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.



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.

Gotta be interference

Check out this odd play:

If this happened on the diamonds I work, I would have a coach out asking me about interference. They figure that something this odd has to be an illegal action on the offense’s part.

So, is it illegal? Well, besides the obvious fact that the umpire did not call a second runner out, the answer is no – and it is in the book.

Rule 7.08 (old format):

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball;

Intent does not matter when a runner interferes with the fielding of the ball (either by having the ball strike him or hindering the fielder), but intent does matter when dealing with a thrown ball. It is the second word in the rule.

From my vantage point, Oritz clearly did not intentionally interfere with the throw. The no call looks to be a good one on this play.

On this famous play:

I am not so sure the interference was not intentional. But, Reggie got away with it.


Reminder: umpires are good

There is a group of umpires who like to make up ridiculous situations to test rule knowledge. These are called 3rd world plays. There is another group of umpires who get annoyed at this practice. They figure those plays won’t happen.

Well, odd plays do happen. Check out this one from the Cubs game last night.

Let’s recap what happened. With runners on second (R2) and third (R3) the batter attempts a squeeze. He misses hanging R3 out to dry. In the rundown, R2 comes over and takes 3B. As R3 is returning to 3B, he overruns the base and goes into foul territory.

The Cubs catcher tags both guys (original guy from 2nd now on 3rd along with the guy now behind the base). Umpire signals 2 outs. Umpires then huddle and rule R3 out and lets R2 stay on 3rd. The Cubs continued arguments for two outs was denied.

The big question – did they get it right. I think they nailed it.

Lots of moving parts on this one. Let’s break them down one at a time.

Should Murphy (R2) have been out for passing Tejada (R3)?

 Rule 7.08 (h) in the old format says:

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(h) He passes a preceding runner before such runner is out;

It does not matter who does the passing (in other words the runner ahead can run behind and still cause an out). It certainly looks like Murphy got ahead of Tejada, so he should be out, right?

Turns out the answer is no.

The Rules and Interpretation Manual from the Wendelstedt school has the following illustrations:


The Mets play is similar to the “not passing” image


If the guy on 3rd, heads home, then you have passing

(Side note, all serious rules students should buy the Wendelstedt manual. It is not available in the online store right now, so watch for when it is being released again. It is absolutely money well spent)

Although not stated in the rules, the interpretation is that a runner is out if passing “along the baseline”. When Tejada passed 3B, he did so in foul territory (not in the baseline), so Murphy never passed him. If Tejada made a step towards second or Murphy headed home, we would have passed him and been ruled out. None of these happened.

Shouldn’t Murphy have been out since he was tagged and 3B did not belong to him at the time?

Rule 7.03 covers this situation:

(a) Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged and the preceding runner is entitled to the base, unless Rule 7.03(b) applies.

(b) If a runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner and two runners are touching a base to which the following runner is forced, the following runner is entitled to the base and the preceding runner shall be out when tagged or when a fielder possesses the ball and touches the base to which such preceding runner is forced.

The people who want an out for this are missing the key point. Look at the phrase I bolded in the rule. There was never a point where Murphy was tagged when both men were touching the base. As long as both were not touching a base at the same time, it does not matter who technically has right to that base.

OK, I buy that Murphy is not out for these two reasons, then why was Tejada called out?

I can answer this question 2 ways – a very simple way and a very technical way.

The simple was is rule 7.08(c)

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(c) He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base. EXCEPTION: A batter- runner cannot be tagged out after overrunning or oversliding first base if he returns immediately to the base;

In the most basic way to think about this, Tejada was tagged with the ball while not on a base. He is out.

The more complex way to get an out is through abandonment and Rule 7.08(a)(2):

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(2) after touching first base, he leaves the base path, obviously abandoning his effort to touch the next base;

Tejada thought he was out and took steps away from the base path abandoning his efforts to run. He is out.

From Twitter, this is what the umpires ultimately ruled.

I think the explanation is fine although the umpire mentions a couple of times that it was Murphy’s bag once Tejada was out. While correct, this point does not matter since they were never tagged while both being on the base.

I seriously think they could have ruled Tejada out for simply being tagged while off the base. This makes things pretty cut and dried as well. Nothing else on the play puts Murphy out so the result is the same.

