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Rules Q&A

By Scott Erwin

Being Off the Base or Leaving the Base Too Soon

In the last few days a question was posed by the Minor managers regarding base runners, so I thought I would discuss this with you in order for you to watch for these circumstances and apply the rules correctly regarding base runners.

The question was “What happens if a runner is off the base when the pitcher delivers a pitch? There is no difference between “being off the base” and “leaving early.” Rule 7.13 says that When the pitcher is in contact with the pitching plate and in possession of the ball, and the catcher is in the catcher’s box ready to receive delivery of the ball (not necessarily squatting, just in the catcher’s box), base runners shall not leave their bases until the ball has been delivered and reaches the batter.

If the runner is some distance from the base and threatening to go to the next base, the pitcher may not quickly run to the rubber with the expectation that the runner has to go back to the last base. The defense must make a play on that runner, either tag him, or chase him back to the previous base.

If the runner(s) are “dancing off the base” and the pitcher is “faking throws to the base” to try to get the runners to go back, do not allow this activity to go on very long. Call “time” and reset the runners and defense. Have all runners return to their bases, the pitcher go to the rubber, the catcher get in his box, point to the pitcher and call “play.” If the runner(s) are off their base or they leave the base before the pitched ball reaches the batter, the runner(s) have left early. They cannot come back and re-tag. The runner(s) cannot correct a “leaving early” infraction. Drop your red flag and wait to see if the ball is hit, the runner is thrown out or successfully steals the next base. Then apply Rule 7.13 (a) (b) and (c) to fit the situation.


The Purpose Of The Infield Fly

Have you ever wondered why there is an “Infield Fly Rule” in baseball and softball? The Infield Fly Rule is one of the oldest rules in the game making its first appearance in baseball rules in 1895. In that year it was in effect with one out. In 1901, the rule was amended to the exact form we use today.

With runners on first and second, or the bases loaded, AND with less than two outs, if the batter hits a fly ball that can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, the batter is out. If it were not for that rule, wily infielders could try for an easy double play by letting the ball drop untouched to the ground, then throwing for a force out at third base, with the relay catching another runner before he reaches his base.

Knowing the rule isn’t enough. Umpires must follow proper mechanics when making the call. In fact, this is one of the few instances where some of the field mechanics are incorporated into the actual rules language. When the ball has reached its highest point, the umpire says “Infield Fly, the batter is out.” The umpire should not rush to judgment. On windy days, a ball that starts out as an infield fly might end up deep in the outfield. Or, a ball that seems headed for the outfield might end up being easily caught by an infielder. Remember, the runners will be hanging around near the bases anyway. Since the purpose of the rule is not to give the defense a cheap out, and to prevent the offense from hitting into a cheap double play, wait until you’re certain the ball can be caught with ordinary effort. If the fly is coming down near the foul line, the umpires must say: “Infield Fly, the batter is out, if fair.” Generally speaking, any umpire can determine the status of any potential infield fly and his partner should echo the call and signal after his partner has made his judgment.


What Is An Infield Fly?

If any rule will cause problems, it’s the Infield Fly Rule. There are so many wrong interpretations, misunderstandings, etc. with this rule. In the first place, the only place to check the definition of the rule is in the Little League Rule Book. Chat rooms, Wikipedia, etc. can all be crazy with their interpretations.

If there are runners on first and second, or first, second and third with less than two out, there is an infield fly possibility. If the batter then hits a fair fly ball (not a line drive or bunt) that COULD be caught by a defensive player stationed in the infield with ORDINARY EFFORT, an Infield Fly should be called. Keep in mind, “ordinary effort” can be very different between a 9 year-old and an 18 year-old. One way to think of it is, “Is the fielder comfortable under the ball?” If so, you’ve got ordinary effort.

The umpire must watch the ball and the fielders, and decide if the batted ball qualifies as an Infield Fly. If so, when the ball reaches the apex of its flight, its highest point, the umpire should point at the ball, and shout, “Infield Fly, the batter is out!” If the ball is close to the foul line, say “Infield Fly, if fair!” (Any umpire may call it.) The umpires have to watch the ball, watch the reaction of the fielders, back and forth until the ball is at the apex, then make a decision.

