Thursday, December 03, 2009

Common Misconceptions, Part 2

Back when I was playing intramural softball in college, there was a situation that involved a rule that, surprisingly, very few people seem to be aware of.

I was on third base with less than two outs, and the batter hit a routine fly ball to left field. It was easily deep enough, so I tagged up and scored on the play. However, the left fielder bobbled the ball, giving the impression that I hadn't tagged up properly, because technically I left the base before he completed the catch.

Our opponents appealed the play, and I was called out, as my teammates offered words of consolation, indicating that it was a tough break that the fielder bobbled the ball. But, I knew better.

I took up my case with the umpire, informing him that the runner is entitled to leave his base as soon as the ball is touched by the fielder. Unbelievably, he pulled out the rule book, looked it up, and changed his ruling. If I recall correctly, we were winning by five or so runs in the final innings of the game, so it didn't turn out to be a pivotal call. But, of course, I felt kind of smug about it.

Obviously, the rules of professional baseball and amateur softball are not identical, but I'm positive the baseball rule is the same. Interestingly enough, I can't locate this technicality in the major league rule book. Here's what I found:

7.08 Any runner is out when—

(d) He fails to retouch his base after a fair or foul ball is legally caught before he, or his base, is tagged by a fielder.

7.10 Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when—

(a) After a fly ball is caught, he fails to retouch his original base before he or his original base is tagged.

Neither rule makes mention of any exception to the requirement that the runner wait until the ball is caught before leaving the base. This, of course, is another example of the confusion caused by the vagueness of the rule book. Regardless, I know I'm right, and this has been confirmed by a few subsequent experiences. Besides, if a fielder could bobble a ball and fake a runner into leaving a base early, why wouldn't it be a more common occurrence?

This one seems like a no-brainer, but it's happened so seldomly over the course of my 30-something years as a player, spectator and umpire that I'm not sure if the scenario has crossed most people's minds. So, I guess I shouldn't be surprised that, each time this has occurred, there have been witnesses who were fooled into thinking that the runner was guilty of leaving early and, therefore, out on appeal. As far as you're concerned, if you didn't know this already, now you won't need to see it to believe it.


  1. You can find the rule on page 14 of the Official Baseball Rules. 2.00(Catch) Comment
    I am a former MLB umpire and owner of the world's #1 umpire school. Congratulations, you got it right!
    Jim Evans

  2. Thanks Jim. I knew it was in there somewhere. I'm definitely not embarrassed that, of all people to point this out to me, it was you. The fact that the rule is clarified with a comment under the definition of a catch is further evidence of how poorly organized the rule book is.

  3. Actually there is no need for the comment in this case. A catch is clearly defined in Rule 2.00: "A CATCH is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it..."

    I agree the OBR has problems, but in this case once you know the basic definition of a catch the rule is pretty clear. Until the fielder had secure possession of the ball it wasn't a catch.

  4. I think you're missing the point here, Bob. The discussion isn't about the definition of a catch, but rather about when a runner is allowed to leave base when tagging up.

    So, in this case, since he's allowed to leave once the fielder touches the ball (i.e. before the catch), understanding the definition of a catch is not the key to understanding the rule.