In the end, the only thing the umpire could have done better was not signal two outs when the play happened in real time. Give the umpire credit though, he immediately calls time and kept Murphy on the base. He knew the play had to be hashed out and did not want the extra complication of a guy mistakenly coming off the base due to an umpire call. Overall a great interpretation of the rules and call.

The rules get tricky at times. This is why we wrote RuleGraphics. It is a new way to visualize and learn rules. All the key points of a rule are covered on one page. The pages are laid out in a simple fashion making finding things a breeze. Find out more at our website. 

Abandoning base paths is on page 53. Passing a runner is on page 50. Finally, two players occupying one base is on page 49.

The great thing about baseball is that there is something new to see every night.




A tale of 2 collisions

There were 2 plays over the weekend dealing with interference. Both were called correctly but the outcome was very different.

First, let’s look at the important part the rule. It is 6.01(a)(10) : 7.08(b) in old format.

It is interference by a batter or a runner when:

He fails to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interferes with a thrown ball, provided that if two or more fielders attempt to field a batted ball, and the runner comes in contact with one or more of them, the umpire shall determine which fielder is entitled to the benefit of this rule, and shall not declare the runner out for coming in contact with a fielder other than the one the umpire determines to be entitled to field such a ball.

This rule is misunderstood by a lot of people. Yes, the runner has the obligation to avoid contact. Some folks think the runner “has a right to the baseline”. Nope.

Here is a case of this from over the weekend.

Runner runs right into the fielder. Umpire quickly makes the out call. Easy.

Now, here is where things get trickier. Again to the rule book:

If, however, the runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders the fielder, he shall not be called out unless, in the umpire’s judgment, such hindrance, whether it occurs on fair or foul territory, is intentional. If the umpire declares the
hindrance intentional, the following penalty shall apply: With less than two out, the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out.

This is Rule 6.01(a) Comment: Rule 7.08(b) Comment in old format.

In plain English, you cannot expect a runner to vacate his base. But, he cannot do anything intentional to interfere with the play. Notice the rules take this intentional interference very seriously. If a runner does interfere, the umpire will call out the runner and the batter-runner getting two outs.This actually happened this weekend as well.

It looks like the umpire was about to bang an out and then correctly remembered the rule. In my mind there is no doubt that Reyes was not trying to interfere. Looks like he was trying not to get hit with the ball.

One interesting note from this play. Yes, a runner can be safe from contacting a fielder if on the base. This protection does not extend to being hit by a batted ball. If a grounder (or fly ball) strikes a runner, he is out even if on the base or not.

Page 55 of RuleGraphics discusses interference of this type.


Arms and legs everywhere

There was a very odd play in the Cubs/Nats game yesterday.

Where do we begin. First, Kris Bryant seems to reach the area of first base before Gonzalez touches it. But, Bryant does not touch the base.

Of course he does not touch the base because Gonzalez is in his way. I suppose he could have spiked him, but this does not seem to be Bryant’s MO.

Gonzalez then rolls onto the base with his shin before Bryant completely passes the bag. The umpire calls an out.

Did he get it right? I think the answer is yes.

First question – was Bryant obstructed from the base.

Here is the definition:

OBSTRUCTION is the act of a fielder who, while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Gonzalez clearly had the ball so this is not obstruction. Interesting side note, if it was obstruction, the umpire can take any action that nullifies the act. This includes awarding a touch of a base.

Second question – how should the umpire handle the situation where the runner acquires first base but does not touch it.

This is actually handled in the PBUC (Professional Baseball Umpire Corporation) manual. Here is there sample play:

Play 13: Batter-runner hits a ground ball and beats the play at first base but misses the bag.

Ruling 13: The proper mechanic is to call the batter-runner “Safe,” indicating he beat the play. If the defense appeals by tagging the runner (or base) and appealing that the runner missed first base before the runner returns to first base, the batter-runner would be declared out. (See Official Baseball Rule 7.08( k) Casebook Comment.)

Here is the rub though. To “beat” the play and acquire the base – you have to be completely past it. Since Bryant was equal to the base, he had not formally missed it. If he had not missed a base, he is not subject to appeal yet.

