Commonly Mistaken Rules
Straight from the Rule Book(s)
In every sport, and nearly every sporting event, there is a call that goes against one team and for the other, in which one coach, and one fan base is upset about. That call could be a simple missed call by the game official, which happens, or it could be a correct call in which the upset coach and fan base are uneducated on the actual rule involved.
Education is important - in sports, too.
The biggest offenders of incorrectly arguing correct calls are former players who have done no more to learn the rules than remember the time they spent playing. Look back to your playing days. How often did a coach or an umpire actually spend explaining the quirks to the rule sets, or show you the differences between rule sets in levels of play?
I recommend y'all read further to better understand the commonly mistaken rules, or misinterpreted rules of the game.
If you have a ruling in a game that you would like clarification on, contact me here.
OBR vs NFHS Differences
There are many rules that vary from rule set to rule set. It's important to know which rule set your game is governed by before arguing a rule. Follow the link here to learn more.
Use and get familiar with Umpire Bible. It's a fantastic website that I use often to ensure I'm in line with correct baseball rules. It's easy to navigate and backed with the OBR rule set, with caveats for NFHS and MLB rule sets.
Well over 80% of baseball is played with fewer than 20% of the rules. I'm sure those numbers aren't off by much. So, the average former player on the sidelines watching his kid play already brings a lot of baseball knowledge to the field. There's comfort in that ... but there's peril, too. And everybody who's watched baseball on TV thinks they know more than the umpire...
The point is, while you're probably pretty solid with safe/out, fair/foul, and ball/strike, arguing with umpires on anything older than about nine-year-olds is going to take a lot more experience with that not-often-called, other 80% of the rules.
Below is every way an offensive player can be called out.
Batted ball caught on the fly. Fly out [ 5.09(a)(1) ]
Strike out; third strike legally caught [ 5.09(a)(2) ]
Batter swings at strike three and is touched by the ball [ 5.09(a)(6) ]
Batter-runner thrown out at first base (ground out) [ 5.09(a)(10) ]
Runner is tagged out beyond first base [ 5.09(b)(4) ]
Runner commits running-lane violation on the way to first base [ 5.09(a)(11) ]
There is an illegally batted ball [ 6.03(a)(1) ]
Bat hits batted ball a second time in fair territory [ 5.09(a)(8) ]
Batter bunts foul with two strikes [ 5.09(a)(4) ]
Batter steps into the batter's box with an illegal bat [ 6.03(a)(4) ]
An infield fly is declared [ 5.09(a)(5) ]
A fielder intentionally drops a fly ball [ 5.09(a)(12) ]
A fielder (likely the catcher) commits batter's interference [ 6.03(a)(3) ]
A spectator commits spectator interference [ 6.01(e) ]
Batter intentionally deflects batted ball in foul territory [ 5.09(a)(9) ]
Batter is touched by his own batted ball outside the batter's box [ 5.09(a)(7) ]
Batter steps from one batter's box to the other as pitcher is ready to deliver pitch [ 6.03(a)(2) ]
A preceding base runner interferes with an opportunity for a double play [ 5.09(a)(13) ]
Base runner forced out on infield hit (e.g., fielder's choice) [ 5.09(b)(6) ]
Runner is tagged out while not on base [ 5.09(b)(4) ]
Runner is out of the base path to avoid a tag [ 5.09(b)(1) ]
A runner passes a preceding runner [ 5.09(b)(9) ]
Runner commits offensive interference [ 6.01(a) ]
Base coach commits coach's interference [ 6.01(a)(8) ]
A runner runs the bases in reverse to make a travesty of the game [ 5.09(b)(10) ]
Runner abandons a base [ 5.09(b)(2) ]
Runner misses a base while advancing or retreating (appeal) [ 5.09(c)(2) ]
1 The hands are part of the bat.
The hands are not part of the bat; they are part of the batter. If a pitched ball hits the batter's hands while trying to avoid being hit, you have a batter hit-by-pitch. The ball is dead, and the batter is awarded first base. If the batter is swinging at the pitch when hit, you do not have hit-by-pitch. You have a strike. The ball is dead, but there is no base award; and, if it's strike three, the batter is out.
2 When over-running first base, the batter-runner must veer to the right into foul territory.
The batter-runner may cross first base and veer in any direction, provided the runner makes no attempt (not even a feint) to advance to second. After over-running or over-sliding first base, the runner is required to return to the base immediately.
3 If on a checked swing the batter breaks his wrists, it's a strike.
A swinging strike is a judgment call. Breaking of the wrists, passing of the bat barrel over the plate, and other similar actions are guidelines, not rules.
4 If a batted ball hits home plate, it's a foul ball.
Home plate is fair territory, as are the foul lines and first and third bases. A batted ball striking home plate is like any other batted ball and has no bearing on the determination of fair or foul.
5 The batter cannot be called out for interference if he is in the batter's box.
The batter's box is not a safe haven. Interference is a judgment call. The key words to interpreting interference are impede, hinder, confuse or obstruct can apply in the batter's box as well as outside of it.6.03(a)(3)
See also Batter's Interference
6 The ball is dead on a foul-tip.
A foul-tip is not a foul ball, and the ball is not dead. It is a live ball strike (strike three, if appropriate), and all activities of a live ball are available. Be sure you know the definition of a foul-tip.
7 The batter may not switch batter's from one batter's box to the other after two strikes.
The batter may switch from one batter's box to the other at any time, except when the pitcher is set and is ready to deliver the pitch.
8 A batter who bats out of order is called out when properly appealed.
Nope. Instead, it is the batter who failed to bat at his proper time in the batting order (the "proper" batter) who is called out. Any hit, walk, or other advantage gained by the "improper" batter is nullified and, if on base, the improper batter is returned to the dugout. The next batter due up is the person in the batting order who follows the proper batter (who was just called out).
9 The batter may not overrun first base when he gets a base-on-balls.
Rule 7.08(c) simply states that a batter-runner must immediately return after overrunning first base. It does not specify how the player became a runner, nor specify exceptions on that basis. It could be a hit, walk, error or dropped third strike. Note that to "overrun" means that the runner's momentum carries him straight beyond the base after touching it.
