Time Play

Runners on first and third with 1 out. Fly ball to the right fielder who throws to first for the double play. Just an awesome play.

The run did not count in this play. The out happened before the run crossed. The key question – would the run have counted if the runner crossed the plate before the out at first.

90% of fans would say no run in either case. They would be wrong.

The throw back to first base is not a force out. If the third out is not by a batter runner at 1st or a force out, the run scores if it happens before the 3rd out occurs.

This is so misunderstood that it is written directly into the rule book – twice. Umpires don’t have to seek out an interpretation manual – it is right in the book.

Here is the approved ruling from 4.09(b):

APPROVED RULING: One out, Jones on third, Smith on first, and Brown flies out to right field. Two outs. Jones tags up and scores after the catch. Smith attempted to return to first but the right fielder’s throw beat him to the base. Three outs. But Jones scored before the throw to catch Smith reached first base, hence Jones’ run counts. It was not a force play.

Pretty cut and dried right. On this play, the piddling of the runner from 3rd cost his team a run. If he busts down the line he certainly would have scored.

I love how they had a camera angle that showed both the plate and the play at first. The umpire was right on top of this call.

Now, let’s add a wrinkle. Say the runner from third scored before the out at first – but he did not tag up. In this case, the run would score unless the defense appealed. If they appeal, this would be an advantageous 4th out in the inning. The defense gets to choice which out is more to advantage if multiple outs would end the inning. They have until all infielders leave fair territory to appeal.

This tricky play is used to quiz umpires about their mastery of the force out concept. It is on page 8 of RuleGraphics. RuleGraphics is our book that puts all relevant information about a rule in one convenient place. If you search Amazon for baseball rules, it is the first listing.

Over the bag

Fair/foul balls are not usually subject to arguments. There are always exceptions though. Here is a play in a recent Yankee game.

What does it take to be a fair ball?

A FAIR BALL is a batted ball that settles on fair ground between home and first base, or between home and third base, or that is on or over fair territory when bounding to the outfield past first or third base, or that touches first, second or third base, or that first falls on fair territory on or beyond first base or third base, or that, while on or over fair territory touches the person of an umpire or player, or that, while over fair territory, passes out of the playing field in flight.

I added the emphasis. When the ball is bounding it can be over fair territory and still be fair. It does not have to be touch fair territory on either side of the base. First and third (well all the bases) are in fair territory.

Put it all together and a ball that bounces over a base is a fair ball. This is what happens in this play. The ball does not land fair after passing the base – but it does not have to. Good call here.

A few inside baseball things here. Notice how the field umpire made this call. This is normal procedure. Up to the base is the home plate guys call and anything that bounces over is taken by the field guy. The Yankee manager first argues with the home plate umpire who correctly tells him he did not make the call.

On the last replay, you see the field umpire call fair ball. The home plate guy is looking at him and vigorously shaking his “yes”. I think he is trying to help his partner out in case he was blocked.

All in all a good call on a tricky play. Page 37 of RuleGraphics contains fair/foul ball. See examples of the book and information on where to buy at our website.

That is why you wear a mask

Here is a pretty interesting foul ball.

The more interesting question is what would happen if this was just a pitch that got lodged in the mask.

Rule 5.09(g):

5.09 The ball becomes dead and runners advance one base, or return to their bases, without liability to be put out, when—

(g) A pitched ball lodges in the umpire’s or catcher’s mask or paraphernalia, and remains out of play, runners advance one base;

Again this is a foul ball so the rule does not apply. But, can you imagine a catcher whiffing on a pitch and the runners all getting an extra base. That would be a heck of a way to lose a game.

Balls lodged in player/umpire equipment is covered on page 61 of Rulegraphics.

That’s a fou…er fair ball

Check out this funky spin:

As long as the ball has not crossed first or third base, or if a fly ball has not landed beyond first and third base, it is neither fair or foul until the ball is touched or comes to rest. This ball starts five feet foul and then comes back fair.

It is not touched until fair so this is a fair ball. Nice job by the umpires to wait until there is a call to be made. Oftentimes, you will see umpires just stare at an obvious foul ball and not do anything until it is touched (if at all).

This is an umpire who has mistakenly called foul too early in his past. Good work by the crew on this call.

Fair/foul is covered on page 37 of RuleGraphics.

Willfull and Deliberate

It was a strange Cubs game yesterday. I already discussed a goofy review play.

Here was another play from the game. The umpire ruled that David Ross interfered with the pivot man. This caused the batter runner to also be called out.

Did they get it right – there are two parts to the play. Let’s cover the easier part first. Rule 7.09(f) covers this:

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

(f) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.

Rule 6.05(m) was added later to give clarity to this specific situation:

6.05 A batter is out when—

(m) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:

Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.

If in the umpire’s judgment there is interference, then yes, a second out can be gained. Now, for the tough part – did Ross interfere.

The guidelines for when to call interference are located not in the rule book. Rather they are in the Professional Baseball Umpire Corp. Umpire Manual.

