Friday, November 13, 2009

Common Misconceptions, Part 1

A couple of the umpiring controversies from this postseason, as well as last year's, got me to thinking about a post I originally planned to do over a year ago. Unless you're new here, you probably know that I attended Brinkman/Froemming Umpire School in 1994. My "dream" to become a professional baseball umpire died pretty quickly after that, but this and my 10+ years of umpiring experience give me a slightly different perspective than your average fan and/or amateur player.

So, the idea is to write about common baseball rules misconceptions. That is, interpretations of rules that, over the years, have come to be considered common knowledge, despite the fact that they may or may not be correct.

The first of these is possibly the most earth-shattering. Maybe you've heard the phrase "tie goes to the runner" a time or two before. Well, it's not true. First of all, the word "tie" isn't even mentioned in the rule book, except in reference to the score of a game. But, you probably knew that, and you probably could guess that no experienced umpire would ever use that as the reason to rule a runner safe, anyway. What you probably don't know is that, according to the rule book, whether or not a tie goes to the runner or the fielder actually depends on the circumstance.

I'll start with the situation that confirms our long-standing belief. Rule 6.05(j) states, "A batter is out when...after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base." The requirement that he or first base must be tagged before he reaches means that if the two events occur at the same time, the requirement is not satisfied. Therefore, he's not out. So, in this example, he's safe in the case of a tie.

However, rule 7.08(e) states, "Any runner is out when...he fails to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base, after he has been forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner." The requirement here is that he reaches the base before he or the base is tagged. Therefore, if the two events happen at the same time, the runner has failed to reach base before the tag, and he is out. So, in the case of a force play on a runner other than the batter-runner, according to the rules, the tie goes to the defensive team.

Now that I've covered the force plays, and thoroughly confused the issue, I still need to address tag plays. Well, rule 7.08(c) declares that, "Any runner is out when...he is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base." So, if he reaches the base at the same time as he is tagged, then he is not off base. Therefore, he is safe. In this case, once again, tie goes to the runner.

In two of the three relevant circumstances, tie does, in fact, go to the runner. However, this hardly reinforces our accepted understanding. So, does "tie goes to the runner" hold true, or does it really depend on the circumstances? Further muddying the issue is's Ask the Umpire page. When asked about this particular rule, the umpire responds, "There are no ties and there is no rule that says the tie goes to the runner. But the rule book does say that the runner must beat the ball to first base, and so if he doesn't beat the ball, then he is out." This umpire is clearly wrong, unless the wording of the rule has been changed since this Q&A was written. The umpire in question, incidentally, is none other than Tim McClelland.

I do recall, though, being taught that the exception to the "tie goes to the runner" concept—so worded because I would be incorrect to call it a rule—is the play on the batter-runner at first base. That backs up what McClelland says, so maybe I shouldn't be too quick to rush to judgment by saying he's flat-out wrong. But, the phrasing of the rule book does not reinforce my memory.

So, where does this leave us, and what wisdom do I think I'm imparting on my readers? That is, if any of them are still reading at this point. I guess it's that "tie goes to the runner" is a myth, and if anyone uses that phrase in your presence, you're now fully prepared to call them out on it.


  1. I hate to get all Heisenberg on your ass, but there's really no such thing as a "tie" anyway, right?

  2. There are two different standards you could apply to the argument of whether or not a tie really exists. I'm basing this on the assumption that there are plays so close that, to the human eye, they're ties. But yeah, you're technically right. Also, like I said, no umpire should ever say, "it was a tie, so he's safe." He's going to make a judgment of which event happened first, one way or the other.

  3. And I don't mean to get all Heineken on your ass, but....I think the more beer an umpire has, the less able they will be to judge which event happened first (ball striking leather/foot striking bag), and so, more ties (from the point of view of the observer). Even more reason for the ump to know the rules thoroughly.

    Delving in to archane and technical discussions on various topics is fun, especially when it turns the received wisdom on its head. When will you write "Balks For Dummies"?