10 On a third strike not caught, the batter is out if he fails to attempt to advance immediately.
This rule varies considerably from rule set to rule set. In OBR, the batter is out once he leaves the dirt area surrounding home plate. This is a judgment call. Under high school (NFHS) and Little League rules, the runner is declared out once he or she enters the dugout or other dead ball area.
11 If the batter does not pull the bat out of the strike zone while in the bunting position, it's an automatic strike.
A batter must make an attempt to contact the ball with the bat (to "offer" at the pitch) for a pitch that is out of the strike zone to be called a strike. In the bunt position, a pitch that does not pass through the strike zone, and which is not offered at, is a called ball. If in the strike zone, it is a called strike if not offered at, or a "swinging" strike if offered at whether in the strike zone or not. The defense may appeal if the plate umpire calls a ball and the defense believe the ball was offered at.
12 The batter is out if a bunted ball hits the ground and bounces back up and hits the bat while the batter is holding the bat.
Two things here. First off, the bat doesn't hit the ball a second time; rather, it's that ball that rebounds and hit the bat. Foul ball. That is, IF the batter is still in the batter's box. However, if the batter has left the batter's box and the ball hits the bat (or the batter-runner, for that matter), then he's out.
13 The batter is out if his foot touches the plate.
Not true. For a batter to be out for an illegally batted ball, his foot must be on the ground entirely outside the batter's box when the ball is struck. It is possible for the foot to be "in" the batter's box and touching the plate. Note that the chalk line that defines the batter's box is considered to be part of the batter's box. Also note that the rule only applies if the bat contacts the ball.
FED/NFHS: The high school rule differs by adding that the batter is out if hitting the ball "while either foot or knee" is "touching home plate."
14 The batter-runner is always out if he runs outside the running lane after a bunted ball.
Interference on a running-lane violation. only takes place if there is a throw, and if the runner's position outside the base path actually interferes with the baseman's ability to field the throw. Note that the catcher's ability to make the throw is not relevant to the judgment of interference. It is not interference if the throw is not catchable.
The runner is permitted to step out of the running lane for the last step or two to first base in order to touch first base.
15 A runner is out if he slaps hands or high-fives other players or base coach when rounding the bases.
That's just ridiculous. The issue is coach's interference, wherein a base coach physically assists a running in advancing or retreating. A high-five is not an assist and is not an infraction. Note, too, that on a home run the only out that can occur is if one runner passes another runner on the base path, or if a runner is called out on appeal for failing to touch a base.
16 Tie goes to the runner.
This is a sandlot rule. In fact, it's the opposite: at first base or on a force, the runner must beat the ball to the bag. Furthermore (umpire axiom): "There are no ties in baseball."
17 On a ball thrown out-of-play the runner gets one-plus-one.
Base awards on overthrows are tricky. Depending on circumstances, the award is either one base or two bases (most commonly two), and depending on other circumstances the award is from the runner's position at the time of the pitch (TOP) or at the time of the throw (TOT). The most common scenario is an overthrow at first base on an infield hit, in which case the batter-runner gets two base award from TOP, which puts him on second base. Note that base awards for overthrows apply to all runners on base. There is no such thing as a "one-plus-one" rule.
18 Anytime a coach touches a runner, the runner is out.
Same issue, basically, as Myth 15. It is not interference if a coach just touches a runner. The coach must physically assist the runner for interference to occur.
19 Runners may not run the bases in reverse order.
Nope. In fact, it's just the opposite. When a runner is retreating (when retreating to tag up on a caught fly ball, for example), the runner must retouch the bases in reverse order. (However, if the ball is dead due to foul ball, the runner need not retouch intervening bases.)
20 A ball that is tipped by the batter and shoots back sharply over the catcher's shoulder to the backstop is called a "foul tip."
Foul tip and foul ball are two different things. A foul tip is a live ball and a strike (including strike three). A ball that is struck by the batter is a foul tip when and only when it goes "sharp and direct to the catcher's glove and is legally caught." Anything else is a foul ball, which is a dead ball; and is only a strike when there are fewer than two strikes on a batter.
21 A runner may not steal on a foul-tip.
A foul tip is not a foul ball. A foul tip is a live ball (and a strike) and runners may advance at their peril. You must be sure to understand the difference between a foul ball and a foul tip.
22 The runner is always safe (protected) if touched by a batted ball while he is touching a base.
The base does not protect a base runner from being called out for interference when he is touched by a batted ball. If the base runner is touched by a batter fair ball, the runner is out for interference, irrespective of contact with the base. However, if a portion of the runner's body that is in foul territory is touched by a ball in foul territory, it is simply a foul ball. There is one exception: In the case of an infield fly, the runner is not out if touched by the ball while in contact with a base.
23 It is a force out when a runner is called out for not tagging up on a fly ball.
Not a force, but an appeal. To successfully appeal, the defense may tag either the offending runner or simply tag the base where the offense occurred. Therefore, if the appeal results in a third out, then any runs that may have scored on the play (except runs scored by the offending runner and any runners following that runner) will count.
24 An appeal on a runner who missed a base cannot be a force out.
Here's the other side of the "appeal play" coin. IF there is a successful appeal of a runner at a base to which he was forced, then the successful appeal results in a force out. Therefore, if the appeal results in the third out, then no runs score on that play.
25 A runner is out if he runs out of the baseline to avoid a fielder who is fielding a batted ball.
Wrong. In fact, a base runner is required to do whatever is needed to avoid a fielder who is fielding a batted ball. This is sometimes confused with the rule that results in the runner being called out if running more than three feet outside the basepath when attempting to avoid a tag.
26 Runners may not advance when an infield fly is called.
This is a common misconception about the infield fly rule. The result of an infield is only this: the batter is out whether the ball is caught or not, so that runners are not forced off their bases. In all other respect this is just an ordinary fly ball. If caught, the runners must tag, and may then advance at their peril. If not caught, the runners are not required to tag up, of course, and again, may advance at their peril.5.09(a)(5)
Definitions (infield fly)
See also Infield Fly Rule
27 No run can score when a runner is called out for the third out for not tagging up.
See Myths 23 and 24. An out on appeal for not tagging up is not a force out, so any runs that cross the plate before the out is called on appeal stay on the board. But again, the offending runner may not score, nor following runners if his is the third out.
