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Ask the Ump

"Hey, Blue, what’s the call?!?”

At a time when practically everyone, from loyal follower of youth baseball to adult weekend warrior, has an opinion about the men in blue, County Baseball introduces an interactive service that allows you, the spectator, and them, the arbiters of the game, to have the last word – or at least the next best thing, a place to register your dispute and obtain the correct answer.

“Ask the Ump” provides a long needed forum for discussing and clarifying some of the most vexing and frequently occurring game situations that leave baseball fans young and old scratching their heads – not to mention other popular forms of expression. Where you, the coach, player, parent, and league official want answers, New Jersey Baseball Magazine is now here to provide them.

Simply convey your question, observation, or knotty problem to County Baseball through our Contact page. We will respond quickly with the explanation you seek, along with our rules’ sources of information. To get you started, here are three of County Baseball's favorites:

Submit your play or situation to New Jersey Baseball Magazine

MLB Logo Play #20 -Submitted by Miguel

Play: Can you slide past the base on the right or left side of the base and still be safe at second?

Out on the Overslide at 2nd

Ruling: Often, the force of a runner’s slide takes the runner beyond the base. This does not afford the runner protection, however, from being tagged out while not in contact with the base.

The only base that a runner is entitled to overrun without liability for being put out is 1st base, provided the runner returns immediately to the base. If your question concerns a runner’s right to slide left or right to avoid being tagged, then the rules allow for the runner to veer up to three (3) feet from the baseline to avoid a fielder attempting to make a tag. In this case, though, the runner may still be tagged out if the slide takes him/her beyond the base, and the fielder applies the tag before the runner can safely occupy the base.

MLB Logo Play #19 -Submitted by John F

Set Position:
Entire Pivot Foot
In Contact with the Rubber

Play: While coaching first base for a Middlesex County Legion team I came across a situation I would like you to clarify. The pitcher contacted the rubber with his toe in the set position with a runner on first(his heel in the air). My job of course is to watch the heel of the pitcher to help my base runner not get picked off. Because he has contact with the rubber I understand that this is a legal foot position. I noticed that the further along in the game the pitcher could not continue this position because of fatigue and his heel eventually lay flat. Was he not deceiving the runners in previous innings with the foot position. It was difficult to get a read on his heel while it was in the air. I must admit this was a great way to keep runners close but it did not seem very fair. Your comments please.

Ruling: Both the Major League rules and the National Federation High School rules clearly state that the pitcher, in set position must have the entire pivot foot on or in front of and in contact with the pitcher’s plate. In the play that you cite, the pitcher failed to comply with the rule each time he pitched with his heel in the air. The penalty for this rules violation is a balk with one or more runners on base and a ball awarded to the batter.

MLB Logo Play #18 -Submitted by Marty C

Play: There are 2 outs in the top of the 7th with the tying run on 2nd and a 2-2 count on the batter. The pitcher throws a fastball that hits the dirt requiring the catcher to block the pitch and the umpire calls strike 3 on the pitch. Their catcher jumped up and tug the batter so nothing went further. Since the pitch was called a strike and wasn’t on a swing nor was it a typical dropped third strike that popped out of the catcher’s mitt, could my batter have run and been awarded 1st if he made it safely?

Ruling: This play situation falls under the broad category of game management. Umpires who receive competent training operate under the maxim to do what it takes in order to get the call right.

Dropped Third Strike:
A batter’s Right to Run

In the case you cite, the home plate umpire errs in calling the pitch a strike. Because it counts as strike three, the batter may try to run to 1st base before being tagged out by the catcher or other infielder, even though 1st base is occupied, because two are out.

A strict application of the rules results in the third out being recorded when the catcher tags the batter and, hence, the end of the inning. At the completion of live ball action in this play, either the home plate umpire or the base umpire(s) should call ‘time’ and discuss what they saw - and, in the case of the home plate umpire, what they did not see. Again the essential point here is to get the call right.

More than likely, the base umpire(s)saw that the call of strike three was made erroneously, and consequently, the count on the batter should be corrected, and the batter be returned to the batter’s box to complete his/her time at bat.

MLB Logo Play #17 -Submitted by Nick F

Play: Why is it that most umpires don’t stand directly over the plate and hide behind the catcher most of the time?

Ruling: Umpires generally receive their training from or through the local umpiring chapters, sanctioned by the State High School Associations to which they belong. All scholastic, certified umpires must belong to a local chapter which falls under a State Association; the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) sanctions all State Associations.

Training about how to best position oneself behind home plate or in the field is generally known as “Mechanics” training. The quality and scope of training depends on the level of play. Training for the scholastic (high school and below) or collegiate level – i.e., usually two-man mechanics – differs in some respects from training for the professional level – i.e., three-man to six-man mechanics.

Spread Stance Behind Catcher

Scissors Stance in the “Slot”

Umpire Danley Leaving Field:
An Umpire’s Worst Fears Realized

It is generally taught that the line of sight (LOS) for the home plate umpire must afford a clear view of the inside and outside portions of the plate, as well as the top and bottom parts of the strike zone. The top of the umpire’s shoulders line up approximately with the top of the catcher’s head. The most advantageous LOS comes from taking a stance either directly over the catcher’s head, in what is commonly known as a spread stance, or slightly to the batter’s inside, in what is customarily referred to as “the slot,” in the scissors stance.

