.09. In such cases, the runner may go directly to his original base.

Harper did not re-touch all the bases when he was running in reverse. This made him subject to being out on appeal.

Give Tim McCarver, friend of umpires everywhere, credit as he was on top of this the whole time.

Advancing and retreating around the bases is covered on page 9 of RuleGraphics.

Walking on baseballs

Interference calls are a mixed bag. They don’t happen very often, but they are really not all that hard to call.

Check out this example:

The ball is “clubbed” about 3 inches in front of the plate. The ball stuck in a manner than would make a pro golfer proud. Important for this play is that the ball is in fair territory.

The batter then makes contact with the ball before a fielder does. That my friends is an out.

Rule 6.05(g)

6.05 A batter is out when—

(g) His fair ball touches him before touching a fielder. If the batter is in a legal position in the batter’s box, see Rule 6.03, and, in the umpire’s judgment, there was no intention to interfere with the course of the ball, a batted ball that strikes the batter or his bat shall be ruled a foul ball;

Notice the rule does have an exception. If a batter whacks a ball off his leg while still in the batter’s box – it is a foul ball. This has to written in because a portion of the batter’s boxes are actually in fair territory.

So what is a legal position in the batter’s box?

6.03 The batter’s legal position shall be with both feet within the batter’s box.

Both feet have to be on the ground in the box. In this play, the batter steps on the ball with his foot outside the box. Batter is correctly called out.

One other note from this play – there is a lot going on. The out was ultimately called by the first base umpire. He had a good look at everything. This is good umpiring practice on plays around the plate. The corner umpires will often have a better look at balls off feet, hit batsmen, or catcher’s interference.

RuleGraphics contains information on this and other tricky plays. It is a new way to think about baseball rules. This rule is covered on page 39. See sample on our website.