28 A pitch that touches the ground before reaching the plate cannot be hit.
Sure it can. Ichiro did it more than once. The only thing outstanding about a pitch that bounces prior to reaching the plate is that it cannot be a called strike. However, it can still be a swinging strike, a foul ball, a called ball, or a clean hit.
29 The batter is not awarded first base if hit by a pitch after it bounces.
Same issue as Myth 28. Hit by pitch is hit by pitch. So long as the batter is not swinging at the pitch, he is awarded first base if touched by a pitched ball. All of the normal features of the hit-by-pitch rule apply when the pitch bounces first.
30 If a fielder holds a caught fly ball for 2 seconds it's a catch.
There are two components to the definition of a catch – secure possession and voluntary release. There is no time requirement involved.
31 On a force out or appeal, you must tag the base with your foot.
So long as you have secure possession of the ball "in hand or glove," you can touch the base with any part of your body.
32 The ball is immediately dead when there is a balk.
Balks are live. The exception is in high school (FED) baseball rules. In all other other leagues, however, a balk results in a delayed dead ball. At the end of the play the balk may be enforced or not depending on what happened.
33 If the fielder's feet are in fair territory when he touches a batted ball, it is a fair ball.
This isn't football. In baseball, fair/foul is determined by the position of the ball, not the player, with respect to the foul lines at the moment the ball is first touched.
34 You must always return the ball to the pitcher before you can make an appeal.
This is a common misconception. In fact, any defensive player can initiate an appeal at any time by (with possession of the ball) tagging the runner whose actions are being appealed, or by touching the base at which the appealable infraction occurred, and then appealing to the umpire with an unmistakable indication (by word or gesture) of the nature of the appeal. The only time the ball must go to the pitcher is if time is out and the ball must be made live to initiate an appeal.
35 When in the set position, the pitcher must come to a complete stop before making a pick-off throw.
In the set position, the pitcher must come to a complete stop before delivering a pitch; however, when stepping and throwing to a base on a pickoff attempt he is not required to come to a complete stop as he moves to the set position.
36 The pitcher must step off (disengage) the rubber before making a pick-off throw.
The pitcher may step and throw to a base for a pickoff attempt from the set position without disengaging the rubber. Note that when a pitcher disengages the rubber he is no longer a "pitcher," but an ordinary fielder.
37 If a fielder catches a fly ball and then falls over the fence it is a homerun.
As long as the fielder catches the ball before going over the fence, it is a legal catch if he maintains possession and otherwise meets the definition of a catch, so it is not a home run but rather the batter is out. However, if the fielder is entirely in dead ball territory when he makes a catch, this is not a legal catch, the ball is dead, and base runners (if any) are awarded one base.
38 The ball is dead any time an umpire is hit by the ball.
If an umpire is hit by a batted ball before it passes a fielder, the ball is dead. On any other batted or thrown ball, the ball is alive when the umpire is hit with the ball. Umpire interference also occurs when the plate umpire interferes with the catcher's attempt to prevent a stolen base.
39 The home plate umpire can overrule other umpires' calls.
No umpire may overrule another umpire's call. An umpire may, at his discretion, seek out advice or consult with another umpire on a play, but is under no obligation to do so.
40 You must ask for time out before appealing that a runner missed a base.
A player may only initiate an appeal while the ball is live. If a ball becomes dead on a play in which a player wishes to make an appeal, he must wait for the ball to be made live and may then initiate the appeal.
41 If a base runner misses a base while advancing, but on the same play is awarded a base beyond the base he missed due to an overthrow or obstruction, he is not obligated to retreat to touch the missed base.
Wrong wrong wrong. The base runner is not relieved of the obligation to touch all bases in order. In this scenario, if the defense properly appeals, the runner would be called out.
However, if the ball is dead due to foul ball, the runner need not retouch intervening bases.
42 A pitcher must disengage the pitching rubber before throwing to a base for the purpose of making an appeal.
This is a common myth and one that leads to a lot of tiresome misplays. It is not a balk for the pitcher to throw to an unoccupied base for the purpose of making an appeal.
Interference vs Obstruction
Here are a few more detailed explanations.
Below are some common situations
where obstruction occurs.
Here's the rule-book definition, found in Definitions (obstruction):
"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."
Note the emphasis on the words "while not in possession of the ball and not in the act of fielding the ball." This is very important and is something we'll come back to. Another important point is that there does not need to be physical contact to have obstruction.
Beyond the rule-book definition, Rules 6.01(h)(1) and 6.01(h)(2) extend the definition and explain the two types of obstruction, commonly called Type 1 obstruction and Type 2 obstruction (for their treatment in Rules 6.01(h)(1) and 6.01(h)(2), respectively).
Note: The 2014 revision to the Official Baseball Rules, in renumbering the rules, has disposed of the time-honored Type A and Type B obstruction. In the current rule book, these are now. Type 1 and Type 2, respectively.
Type 1 (type A) Obstruction: Happens when a base runner is impeded while a play is being made on him. For example, if a catcher without possession of the ball blocks the plate, preventing a runner from having unimpeded access to the plate, this is obstruction. This is an immediate dead ball and bases are awarded as appropriate.
Type 2 (type B) Obstruction: Happens when a base runner is impeded when there is not a play being made on the runner. For example, when F3 is standing on first base watching a base hit to the gap and the batter-runner collides with him while rounding first, that's obstruction. However, because the ball is in the outfield and no play is being made on the runner, this is a delayed dead ball. The umpire should make a signal but let play continue and then deal with penalties (if any) after play has concluded.
Important: High school rules (NFHS Baseball Rules Book) treat obstruction differently from OBR. In NFHS, obstruction is always a delayed dead ball (never immediate dead ball). On conclusion of action, the umpire should kill the ball and award bases to nullify obstruction, but always award a minimum of one base beyond the point of the obstruction.
Now let's go deep on OBR Types 1 and 2 obstruction.
