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Ask the Umpire
By Ralph Nelson
MLB VP Umpiring

Throughout the season, Major League Baseball umpires will be fielding your questions on Have a question? Send it in.

I coach Little League baseball and we had a situation come up last Saturday: We had runners on first and second, one out. My batter hit a ground ball between first and second base. The runner from first gets hit by the ball. The kids (who were the umpires) didn't know the rule, but the other coach says it's a dead ball and the batter gets first base, the base runner is out. And being the nice guy I am, didn't want to argue, so I agreed. My argument wasn't really about the first part of the call, but I thought my base runner on second should have been able to go to third, since it was a force. What is the whole rule? Thanks.
-- M. Braverman

The umps made the right call! Baseball rules provide that a runner is out when he is struck by a batted ball (provided the ball was not touched by a fielder first). All other runners return to the base they occupied at the time of the pitch. Sorry, the runner on second returns to second base. However, the batter is awarded first base! The Official Baseball Rules are 5.09(f) and 7.08(f).

A batter beats a close play at first and turns toward foul territory after crossing the bag and running it out. However, the throw gets misplayed and upon seeing the ball loose, the batter breaks for second. Does he have to come back and retouch first base, before continuing on to second? It seems that you can over run first base if you turn toward foul territory. If you turn toward second, you are a base runner, available to advance and be put out. This play happens a lot in unprofessional leagues, and the rule is not clear. Thank you.
-- T.M.

The answer to the first part of your question is no, the batter does not have to go back and retouch first base (provided he touched it to begin with!). He may continue on toward second base at any point after overrunning first.

Regarding the second part of your question, it really does not matter which way the player turns after overrunning first base! The key under the rule -- Rule 7.08(c) -- is that the batter-runner "returns immediately to the base." Any attempt of the batter-runner to advance to second is considered not returning immediately, thereby putting the runner in jeopardy of being tagged out. This usually happens when the runner, thinking the ball has been overthrown far enough that he can make it to second, takes a quick step or jerk toward second, thereby forfeiting his right to return to first base safely. Such a runner can be tagged out.

I have only a vague idea what a balk is. What is the official definition. And what kind of things can a pitcher be called for a balk.
-- B. Damatan

A balk is an illegal movement by the pitcher while in contact with the rubber with runners on base which entitles all runners to advance one base. There are many types of balks, and most of these are covered in Rule 8.05. In professional baseball the most common type of balks include situations where the pitcher does not come to a complete stop in his set position, and in cases where the pitcher does not make a step directly to first base when trying to pick off a runner.

I don't have a question to ask, I just have a comment. Someone should tell you "thanks" once in a while. You guys put up with a lot of crap and it is always your fault in the end. So "thanks" for all the great calls you make every game.
-- J.M.

Thanks for your support, JM. As the old adage goes, "Umpiring is the only profession in the world where you're supposed to begin perfect and then improve from there."

In a game I was coaching this year a ball was hit to the first baseman. He reached down to field the ball, it hits his foot and goes inside his jersey. He goes to first and steps on the bag with the ball in the back of his shirt. The umpire makes no call. The first baseman then rolls the ball around to the front of his jersey. He then reaches down, grasps the ball in his hand while still standing on the bag. The ball remained in his shirt the entire time. The player was initially called out and after a conference between the two umpires they ruled that he did have control of the ball and called the player safe at first. Was that the correct call? I've never seen a play like that in my life before. Thanks for any help you can provide me.
-- J. Tribolet

The Rules provide for "Time" to be called when a PITCHED ball lodges in the catcher's (or umpire's) equipment or paraphernalia. However, the Rules do not address cases where a thrown or batted ball "vanishes" within a player's uniform, even though it has happened.

In the play you bring up, the runner should have been declared safe at first base since the first baseman did not have possession of the ball until after the runner touched the bag. If the fielder had been able to grasp the ball before the runner crossed the bag, he would have been out. To make a force play, the fielder must securely hold the ball in his hand or glove while touching the base.

I was watching the Toronto/Texas game on Sat. May 20. The Texas third baseman caught a fly ball in foul territory and then stepped into the dugout. I thought that by doing this the ball is now out of play -- the same as a thrown ball -- and the baserunners advanced one base. What is the rule as no one contested the play?
-- T. Clinton

Under Rule 7.04, "A fielder or catcher may reach or step into, or go into the dugout with one or both feet to make a catch, and if he holds the ball, the catch shall be allowed. Ball is in play."

I would just like some explanation on a thing called the infield fly rule. I have been able to figure out the rules on my own mostly, but this one seems to confuse me a little. Could you please explain it to me. Thank you.
-- T. Vergilio

The Infield Fly Rule was instituted to protect the offense from a possibly "unfair" double play. If there were runners on first and second (or bases loaded) and less than 2 out, runners would normally hold their base on a pop-up to the infield since the ball would, in all likelihood, be caught. Without the Infield Fly Rule, an infielder could drop an easy pop-up (or let it drop untouched) and turn a double play, since the runners would then be forced. The rules makers didn't think this was fair and instituted this rule.

The Infield Fly Rule is only in effect when runners are on first and second (or bases loaded) and less than 2 out. It states that the batter is automatically out if he hits a fly ball "which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort." The umpires loudly announce and signal, "Infield Fly, batter is out!" so that the runners are alerted that, even if the ball is dropped, they do not have to leave their bases.