In either stance umpires try to position themselves – “hide,” as you put it – as much as possible behind the catcher for maximum protection physically. Even then home plate umpires are still vulnerable to being struck by pitches, as the April 2008 incident involving MLB umpire Kerwin Danley amply attests. As you might recall, Ump Danley took a Brad Penny fastball in the jaw that LA Dodger catcher Russell Martin simply missed catching.

MLB Logo Play #16 -Submitted by Don S

Play: Tigers-Twins game of September 29, 2009: Gerald Laird hit a foul ball behind home plate, about a row or two back into the seats. Jason Maurer, the catcher, reaches back into the crowd to catch the ball. Just before he catches the ball, a fan touches the ball but Maurer still catches it. The umpire calls the batter out. Isn’t the ball dead as soon as the fan touches it? Did the ump blow the call?

Ruling: In the case you cite, the umpire correctly rules that the batter is out. Had the catcher not made the catch, a dead ball would have resulted, due to the batted ball being foul, and the batter would have remained at bat. In the case of interference MLB rules generally agree with NFHS rules. The only difference arises in the case of a fielder reaching into the spectator area, as catcher Maurer did in this game situation.

MLB rules state that, “No interference shall be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope, or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk.” NFHS rules do not discuss or cover the case in which a fielder might reach into a spectator area in an attempt to catch a ball.

Conversely, both sets of rules specify the umpire’s authority to rule in situations when spectators reach into the field of play.

MLB Logo Play #15 -Submitted by Doug S

Play: A batter swings at a third strike, the ball hits the dirt, and the catcher catches it cleanly off the bounce. Does the catcher have to tag the batter or throw to 1st in order to record the out?

Ruling: Yes, provided there are less than two outs with no runner on 1st base, or there are two outs and 1st base is occupied. Both the Rules of Major League Baseball (MLB) and the National Federation of High Schools (NFHS) rules agree in this case.

Both rules specify that the batter is out when a third strike is caught, or if, after a third strike is caught, the batter or 1st base is tagged before the batter-runner touches 1st base. Additionally, MLB defines that a third strike is “legally caught” when the ball is “in the catcher’s glove before it touches the ground.” The NFHS defines a “catch” generally as getting secure possession in the hand or glove “of a live ball in flight.”

MLB Logo Play #14 -Submitted by Brian M

Play: A runner stands on 2nd base after hitting a double. Time is not called. The pitcher without the ball returns to the mound area within the 9-foot radius. The second baseman tags the runner when the runner leaves the base to take a lead prior to the next pitch. Is the runner out due to the hidden ball trick according to Major League Rules?

Ruling: The MLB rule restricts the pitcher from “standing on or astride the pitcher’s plate without having the ball. Straddling the pitcher’s plate without having the ball is considered as “intent to deceive,” and is therefore a balk. The pitcher in your scenario has not violated the rule, consequently, the runner is out when the second baseman applies the tag.

By contrast, pitchers have less latitude under National Federation High School (NFHS) Rules. At the scholastic level, pitchers are restricted from being “within five feet of the pitcher’s plate without having the ball.” In the game scenario you pose, the runner would also be out when tagged by the second baseman.

MLB Logo Play #13 -NJB Case File

Play: The runner from 3rd is hit by a pitch in the strike zone while attempting to steal home.

Ruling: The ball is dead when it hits the runner, a strike is registered, and, provided it’s not strike three and the third out of the inning, the run counts.

MLB Logo Play #12 -Submitted by Rich “Rules” A

Play: With two outs, instead of catching a low line drive hit directly at him, the pitcher covers the ball with his glove, so that he traps the ball on the ground. The covering umpire – in this case the Home Plate umpire – gives no signal and does not give an “out” call. All defensive players leave the field, as does the batter-runner, with no play being made on the batter-runner.

Ruling: In this situation, the third out of the inning would be registered when the batter-runner leaves the field of play. Because the line drive was not caught in flight, the defense needed to throw out the batter-runner at 1st base in order to record the third out. The covering umpire was correct in not giving an “out” signal or giving an “out” call, as the ball was still live at the time that the pitcher trapped it on the ground. As soon as the batter-runner left the field of play, he is declared out for having “abandoned” his right to advance to 1st base.

MLB Logo Play #11 -Submitted by Jake D

Play: In MLB if a defensive player other than the catcher is in foul territory at the time of the pitch, is it a balk if runner(s) are on base?

Ruling: At the MLB level as well as the high school level, and any other level for that matter, the catcher is the only defensive player who is permitted by rule to be standing in foul territory at the time of the pitch. If any other player is positioned in foul territory, such as by placing a foot completely outside the 1st or 3rd base line, at the time of the pitch, the home plate umpire may rule an illegal pitch. With a runner or runners on base, any pitch that is made is a balk.

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