Type 1 obstruction
As we've said, Type 1 obstruction occurs when there is a play being made on the runner at the time the obstruction occurs. The umpire should call time immediately and award bases. We'll discuss base awards in a moment. Here are a couple of examples of Type 1 obstruction:
Catcher blocks the plate
A base runner has rounded third, heading for home, and the catcher is three feet up the line, blocking the base path, calling for the ball. The ball is in flight but before the catcher receives the ball the runner is forced to slow down and deviate from his normal path to avoid a collision. Just as the runner passes by (or slides by) him, the catcher receives the ball and applies the tag.
Do we have an out? Not on your life. The umpire calls "Time. That's obstruction! You (pointing to the runner), home." The runner is safe and the run scores. (But make sure the runner touches home plate. He can be put out on appeal if he fails to touch the plate.)
We're talking about the catcher setting up in a blocking position without possession of the ball. The umpire must watch the catcher before the play arrives, while the play is still developing, and must be aware of where the ball is. This will prepare the umpire to see and call the obstruction if it occurs.
Important: One of the most difficult calls an ump will ever make is when the catcher is in a legal position, but, as the runner arrives (at full speed), a bad throw pulls the catcher into the runner's path. Here you have a collision (literally) of two rules - obstruction and interference. The interference rule tells us that a fielder has the right to make a play on the ball, and yet the obstruction rule tells us that the runner has the right to the base path.
We're in the territory of what's commonly called a "train wreck," and there is no simple answer on how best to judge this. The most common umpiring advice supports a no-call, if you judge that both players were acting appropriately. Any action on the part of either player (either the fielder moves unnecessarily to impede the runner, or the runner deviates purposely to disrupt the fielder) and take that as a cue to call either interference or obstruction. But the umpire needs to be mentally ready because this one happens fast, so again, the ump should watch the players while the play is developing.
Fielder blocks the bag
You have a runner on first (R1). It's a close game so the first baseman (F3) is holding the runner on; the pitcher throws over frequently for the pickoff, but R1 gets back each time. Finally, with R1 leading off even more, the pitcher throws to first and R1 dives back reaching for the bag but instead his hand hits F3's foot and is stopped just short of the bag. Tag is applied.
Do we have an out? You guessed it – no way. "Time. That's obstruction! You (pointing to the runner), second base." The fielder must allow a clear, unimpeded path to the base. Blocking a portion of the bag with a foot is obstruction.
You can change up this scenario in a dozens of ways, move it to any base, and you get the same result. The point is, a fielder without possession of the ball cannot deny access to a base to a runner advancing or retreating.
Obstruction in a run-down
A run-down ("pickle") can be tricky because each time the fielders exchange the ball and the runner reverses direction, the runner has created a new base path. This is relevant because each time this happens, the fielder who just threw the ball is now probably in the runner's way but is no longer in possession of the ball. That fielder, then, is in jeopardy of committing obstruction. The ump will have to watch for this because it's easy to miss in the midst of a helter-skelter pickle, so (again) he'll have to be mentally prepared and watch the fielders (not just the runner) as the pickle develops.
There's more about this in the Umpire Bible article, Basepath & Running Lane.
One wrinkle: "possession" vs. "imminent"
We've emphasized that a critical element of judging Type 1 obstruction is the fielder's having (or not having) possession of the ball. This begs the question: precisely what constitutes possession? Is it ball-in-glove? Or is it "imminent," that is, the ball is just arriving at the glove?
Once a player has possession of the ball, he can place himself between the runner and the base to which the runner is advancing (in fact, that's what he should do). But here's the problem: the professional rules (OBR) recognize a defensive player's right to occupy a blocking position when he is in the act of receiving the ball, when possession is "imminent." Many amateur leagues also recognize "imminent possession." Even Little League, until only a few years back (they changed in 2012, if I recall correctly) recognized imminent possession.
The problem with imminent is that one person's imminent is another person's obstruction. And therein lies a wedge of ambiguity that creates a potential for collisions (and serious injury) as the base runner hurries to beat the throw while the defender takes a wishfully blocking position in hopes of receiving the throw "imminently." Bang! It's a nearly impossible judgment call and a guaranteed argument (from one manager or the other, depending on how you call it).
Again, Little League has done away with imminent. So has the high school (NFSH) rule book, which now requires possession, as do a great many other youth programs. If you work leagues where this is not spelled out, then clarify at the plate meeting. For what it's worth, at my plate meetings I always specify that we're playing "possession," then wait to see if either manager disagrees or argues. If not, that's the rule.
And one last quirk
Rule 6.01(a)(10) Comment tells us that on a batted ball to the vicinity of home plate (a bunt, for example, or a dribbler on the first base line) if the catcher and the batter-runner "have contact," there is normally no violation – no Type 1 obstruction. We're talking about incidental contact here, not something blatant. If you see either the runner or the fielder initiates an intentional act coincident with the contact, then make the call (interference or obstruction, depending on who initiated the contact).
Calling and penalizing Type 1 obstruction
Type 1 obstruction is a dead-ball infraction. This means, the moment the ump sees it, calls it: "Time! That's obstruction. You ... " and point to the runner and vocalize the base award "... you, second base" "... you, third base" or whatever the award calls for.
The penalty for Type 1 obstruction is awarding the obstructed runner one base beyond the base last legally touched. In the case of runners who are advancing, this means you award the base to which they were advancing. In the case of a runner obstructed while retreating (as in a pick-off attempt), award the runner the base beyond the one they were retreating to (and previously occupied).
Type 2 obstruction
In Type 2 obstruction, a fielder impedes the progress of a runner, but this takes place away from the action and away from the ball. That is, no play is being made on the obstructed runner. Instead, a fielder simply gets in the way of a base runner and causes the runner to fall, slow down, collide, swerve out of the way – anything that impedes the runner's progress.
Here are some examples of Type 2 obstruction. I'm sure you'll recognize most of these. But keep in mind that this is only a small sample of many situations that are Type 2 obstruction.
Here's the classic (you see this one all the time in youth baseball). Big hit to the outfield through the gap. Batter-runner figures on a double. But the first baseman is standing on the bag (or near it) watching the ball – just standing there gawking, right in the runner's path. The runner either slows down and scoots around the first baseman, or he collides, maybe falling down. In any event, there are one of three outcomes for the runner. He either abandons his attempt to get to second, or he tries for second and makes it safely, or he tries for second and gets thrown out.