Further if he is not subject to appeal, all Gonzalez has to do is touch the base with possession for an out. This is exactly what happened.

Let’s imagine Bryant was completely past the base when Gonzalez touched it (but still did not touch it himself). The umpire would have ruled the runner safe. Then it would be up to the pitcher to formally appeal the missed base. Him rolling over the base is not sufficient to appeal.

From the book:

An appeal should be clearly intended as an appeal, either by a verbal request by the player or an act that unmistakably indicates an appeal to the umpire.

Gonzalez would have had to retouch the base telling the umpire Bryant missed it or went and tagged Bryant.

Crazy play with a lot of moving parts. Bottom line is the umpire got this all right in real time. I watched most of the game last night. The first base umpire had a lot of bangers. He did great on all of them. Those guys are good.

Appeal plays are covered on page 34 of RuleGraphics.

Foul Tip Fun

Check out this awesome play by the Brewers catcher in yesterday’s marathon win:

The ball is hit, popped up, and caught in foul territory. The count was 2-2. The umpire signaled foul tip and called the batter out.

The big question was this actually a foul tip.

Here is the definition:

A FOUL TIP is a batted ball that goes sharp and direct from the bat to the catcher’s hands and is legally caught. It is not a foul tip unless caught and any foul tip that is caught is a strike, and the ball is in play. It is not a catch if it is a rebound, unless the ball has first touched the catcher’s glove or hand.

To be a foul tip, the ball has to go sharp and direct to the glove – this ball did this.

Once it goes sharp and direct, it just has to be caught. The catch can be on a rebound. This is one heck of a call. Full disclosure, I did not even notice hitting the glove the first time I saw this. Great job by the umpire.

What I thought happened was just some meekly hit ball that the catcher caught. What would the call be in this situation. It would be an out but for a caught ball and not a foul tip. A common rule myth is that a ball has to go some discernible height to be caught by the catcher for an out (I have heard it has to go above the catcher’s head a bunch).

This is not true. A ball is either a foul tip or a foul ball. If a foul ball is caught it is an out no matter the height. None of this applies on this play, but it is worth knowing.

Another shout out on this play – the Brewers announcers nailed it as well. They saw it, knew the rule, and explained it well. Nice job fellas.

Foul Tip is covered on page 10 of RuleGraphics.

Odd play at the plate

This is an older play but I just came across it. The ball gets away from the catcher and the runner on third attempts to score. The pitcher covers home, gets the ball and tags the runner behind his back. Take a look.

The play was awesome especially given the context of the game (tied in extra innings). I would like to also give some kudos to the umpire. These plays are tough to get locked into because of the adrenaline of the moment.

In this play, the umpire calmly gets to the perfect spot on the field (third base line extended). He gets himself set – not moving at all when the play happens. He leans in to get a good look.

Then at the end he does not rush his call. Wild pitches usually wind up with a safe runner. But, the umpire did not let this or the odd tag by the pitcher sway him. Just a great example of home plate mechanics.

Keep playin’ boys

Buried in the rule book at 6.02(a) PENALTY (old rule reference 8.05 PENALTY) is the exact penalty for a balk:

PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.

The first part of the rule is the one everyone knows. The runners all get a base and the pitch does not count to the batter. Not a lot of people know about the second part. If the ball is put into play, it is not dead right away.

If the batter and all runners advance at least one base, the balk is forgotten. This does not happen often but it did last night.

The pitcher committed an illegal quick pitch. A balk was immediately called. This did not stop the batter from smacking a ground rule double.

On the hit all runners advanced a base so the balk is not called. Pretty interesting play.

One other thing about this play. This article equates this situation to a football coach being able to decline a penalty. This is not right. One of two things happen: the runners and batter don’t all advance and a balk is called or they do and the balk is not called. There is no choice.

Say the ball stayed in the park and the batter was thrown out at second. The manager cannot come out and say he would rather have his guy in the box with the runners getting a base. The out would stand at second.

In high school this rule is completely different. The ball is dead immediately and nothing that happens afterwards matters. The ultimate result of the play would be one run scoring, one runner moving to 3rd and the batter still in the box.

Baseball is awesome at times.

Balks are covered on pages 21-23 of RuleGraphics.

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.