My high school baseball coach would always say the same thing to players as they were leading off third – “off in foul and back in fair”. He was the coach, so I just did it. I figured it was a safety thing. Only later did I learn this had something to do with the rules.
Let’s start with 7.08(f):
7.08 Any runner is out when—
(f) He is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder. The ball is dead and no runner may score, nor runners advance, except runners forced to advance.
The only way a runner can be out if touched by a batted ball is if it is a fair ball and he is in fair territory. By having a runner lead off in foul territory, the small chance of losing a runner on third on this fluke is eliminated.
Further if the ball touches the runner immediately in foul territory, it is a foul ball – end of story. Check out the last clause of the FOUL BALL definition
A FOUL BALL is a batted ball that settles on foul territory between home and first base, or between home and third base, or that bounds past first or third base on or over foul territory, or that first falls on foul territory beyond first or third base, or that, while on or over foul territory, touches the person of an umpire or player, or any object foreign to the natural ground.
This leaves only one goofy thing that can happen. If a batted ball were to hit third base it is a fair ball. After the ricochet if it hits a runner in foul territory, that runner is not out unless his touching was intentional.
Now that the rule is understood, the other question is how often does this actually happen? Well it happened just this last week in Major League Baseball.
Bruce got whacked in foul ground. Ball was properly ruled foul with no out being recorded.
Foul Ball is on page 37 and runner being hit by a batted ball is on page 54 of RuleGraphics.
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