That's Type 2 obstruction, so the umpire verbalizes and signals the obstruction, but will wait until action is complete before you call time and enforce the penalty – if at all. We'll go over this in the section on the penalty for Type 2 obstruction.
Here's one that you saw in game 3 of the 2013 World Series, where Boston third baseman Will Middlebrooks fell flat on his face but whose raised legs tripped Allen Craig, who was trying to score from third base. Umpire Jim Joyce called obstruction (Type 2) and awarded Craig home. The press made this out to be a controversial call, but in fact this is textbook obstruction. Here's a video of the play. You can see Joyce (he's U3) signalling the obstruction right away (left arm outstretched with a fist); and then, once Craig scores, the plate umpire is pointing back to the call at third. (The announcer incorrectly calls it interference, a mistake that we hear from announcers all the time.)
Here's one that a lot of people don't know about. A fake tag (pretending that you have the ball and are making a play on the runner) – well, that's obstruction. Say you are a fielder and a runner is approaching second but you slap you glove like you've received the ball and so the runner quickly reverses direction to head back to first. That's obstruction. In another scenario, a runner is sliding into a base and the fielder (without the ball) lays down a tag, causing the runner to believe he's been put out. The runner gets up and starts trotting back to the dugout, whereupon the defense tags him out. That's obstruction. Nullify the out and return the runner to the base he would have achieved.
The penalty for Type 2 obstruction
Applying the penalty for Type 2 obstruction requires umpire judgment. In fact there is no prescribed penalty other than, once action has stopped (remember, this is a delayed dead ball infraction), the umpire shall call "Time" and shall "... impose such penalties, if any, as in his judgment will nullify the act of obstruction."
The emphasis on "if any" is important. It reinforces that in some cases (when, in your judgment, the obstruction is incidental and does not affect the progress of the runner) no penalty is necessary. On the other hand, you can, in your judgment, determine that the base award should be one base, two bases, or (theoretically) three bases. It's hard to imagine circumstances for a three-base award, but ... well, it's entirely in the hands of the umpire.
Mechanic for calling Type 2 obstruction
Unlike Type 1 obstruction, Type 2 obstruction is a delayed dead ball. This is important. When the umpire sees Type 2 obstruction, he should verbalize it ("That's obstruction") and point in the direction of the infraction.
When action on the play concludes, the umpire will act on the obstruction call by doing one of the following:
If the result of the play is such that, in the umpire's judgment, the obstruction caused the runner to be put out or to not reach the base that he would have reached had the obstruction not occurred, then he should call "Time" announce the infraction, then place the runner where, in his judgement, he belongs. Other runners advance if forced.
If, on the other hand, the obstruction did not affect the play by causing the runner to be put out or to fail to reach base, then the umpire can simply ignore the obstruction, say nothing, and move on. Often a base coach or player will have heard the umpire verbalize "that's obstruction" and will ask, then, why he's not enforcing a penalty. The umpire should call "Time" and explain (in three seconds or less) why he's not doing so.
Generally speaking, obstruction is typically committed by a fielder against a base runner, while interference is typically committed by a base runner against a fielder, or the batter against the catcher.
Defense Obstructs Offense Interferes
There are two types of Obstruction and many possibilities for interference.
Here are many types of interference
- "Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders, or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play. If the umpire declares the batter, batter-runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise provided by these rules."
IMPORTANT TO REMEMBER - contact is not required, nor is a throw from the defense, in order for offensive interference to be applied.
- Protected Fielder:
A fielder who is making a play on a batted ball is "protected" from interference by a base runner. In other words, the fielder gets the right-of-way in cases where a base runner converges on a fielder who is making a play on a batted ball. The fielder's protection begins the moment the ball is put in play and the fielder goes in motion to make a play on the ball. The protection continues until the fielder makes a play or makes a throw after fielding the ball. From beginning to end of this sequence, the fielder has the right of way and runners must avoid impeding the fielder.
The rules protect only one fielder. Just one. In cases where two or more fielders are in motion on a batted ball, the umpire has to decide which fielder is best able to make the play. That's the protected fielder. If a base runner impedes this fielder, you have interference. However, if a base runner collides with any fielder other than the protected fielder, then you have obstruction on the fielder, not interference on the runner.
Say you have a batter who hits a slow-roller up the first base line. Both the pitcher and the first baseman are closing on the ball. Let's say the pitcher has the best chance at the ball, so in the umpire's mind the pitcher is the protected fielder. The batter-runner runs inside the baseline and in the process collides with the pitcher. What do we have? Interference? Train wreck (nothing)? Obstruction?
Here's the bottom line:
- If the protected fielder (P) and base runner come together in such a way that the fielder is hindered or impeded, you have interference on the base runner.
- If an un-protected fielder (1B) and base runner come together in such a way that the base runner is hindered or impeded, you probably have obstruction on the fielder.
The definition of defensive interference is very simple – just 18 words: "Defensive interference is an act by a fielder which hinders or prevents a batter from hitting a pitch."
The rule specifies "fielder" but in reality the catcher is the culprit in 99.9% of cases, which is why it's known as catcher's interference. That said, there is one edge case in which another fielder could possibly "hinder or prevent" a batter from hitting a pitch – that's when an infielder charges on a bunt attempt, but charges so aggressively that he somehow contacts the bat during the attempt, or conceivably the pitched ball before it arrives at the bat. But it's hard to picture this.
By far the most common scenario in which you have catcher's interference is the catcher placing his mitt such that it touches the bat during a batter's offer at a pitch. Sometimes the bat only glances the mitt and the batter puts the ball in play. Sometimes the bat hits the mitt solidly (sometimes injuring the catcher).
If the ball is put in play, you have a delayed dead ball. Let the play continue, then call time when the play is complete. We explain in the next section how to handle this. If, on the other hand, the ball is not put in play (either swing and miss, or foul ball), just call time and enforce the penalty. We'll look at both of these scenarios, plus a wrinkle in the rule that comes into play if there's a base runner stealing when the interference occurs.