Let’s go through the guidelines one at a time – remember these are just guidelines. They are not gospel but they aid in the judgment of this call.

1)  In sliding to a base, the runner should be able to reach the base with his hand or foot.

Ross could clearly reach the base.

2) A runner who, in the judgment of the umpire, contacts or attempts to make contact with a fielder with a slide or roll block that is not a bona fide effort to reach and stay on the base may be called out for interference and, when appropriate, a double play may be called.

Ross clearly was trying to make contact with the pivot man. Of course, every runner tries to make contact with the pivot man. I do think you can say Ross made a bona fide attempt to reach the base because he was on top of the base. Ross also was on top of the base after the play – so he could stay there.

3.) Any definite change in direction by the runner to contact the fielder would be considered interference.

This is probably the one the umpire saw. Did Ross change his direction to hit the fielder. I am tempted to say “yes” but again, he could clearly reach the base. This is close.

4.) If a runner hits the dirt, slides, and rolls, it does not constitute a rolling block unless the runner leaves his feet and makes contact with the fielder before the runner slides on the ground. If the initial contact is with a fielder instead of the ground for the purpose of breaking up a double play, it is a roll block.

Ross’ initial contact was clearly with the dirt and not the fielder.

Of the 4 criteria given by interpretation, 3 are definitely not broken. One could be broken if chosen to look at it a certain way. The PBUC also lists sample plays. The sample plays consistently deal with the runner grabbing the pivot man. Ross did not do that, but his arms come in contact with the fielder. It is possible (I cannot read minds), the umpire thought there was a grab.

The play took away an AB from the Cubs in extra innings so it was a big call.

Not that anyone cares, but I guess the question is “would I have called it”. At the level I umpire which would be high school and below – yes, I would call this. Safety is a huge concern at these levels. The benefit of the doubt goes to the fielder. In the major leagues…I don’t think I would. Ross did not strongly meet any of the interference guidelines. He truly did nothing out of the ordinary for this level.

This play is covered on page 56 of RuleGraphics.




Strange Review Play

Here is a play that almost had a double review (MLB does not have it embeddable yet).

The batter bunts the ball and runs to first. He clearly beats the play, but the umpire calls him  out. It happens and this is why there is replay.

But upon further review it looked like the ball hit the batter near home plate. So, as the umpires are reviewing out/safe at first, Cubs manager Joe Maddon is wanting to get the front end of the play reviewed.

First things first, what would happen if the ball would have hit the batter. The way I read the rule, I think there is evidence to call him out.

The pertinent rules are 6.05(g) and 6.03.

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;

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

APPROVED RULING: The lines defining the box are within the batter’s box.

I will admit, this rule has confused me at times. I believe it is also different in both high school and college. As I read this, I see a fair ball touching a batter before touching a fielder. The first condition of 6.05(g) is met. The rule goes on to say if the batter is in a legal position in the box, the contact causes a foul ball.

6.03 defines a legal position in the box as both in the box. In this play, I think the batter has a foot in the air and out of the box. I see justification for calling an out.

The replay on the out/safe was overturned (as it should have been). Now, what about the batter’s box business. Turns out this is not reviewable. Here are the MLB replay rules.

From my reading it looks like only HRs, boundary calls, fair/foul that land past the corner umpires, force/tag, catch in outfield, certain base running plays, hit by pitch and home plate collisions are reviewable. Joe Maddon could not challenge the touch as being foul or an out (from what I read). That is a bit of a bummer because the ball certainly touched the batter. Either result would have been better for the Cubs.

I suppose the key question is why a play like this is not reviewable. The replay rules are constantly tweaked – this might be one that gets looked at in the future. But, in the end, as the rules are written, the umpires got this one right.

Page 39 of RuleGraphics covers the play where a ball strikes a batter.

Cheaters never win or stay in the game

To finish up my one day two part series on baseball cheating in honor of deflategate, let’s talk about the pitchers.

First the rule, 8.02(a) (2-5) and (b):

8.02 The pitcher shall not—

(2) expectorate on the ball, either hand or his glove;
(3) rub the ball on his glove, person or clothing;
(4) apply a foreign substance of any kind to the ball;
(5) deface the ball in any manner; or

(b) Have on his person, or in his possession, any foreign substance. For such infraction of this section (b) the penalty shall be immediate ejection from the game. In addition, the pitcher shall be suspended automatically. In National Association Leagues, the automatic suspension shall be for 10 games.

Pretty simple right. There have been some great pitcher-caught-in-the-act moments over the years. Here is a sampling:

Michael Pineda was caught last year with pine tar on his neck. I love how non-nonchalantly the umpire kicks him out. Lip reading it looks like he just says “that’s pine tar” and boots him.

Joe Niekro had an emery board with him on the mound. He tried to slyly get rid of it, but the umpire saw him throw it to the side. Look at how the Twins manager is trying to keep the umpires away from his pocket at the beginning of the conference.

Heck you could even get ejected throwing a spit ball in a video game.

The only real difference between these guys and others…they got caught.