As soon as the umpire says “Infield Fly,” the batter is out and the force is removed from the runners. Of course, that’s the purpose of the rule, to keep the defense from getting a cheap double play. The runners do not have to run if the umpire says, “Infield Fly, the batter is out!”

Now the call of “Infield Fly” only affects the batter-runner. The batter-runner is immediately out which removes the force, regardless of whether the ball is caught or not. The other runners are subject to the rules regarding tagging up just as if the ball had been hit into the outfield. If it’s caught, they must tag up before they advance. If it’s not caught, they do not have to tag. Don’t think of the “Infield Fly” as a catch because it is not. The ball has just been ruled an Infield Fly which makes the batter-runner out instantly, but the ball may, or may not be caught. Whether it’s caught or not, does NOT affect the Infield Fly call. Check Rule 2.00, Catch definition. This applies to an infield fly situation, too.

Also remember a few other things:
  • The ball stays alive during an Infield Fly play. It’s not dead, so runners off base may be tagged, etc
  • An infield fly is a fair fly ball which CAN be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort. That doesn’t mean it HAS to be caught by an infielder Imagine a shortstop playing deep, backing up onto the outfield grass to catch a fly with, in the umpire’s judgment, ordinary effort. The umpire points up and calls, Infield Fly, the batter is out!” But the left fielder charges in, and calls off the shortstop and catches the ball, or doesn’t catch it, either way. That is STILL an infield fly by definition.
  • If the umpire calls “Infield Fly, the batter is out!” or “Infield Fly, if fair”, and the ball drops untouched and rolls foul; it is NOT an Infield Fly, just a foul ball. If it lands untouched foul, and rolls fair, it’s an infield fly
  • Last, but not least, don’t get confused with Rule 6.05k, the Intentional Drop. If you read that rule, you will see the differences between it and an Infield Fly. The Infield Fly rule always takes precedence (Besides, you’ll almost never see these kids intentionally drop a fly ball, they have a hard enough time catching them!)

Infield Fly Rule Special Cases
  • Infield Fly strikes runner on base If a runner is touching his base when touched by an Infield Fly, he is not out; although the batter is out if the ball is fair. And, if the Infield Fly touches a runner while on the base in fair territory before touching or passing an infielder, the ball is dead and no runner may advance. See Rule 7.08(f).
  • Infield Fly strikes runner not on base If a runner is touched by an Infield Fly while not touching a base (provided the ball has not touched or passed and infielder), both the runner and the batter are out, and the ball is dead. See Rule 7.08(f). Example: Infield Fly is declared. Runner from first unintentionally interferes with 2nd baseman, who is attempting to catch the fly ball. Ruling: On an Infield Fly, the ball is alive and in play. Therefore, the runner is out for interference and the batter-runner is out under the Infield Fly. Other runners return to the base occupied at the time of the interference.
  • Runner Interferes while In contact with base If a runner has contact with a legally occupied base when he hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a battered ball, the runner 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 the batter out. With two out, the umpire shall declare the batter out. See Rule 7.08(b).
Interference By A Base Coach

The interference rule came into play recently in the Major League Baseball playoffs. So, now is a good time to talk about a type of interference you don’t see very often - It’s when a base coach reaches out to physically assist the runner. The rule is: Rule 7.09 – It is interference by a batter or runner when, in the judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists the runner in returning to or leaving third or first base.

Question: How can a base coach at third or first base physically assist the runner at that base?

Answer: A base coach at first or third base could grab a runner to stop him from running past the base; or he could place his hand on the back of the runner and give him a push when the fly ball is caught to get the runner started in a tag-up and advance attempt; a base coach at first or third base could step in front of a runner to get him to stop. These are just a few of the ways coaches could physically assist runners.

Penalty: The runner that is assisted is called out immediately and the ball is dead if there is a play being made on that runner. Otherwise, the runner that is assisted is called out and the ball is dead after the action is completed (delayed dead ball). However, “high-five-ing” a runner during a home run trot, for example, would not be interference.

Why Does The Catcher’s Throat Protector Have To Dangle?