Ball put in play: delayed dead ball
If you see catcher's interference and yet the ball is put in play, don't kill the ball. Allow action to continue. Once all action on the play has concluded, call time. At this point the team manager has the option of accepting the result of the play, OR, accepting the penalty. If the batter was put out on the play, he's probably going to accept the penalty. But not necessarily.
Take this scenario, for example. Say there are no outs and a non-forced runner on third (R3) scores on the play. The manager might want to overlook the interference and accept the out at first in order to get the run. Otherwise, if the manager decides to accept the penalty instead of the play, then R3 would have to return to third base and the run would come off the board. Again, this is manager's option.
Ball not in play: dead ball (slightly delayed)
If the ball was not put in play, there are no options. Just kill the ball, vocalize the infraction, and send the batter to first base. Other runners advance if forced. However, there's one big exception, so pause for a moment before you kill the ball to ensure you're not stepping on the exception.
A wrinkle: Base runner stealing when the interference occurs
Rule 5.06(b)(3)(D) adds a wrinkle to catcher's interference. If a runner is attempting to steal on a play in which catcher's interference occurs, the runner gets the base to which they stealing and the batter is awarded first base on the interference. Note that if the batter has put the ball in play and reaches first base safely, and all base runner advance at least one base safely, the interference is waved off.
The catcher's balk
I'm adding this information about the catcher's balk because it seems logical to group all of these infractions by a catcher together. There are two ways that a catcher's actions can cause you to call a balk (or illegal pitch with no runners on base).
Rule 6.01(g). If a runner on third base (R3) is trying to score by means of a squeeze play or steal, and the catcher or any other fielder steps in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or the bat, the catcher is cited for the defensive interference, and the pitcher is charged with a balk ("catcher's balk"). The batter is awarded first base on the interference ("catcher's interference") and the ball is dead.
Note that this ruling applies only in this special case of a runner attempting to steal home. You see this now and then. The pitcher starts his delivery, but the catcher becomes aware that R3 is attempting to steal home, so the catcher tries to rush and in doing so steps in front of the batter to more quickly get the ball. That's interference.
The upshot here is that if the catcher commits defensive interference when a runner from third is stealing home, you don't have any manager options. Instead, you have this:
Call time, killing the ball; verbalize the interference and call the balk;
Award the batter first base on the catcher's interference;
Award the runner from third home on the balk (if he was put out at home, nullify the out and score the run); and
If there are other runners on base, award them one base on the balk.
When giving intentional base on balls
And finally, Rule 5.02(a). If a catcher leaves the catcher's box before the pitcher delivers the pitch (as when giving an intentional walk), the pitcher shall be charged with a balk (with runners on base), or with no runners on, an illegal pitch (ball to the batter). (As leagues, including MLB, increasingly move to not requiring the throwing of four pitches to intentionally walk a batter, this rule is slowly becoming archaic.)
The truth is, I've never seen this enforced. Umpires (even in pro ball) appear to give a lot of leeway. In youth ball you sometimes see a catcher set up way outside the catcher's box for an intentional walk; in that case, just instruct the catcher to get back where he belongs.
Despite its having six rules references, umpire interference is pretty straightforward, having just three scenarios:
If an umpire on the bases is touched by a batted ball before the ball touches or passes an infielder (except the pitcher – just ignore the pitcher for now), you have umpire interference. In general, we're talking about the umpire getting hit while positioned in the infield.
If an umpire on the bases is touched by a batted ball after the ball touches or passes an infielder (again, except the pitcher) you have nothing – live ball, play on. In this case, the umpire is positioned behind the infielders.
If the plate umpire impedes the catcher's throw to attempt to retire a runner advancing, you have another flavor of umpire interference. This normally occurs with a runner stealing, or advancing on a wild pitch or passed ball.
The umpire will handle each of these cases differently.
1. Umpire touched by batted ball before passing infielder
In the case where an umpire is touched by a batted ball before the ball touches or passes an infielder, call interference on yourself immediately. Call "Time! That's interference!"
Award the batter-runner first base.
Other runners advance if forced. (Your partner is laughing by now. Do what you can to recover your dignity and move on.)
Important: If the ball touches the pitcher before touching the umpire in this scenario, then you do not have umpire interference. Live ball. Play on.
2. Umpire touched by batted ball after passing infielder
In the second case, where an umpire is touched by a batted ball after it has passed or was touched by an infielder (again, not the pitcher), do nothing. This is a live ball. Play on.
3. Plate umpire impedes catcher's throw
If you are the plate umpire and, on a steal, you inadvertently bump the catcher or otherwise impede his ability to make a play on the runner, call "Time! That's interference."
The ball is dead.
Any runners moving on the play must return to their original base. (Your partner is laughing on this one, too.)
In all other situations where an umpire inadvertently contacts a base runner, a defensive player, or the ball itself, you have nothing. Live ball.
There are three ways a batter can commit batter's interference. He can interfere with the catcher making a throw to retire a runner in the act of stealing a base. Second, he can interfere with a runner who is stealing home. Sometimes these two overlap. Finally, he can commit backswing interference (also called "weak interference"). This happens when the batter swings and, on the follow through, his bat hits the catcher or the catcher's glove. Each of the three case is handled differently, so we'll take them one at a time.
Interfere with a catcher's throw
When a base runner is stealing and the catcher comes up quickly with a throw to attempt to retire the runner, the batter cannot in any way impede the catcher's effort – either intentionally or unintentionally. If he does, then the batter is out, the ball is dead, and all runners must return to their time-of-pitch base.
NOTE: The batter's box is NOT a safe haven - if the batter makes a movement that hinders the catcher, even if he is in the box, the batter is liable for interference.
The most common steal-and-throw scenario is a runner stealing second on a pitch (as opposed to a passed ball or wild pitch). You'll also see this on a steal of third base. So on a steal of second base, you don't often have interference because the catcher has a clear line of sight to second base.
But sometimes you do – for example, when the batter's swing pulls him off balance and he steps onto or across the plate. If there is a runner stealing second when this happens, you can very easily have batter's interference. When stepping over the plate, the batter can easily bump or otherwise impede that catcher's attempt to throw down to second. That's interference.