Illegal versus cheating

I figured with DeflateGate (or Ballghanzi) in full swing I would take the time to talk about some baseball cheating. First, my thoughts on DeflateGate…I don’t care. I don’t think it really had any effect on the game, I bet other players do it all the time, and I am just sick of how the 24 hour news media blows these stories up. If Brady gets a suspension I think that is pretty silly (and I am a Colts fan).

I will say this though – Brady sure is not handling it well. How about you say this Tom, “yes, I like the balls to be on the lighter side, I have told my equipment people this, but I never told them to deflate below the minimum threshold”. You leave bus marks on their back and we all go on with our day.

Enough on that, let’s talk about baseball cheating. Well, in major league baseball, there is actually a small distinction between something being illegal and an outright accusation of cheating.

Remember this play:

The famous pine tar play. The rules were actually rewritten to say that this is not an out.

Rule 1.10 (c)

(c) The bat handle, for not more than 18 inches from its end, may be covered or treated with any material or substance to improve the grip. 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.

Rule 1.10 also states other specifications for bats. There are rule book stated limits on material (wood), length (42 inches), and diameter (2.61). There is no penalty listed for breaking the rules. Basically, if discovered, the bat is just taken out of play and told not to be used again. If a player persists in disobeying an umpire (which would be dumb), he could be ejected.

As the video shows, Brett was originally called out. That ruling was overturned later with the new rule language added that you see above. The game was finished from the top of the ninth days later.

My favorite part of this story: the continuation game had a whole new set of umpires. As the ball was put in play Yankee manager Billy Martin appealed that Brett had not touched the bases on his homer. The umpires produced signed papers from the original umps that the bases has been touched. Martin also monkeyed with his lineup in odd ways to protest. The story is here. It is awesome due to its ridiculousness.

Brett was not out for using a bat that did not conform to specs. You might be asking why this play was an out:

It is because cheating is different than not meeting specifications in the book.

Rule 6.06 (d)

6.06 A batter is out for illegal action when—

(d) He uses or attempts to use a bat that, in the umpire’s judgment, has been altered or tampered with in such a way to improve the distance factor or cause an unusual reaction on the baseball. This includes, bats that are filled, flat-surfaced, nailed, hollowed, grooved or covered with a substance such as paraffin, wax, etc.

No advancement on the bases will be allowed and any out or outs made during a
play shall stand.

In addition to being called out, the player shall be ejected from the game and may be subject to additional penalties as determined by his League President.

Rule 6.06(d) Comment: A batter shall be deemed to have used or attempted to use an illegal bat if he brings such a bat into the batter’s box.

Use a bat not up to code, replace it. Use a bat that you altered or tampered in order to improve its performance, you are out – and likely suspended.

This rule is different in high school. If you come to the box using a bat not up to code, you are out and your coach is restricted to the dugout.

Bat specifications are covered on page 13 of RuleGraphics.

Walk off infield fly

Here is a play that is making its way around the internet – a walk off infield fly.

Here is the key part of the definition  – from 2.00 INFIELD FLY.

The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.

The runner on third can try to run if he likes. Now, most of the time he should not try to advance. In this one, the runner probably thought he was forced to advance.

But he was not. Here is 2.00 FORCE PLAY:

A FORCE PLAY is a play in which a runner legally loses his right to occupy a base
by reason of the batter becoming a runner.

When the batter becomes a runner, all runners on first (or second when first is also occupied, etc) are forced to run. The opposite of this is also true – when the batter runner gets put out, the runners are not forced to go anywhere.

On an infield fly, the batter runner is out so all forces are removed. When the fielder picks up the ball and steps on home plate – this does nothing. That runner has to be tagged to be put out.

To me, the most interesting thing on this play is the umpire. He is holding his fist in the air for an out. It is not clear if he means the batter or the runner from 3rd. After the coaches explain the situation to him (with help from another umpire) he signals safe. I would have thought he would have be clearer. Of course, this play is all sorts of goofy so I will give him a pass.

What a strange way to end a ballgame.

RuleGraphics is our book that breaks down the rules in simple easy to understand language using pictures where needed. Infield fly is covered on page 31 and force outs are covered on page 30. Find out more at our website.

Occam’s razor and balks

Occam’s razor is a problem solving principle that basically boils down to “the simplest explanation is almost always the right one”. As I have discussed before balks are very complex. A flinch here, a crooked step here, or an uncompleted throw can all be a balk.

The old time original definition of balk is ” to stop short and refuse to proceed”. Basically you are starting something and not finishing (or doing something else). This is the simplest way to think of a balk. Did the pitcher start to do one thing and do another.

Here is a Clayton Kershaw balk:

The announcers are having a fit with why this call called.

Did he break the plane? No

Did he fail to step to first base? No

Well, then how can this be a balk. Maybe it is because his entire body moves towards home plate and then he throws to first. Once you move towards the plate you gotta go there.

Sometimes the simplest explanation is the right one.

Balks and numerous other rules are covered in RuleGraphics. We are the first thing you see when searching for “baseball rules” on Amazon. Get more information about our book at our website.