It appears that over the course of this past season that there has been a lot of confusion over Rule 1.17. The section that I am referring to is the safety requirement that all catchers MUST have a “dangling” type throat protector attached to the mask of the catcher’s helmet. We have observed catcher’s helmets without any type of “dangling” throat protector, as well as throat protectors secured so tightly to the lower frame bar that they cannot move or “dangle” to protect the catcher’s throat. We have observed them secured so that the throat protector is sticking straight out at a 900 angle, providing no protection for the catcher’s throat area.

All of these are totally unacceptable. The ‘dangling” throat protector should be properly and securely attached so that when the catcher looks up or his head is tilted upward the throat protector will be able to remain down so that the catcher’s throat area has some protection. A ball (from a foul or from a pitch in the dirt) or even a bat could possibly come up under the catcher’s helmet and cause a severe injury.

To be properly attached, the “dangling” type throat protector should be securely attached from one-fourth of an inch to no more than three-quarters of an inch below the lowest bar or frame of the catcher’s mask. The throat protector should swing freely and smoothly under the mask when tapped with a finger while holding the catcher’s mask/helmet in the hand.

The “dangling” style throat protector is required on any and all types of catcher’s helmet/masks in all divisions of Little League Baseball and Softball. So, whether you have the standard frame, the extended frame, the hockey style, etc., the “dangling” throat protector is required. Yes, even on the extended frame masks – because when a catcher tilts his head upward, the frame goes with it – exposing the throat. That is, unless there is a properly positioned “dangling” throat protector in place.

This is a mandatory safety requirement and MUST be strictly enforced at all times by managers, coaches, league officials and umpires. There is NO reason or excuse, (and we have heard them all) for not having a properly attached “dangling” throat protector on all catcher’s helmet/mask. The children’s safety and well being MUST always be foremost in all that we do in Little League.

It is not worth the risk, so PLEASE help us to make sure that every catcher’s helmet/mask in your league’s equipment (whether league-purchased or parent-purchased0 has a properly attached “dangling” style throat protector to protect the children from injury and harm.

A note for the umpires out there: It is not a requirement for the plate umpire to wear the “dangling” throat protector, but it is very strongly recommended that they do.


How Many Bases Do Runners Get On A Throw Out Of Play? Rule 7.05(g)

On an overthrow that stays in play the ball is alive and the runners advance as far as they want to, at their own risk.

Overthrows go out of play and become dead when:
  • The ball goes over the fence or over any line (real or imaginary) defining the edge of the playing field
  • The ball goes into a dugout or bench area
  • The ball gets stuck in or goes through a fence or backstop
Once a ball is out of play, it stays dead even if it bounces back into the field. So where do the runners go? If the overthrow occurs on the first play by an infielder, every runner gets two bases from where he was when the ball was pitched. This is the most common situation.

Example: Bases are loaded, ground ball to an infielder who throws the ball out of play. Two runs score, batter goes to second, runner on first goes to third. If the overthrow is not on the first play, or is by an outfielder, or the batter and every runner have advanced at least one base before the throw is made, runners get two bases from where they were when the throw was made. Any attempt to put a runner out (for example, a missed tag) counts as a "play" whether successful or not. But dropping a fly ball or line drive does not count as a "play" Note that the rule is "when the throw was made" not "when the ball went out of play".

Example: Runner on second, no out. Ground ball to 3rd, fielded by third baseman, who tags the runner and throws wild to first. If the batter had not passed first when the third baseman threw the ball, the umpire sends him to second. If the batter had passed first, the umpire sends him to third.

Example: No one on base, no out. Batter hits ball to right, fielded by right fielder. The runner tries for two and the right fielder throws to second, but the throw goes over second base and keeps going; so does the runner. Eventually the ball rolls out of play behind third base. Place the runner on third since when the throw left the fielder’s hand, the runner still hadn’t reached second. In practice this rule can only make a difference for the batter and for a runner who started at first. Runners who started on second and third always score on an overthrow out of play.


Obstruction

A fielder commits obstruction when he impedes the progress of the runner while not in possession of the ball or is not in the act of fielding the ball. If the obstructed runner is being played upon, the ball is immediately dead. If the obstructed runner is not being played upon, the ball is delayed-dead.