Note: If you see batter's interference, but the catcher gets the throw off anyway and succeeds in retiring the runner, then ignore the interference. By Rule 6.03(a)(3), if the catcher retires the runner, then, in effect, the interference never happened. On such a play, then, if other runners were also stealing when the interference is waved off, they get to remain at the base they stole.
We said a moment ago that most of the time the steal is of second base. But not always. Sometimes you get a base runner stealing third, and this is the case where you really need to watch for batter's interference. That's because the throw to third often requires the catcher to throw across the right-handed batter's box. And that's where the batter is standing (if he's right-handed). And you can't expect the batter to simply disappear.
Now, this gets a little bit tricky. There is a common misconception that if a batter remains in the batter's box he cannot be called out for interference. This is not true. The batter's box is not a safe haven. But, as we said, he can't be expected to disappear, either. Add to this that a play on a steal of third happens so friggin' fast that the batter may not even know a play is on until the ball goes whizzing by.
And let's not forget about snap throws down to first base to catch a runner leading off too aggressively, or who may not be paying attention (yep, sometimes they catch runners sleeping). You have the same issue here as you do with throws to third, but instead it's with left-handed batters.
So, with all of this fuzzy grey zone, what's an umpire to do? Well, the wording of 6.03(a)(3) is important here: The batter is out if he "… interferes with the catcher's fielding or throwing by stepping out of the batter's box or making any other movement that hinders the catcher's play at home base." As directives go, you can't get much broader than "any other movement." Batter beware.
The emphasis is important because "any other movement" covers a lot of ground. A lot. So the message is, give the balance of judgment to the catcher. Sometimes a bad throw is just a bad throw and you have nothing. But if the catcher's throw gets disrupted in any way, regardless of intent, the umpire has to call it.
But again (for the third time), the umpire can't expect the batter to simply disappear. He has to watch and judge for yourself whether the batter made "any other movement" that hindered the catcher in any way. This is a judgment call, of course. Generally (generally), if the batter remains still in the batter's box and makes no movement, then he is protected from interference. If it were me, though, I'd duck. But that's just me.
Here's where it gets even more tricky. The batter's interference play that I believe causes the most arguments is not on a straight-up steal. Instead, it's when the catcher mishandles a pitch (or is handling a wild pitch) with runner on base. The ball is on the ground and runners are in motions and the catcher is diving or grabbing for the ball; at the same time the batter is dancing out of the way while trying to avoid interfering, and in doing so he instead interferes. That's interference. "But I was trying to get out of the way," the batter protests. You're breaking my heart, son. You're out.
2 - Interfere with a play at the plate
When a runner attempts to steal home, the batter has to make an effort to get out of the way of the play at the plate. This can be tricky if the runner is stealing on the pitch, as with a suicide squeeze (which is rare, but it does happen). A play like this happens very quickly and even you, the umpire, probably don't realize what's happening until split seconds before it blows up right in front of you.
More commonly, interference with a play at the plate happens when there is a runner on third (R3) and then there's a passed ball or wild pitch and R3 tries to score. You have the catcher scrambling for the ball, the pitcher running in to cover the plate, and you have R3 barrelling toward home. Get position and watch like a hawk.
You have a similar situation on a sacrifice double-steal. That is, with fewer than two outs and with runners on first and third (R1 and R3), R1 will sacrifice himself on a lame attempt to steal second just to draw a throw so that R3 can then steal home. You don't see this too much at higher levels (16U and above) because the fielders are good enough to defeat the play with fast, accurate throws. But at younger levels you see this all the time. Again, watch this one carefully because frequently the defensive will fake the throw to second but instead hit a cutoff fielder, who then makes a play on R3 at home.
Important: When you call batter's interference on a play at the plate, who do you call out, the batter or the runner? The answer is it depends. If there are fewer than two outs, you call the runner out. With two outs, however, you call the batter out. Why is this? Because with two outs, if you call the runner out (to end the inning), then the batter is entitled to return as the first batter in the next inning – in effect, rewarding the batter for interference. In any event, no run scores.
3 - Backswing interference
When a batter swings at a pitch and the momentum of his swing brings the bat around and hits the catcher, or more commonly, the catcher's mitt, this is backswing interference. It's sometimes referred to as "weak interference." When backswing interference happens, you must kill the ball ("Time!") and return runners (if any are in motion) to their time-of-pitch base. However, no one is called out.
Rules Variation: High school (NFHS) rules differ on this point. NHFS rule 7-3-5c penalizes backswing interference (FED uses the term "follow-through interference") when it interferes with a catcher's attempt to retire a base runner. See NHFS rule 7-3-5-Penalty for more information.
NFHS PENALTY: When there are two outs, the batter is out. When there are not two outs and the runner is advancing to home plate, if the runner is tagged out, the ball remains live and interference is ignored. Otherwise, the ball is dead, and the runner is called out. When an attempt to put out a runner at any other base is unsuccessful, the batter is out and all runners must return to bases occupied at the time of the pitch. If the pitch is a third strike and in the umpire’s judgment interference prevents a possible double play (additional outs), two may be ruled out (8-4-2g).
Spectator interference occurs when any person not affiliated with the game in progress (player, coach, or umpire) impedes in any way the conduct of the game on the field of play. Spectator interference is spelled out in Definitions (interference(d)):
Spectator interference occurs when a spectator reaches out of the stands and over the playing field, or goes on the playing field, and (1) touches a live ball or (2) touches a player and hinders an attempt to make a play on a live ball
6.01(e) describes how the umpire should handle spectator interference. As you might expect, the ball is immediately dead. Then, "the umpire shall impose such penalties as in the umpire's opinion will nullify the act of interference."
This could (but will not necessarily) result in calling a batter out. An "approved ruling" on 6.01(e) stipulates that "If a spectator clearly prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, the umpire shall declare the batter out."
Most commonly, it's the defense, not the offense, that is disadvantaged by spectator interference, typically when a fan reaches out over the field to catch or touch a live ball. In this situation, the umpire should place the runner at a base that, in his judgment, the runner would have achieved had the spectator interference not occurred.
Here are a few more important points about spectator interference that you'll find in a lengthy comment on 6.01(e):
If a ball is hit into a spectator area (out of play), then bounces back into the field of play, this is not spectatator interference, but simply a dead ball out of play.
Any person reaching out of the stands or otherwise over the field of play is intentionally interfering, as described in 6.01(e); batter and runners shall be placed as per umpire's judgment to nullify the interference.
However, if it is the fielder who "reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball," there shall be no interference. While a fielder is allowed to reach into dead ball territory to make a catch, he does so at his peril because if he is impeded by actions of spectators over dead ball territory, he's out of luck.
If, on the other hand, a spectator reaches out of the stands (rope, railing, etc.) into live ball territory and prevents a fielder from catching a fly ball, "the batsman should be called out for spectator's interference."
Base Path & Running Lane
The first and most important thing to know about the base path is that there is no such thing as a base path (none exists) until a play is made on a runner. The base path is established when a fielder with the ball attempts to tag a runner. Then, and only then, is there a base path. And the base path is a straight line from the runner's position to the base to which he is advancing or retreating.
We're going to talk about that, as well as other important points pertaining to the base path and the running lane:
What is a base path?
The base path is defined in Rule 5.09(b)(1):
"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."
The wording is important. The base path is established (created) "when the tag attempt occurs." in other words, until there is a tag attempt, there is no base path. And then this: The base runner is out if "running more than three feet away from the baseline to avoid being tagged." At the moment the base path is established (when the tag is attempted), the runner cannot veer more than three feet to the left or right of the base path for the purpose of avoiding a tag.
It's important that a base path only exists when a fielder is attempting to make a tag. At all other times there is no base path (no such thing) and in fact the runner is free (at his peril) to run pretty much anywhere he wishes. There are limits to this (see Rule 5.09(b)(10) regarding "making a travesty of the game"); however, the central point remains: the base runner creates his own base path.
Here's where it gets tricky
It gets tricky in a pickle. When a runner is caught between bases and fielders have the runner in a pickle (a rundown), each time the fielders exchange the ball and the runner reverses direction, the runner has created a new base path. Each time you have this reversal you have a new base path because you have a new fielder attempting to make a tag (and therefore a new "straight line to the base"), and so you have to adjust your view of the base path accordingly. (On a side note, obstruction also comes into play in this scenario.)
This clip shows a really good example of a pickle that goes on for several throws. Notice how, after each throw, the effort each fielder makes to get out of the way of the runner to avoid obstruction.
So, you have to be mindful that, during a pickle, the base path is going to migrate every time there's a throw. Depending on how long the pickle goes on, the base path can migrate quite a bit. When this happens, you invariably get some fan in the stands shouting at you "He's out of the base path!" But you and I know these fans don't know what they're talking about.
What about when the runner actually does run outside the base path to avoid a tag?
Rule 5.09(b)(1) allows a runner up to three feet either way off his base path to avoid a tag. More than that and the runner is out. Of course, you'll never see an umpire with a tape measure, so eyeballing that three-foot allowance takes experience and judgment. One helpful guideline is noticing whether the fielder attempting to tag the runner, upon making a step and a reach, was able to tag the runner who is trying to pass him.
Abandoning the base path
Well, then, answer me this: If a runner creates his own base path, and if there's no such thing as a base path until a fielder attempts to tag a runner in the base path that he, the runner, has created, then how can a runner possibly abandon what doesn't even exist?
Well, the simple answer is because Rule 5.09(b)(2) says so. In truth, though, it's not really the base path the runner is abandoning (despite the wording in the rule), but rather the effort to continue advancing.
Rule 5.09(b)(2), along with 5.09(b)(2) Comment, tell us that if a runner leaves the base path and in doing so he "obviously" abandons any effort to reach the next base, then you call him out "if the umpire judges the act of the runner to be considered abandoning his efforts to run the bases." The ball remains live, however.
You don't see this very often. The most common scenario is when a base runner mistakenly believes he's been put out and heads for the dugout. There is no set guidance on how far the runner must go before he's technically abandoned the bases; the rule book says that he "progresses a reasonable distance still indicating by his actions that he is out." More often what you see is the runner's teammates screaming at him to get back to the base, or the defense noticing his blunder and putting a tag on. Then it's a matter of who wins the race back to the bag.
One final point. Jaksa/Roder extend their discussion of abandonment by introducing a new concept: "desertion" (Thirteenth edition, p. 48-49). The distinction recognizes that a base runner cannot (technically) be called out for abandonment before he reaches first base. So in cases where the runner can legally advance to first (e.g., on third strike not caught), but fails to, or hesitates overlong, then he is out for "desertion."
Another scenario is when a batter-runner is awarded first base on a walk, but because he is going to be replaced by a pinch runner, rather than advance to first base he goes directly to the dugout (and the pinch runner goes to first). Again, the batter-runner is out for desertion. That said, you might go 30 years without seeing that scenario.
What about the running lane?
There is a three-foot-wide running lane the last half (the last 45 feet) between home plate and first base. If you run outside this running lane while a play is being made from the vicinity of home plate (on a bunt, for example), you can be called out for interference. I said you "can" be called out for interference if running outside the lane. But not necessarily. I'll explain.
Our rules reference is 5.09(a)(11), which reads in part:
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 .....
When we said that you're not necessarily out for interference when running outside the running lane, we're calling attention to a few wrinkles in the rule. Here are the important points to remember when judging interference on 5.09(a)(11):
First, let's define the running lane: A three-foot-wide lane occupying the last half of the distance to first base. The lines marking the running lane are part of the running lane. That's important.
When is a runner out of the running lane? The batter-runner is out of the running lane when, during the last half of the distance to first base, one of the runner's feet (or both, for that matter) is entirely outside the running lane at the time that the interference potentially (but again, not necessarily) occurs.
A throw must be made. If the catcher, for example, comes up with a bunted ball and sets up to throw to first, but then stops and doesn't throw because the runner (in his view) is in the way, you cannot have interference. The fielder must make an attempt to throw to first.
The throw must be a catchable throw. Using the same example, if the catcher comes up with a bunted ball and then throws wild to first base because (in his view) the runner was in the way, you cannot have interference. The throw must be one that the first baseman has a re