A fielder will be guilty of obstruction if he denies access to a base without possession of the ball. Previously, a fielder was allowed to block the base if he was in the act of making a play. The most common bases for obstruction are home and 1st base. An umpire may have to consider action occurring after obstruction in determining a runner’s award or protection (or neither). An obstructed runner’s protection or award can be revised each time something happens that would change the award or protection.

Example: Runner 1 is stealing, and there is a base hit to left-center field. The shortstop obstructs Runner 1 as he rounds second. At this point the umpire determines that he will protect Runner 1 to third. But, then the center fielder misses the ball. The umpire revises his judgment, and will now protect Runner 1 at home. If a live ball has been thrown, but becomes dead while in flight due to obstruction with a play, and such throw is wild and goes out of play, then the overthrow becomes a factor in determining the award given the obstructed runner.

Example: After a line drive base hit into right-center field, the batter-runner rounds the base widely and proceeds a considerable distance toward second. The right fielder, seeing the batter-runner’s wide turn, wheels and throws to first immediately after grabbing the ball. The batter-runner, scrambling back to first, is obstructed by the first baseman that is unaware that the throw is approaching. The umpire determines that “obstruction with a play” has occurred, so the ball is dead, and the batter-runner must be awarded at least second base. But the errant throw gets by the first base area and bounds into the stands. This must be taken into consideration, since the throw was en route (live) when the obstruction occurred. The umpire awards the batter-runner third base on the overthrow.


Players Taking their Proper Places

Rule 4.03 provides that when the ball is put in play at the start of, or during, a game, all fielders other than the catcher shall be in fair territory.

When the batter assumes a batting stance in the batter’s box, he shall have both feet entirely within the batter’s box; i.e. no part of either foot may extend beyond the outer edge of the lines defining the box when the batter assumes a position in the box. There is no penalty specified for violation other than the batter shall be instructed by the umpire to stay within the batter’s box. If a player, after being directed by the umpire, blatantly refuses to comply, he is subject to ejection. See Rule 6.03. At this point the team manager/coach should be involved in the discussion.

Rule 6.02(c) provides that if the batter refuses to take a position in the batter’s box during a time at bat, the umpire shall order the pitcher to pitch and shall call “Strike” on each such pitch. On such pitch, the ball remains live and in play (runners may advance at their own risk). The batter may take a proper position after any such pitch and the regular ball and strike count shall continue, but if the batter does not take his proper position before three strikes are called, he shall be declared out.

Once the umpire has ordered the pitcher to pitch under this rule, the batter is not allowed to step back in and quickly offer at the pitch. Under this rule, once invoked, the penalty applies, and the umpire shall call the pitch a strike. After the umpire has ordered the pitcher to pitch, should the batter re-enter the box and hit such pitch, the ball is dead, a strike is called and any advancement on the bases is nullified. At this point the team manager/coach should be involved in the discussions.


Illegal Pitch (Major and Minors only)

What is a balk in “Juniors and above” is an Illegal Pitch in Majors and below. Local leagues, in particular the Minor Division, may choose to call only some of these and/or call them as "No Pitch" (ball is dead, no runners can advance) rather than balks.

Note: Failing to come to a stop during the Set Position is not an illegal pitch in Majors. Using a windup from the Set Position is OK, as well. An Illegal Pitch is described in Rule 8.05. Some of the most common causes:
  1. The pitcher pitches without his foot on the rubber
  2. The pitcher quick-pitches the batter
  3. The pitcher makes a stop-and-start motion (begins his pitching motion, pauses, and then finishes it)
  4. The pitcher does not use one of the two legal pitching positions, the Windup Position or the Set Position [8.01(a) and (b)]


Penalty:
  • The pitch is a ball. [8.05]
  • If the pitch hits the batter, it counts as an HP, not an illegal pitch. [8.05(m), note]
  • If the batter hits the ball: If the batter reaches first safely and all runners advance at least one base, the illegal pitch is ignored If not, the manager can take the play or the illegal pitch
  • In the minors, the umpires may just call "No pitch" and then take the time to explain the problem to the pitcher and his coach







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