THE UMPIRE'S HELPER

INTRODUCTION

A good umpire must know all the rules, but learning them is difficult because the rule book is hard to understand. An umpire must know how the rules should be interpreted and applied in real situations. You can't simply memorize the rule book and expect to be a good umpire.

Although the umpire must know all the rules, in reality, only a few come into play in most games. This document will focus on rules that need to be applied to situations that occur in almost every game. An umpire can refer to the rule book when an unusual play occurs, but he should know exactly what to do when the common plays occur.

In my opinion, an umpire should thoroughly understand INTERFERENCE, COLLISIONS, OBSTRUCTION, AWARD OF BASES, APPEALS and BALKS. If you work Little League Baseball, you should understand rule 7.13, the rule that applies to a runner leaving his base before the pitch reaches the batter. These subjects and the rules that apply to them are the focus of this document.

Table of Contents

INTERFERENCE

I believe interference is the toughest call an umpire has to make. It is a call based solely on the umpire's judgment. To make a good judgment as to whether or not interference occurred, the umpire must understand the definition as stated in the rules so it can be recognized when it occurs. After interference is called, the proper rule must be applied.

The definition as stated in Rule 2.00 is:

"(a) 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.

In the event the batter-runner has not reached first base, all runners shall return to the base last occupied at the time of the pitch.

(b) Defensive interference is an act by a fielder which hinders or prevents a batter from hitting a pitch."

It should be noted that (b) above is the only defensive interference. Hindering the runner by the defense is OBSTRUCTION.

How do we interpret this rule? The key, is to focus on the phrase "interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses." Those words cover a lot of actions. The umpire, after witnessing an act by the offense must ask himself the following question; "Did the offense interfere with, obstruct, impede, hinder or confuse the fielder attempting to make the play?" If the answer is yes, interference should be called. The call must be made as soon as possible. When interference is called the ball is immediately dead and no runners may advance beyond the base they held at the time of the interference. The umpire must be aware of where all runners are at the time of the call.

Some interference calls are easy.
Example: If a runner is hit by a batted ball he is out and no judgment of intent is required unless he is hit by a deflected ball, or the ball has passed on infielder, in which case the umpire must decide if he intended to be hit to interfere, obstruct, impede, hinder or confuse the defense or if another fielder had a play on the ball. Rule 5.09(f) and 7.08(f).
Example: A runner must avoid a fielder attempting to field a BATTED BALL. If he does not he is guilty. This is a fairly easy call. Rule 7.09(L) and 7.08(b).

The fielder's protection begins the moment the ball is hit. That protection continues as he completes his initial play. His protection ends if he misplays the batted ball and has to move to recover it. Contact with the fielder is not necessary for interference to be called.

Difficult calls are the ones involving thrown balls. Interference with a thrown ball must be judged as an intentional act. Rule 7.08(b), 7.09(L). If a runner is hit by a thrown ball while running the bases, he is not out unless the umpire judges that the runner intentionally interfered, obstructed, hindered or confused the defense attempting to make a play.

Some examples of interference are:

COLLISIONS VS INTERFERENCE

The runner has a right to an unobstructed path while running the bases. The fielder has a right to make a play without interference. The runner has the right to the base path except when a fielder is attempting to field a BATTED BALL or has possession of the ball.

Sometimes when the runner and fielder collide, no penalty should be applied. The umpire must judge whether someone's rights were violated. This applies mainly to plays where the throw and the runner are arriving at the same time. There is no such thing as a must slide rule. When a runner collides with a fielder attempting to field a batted ball, he should be called out in almost all cases. If the runner collides with a fielder attempting to catch a throw, the umpire must first decide if the collision was intentional, then decide if the act interfered with, impeded, hindered or confused the fielder. If the runner is legally in the base path and simply running the bases when a collision occurs, he is not out. If he deviates from his path and/or intentionally interferes, or makes malicious contact, he is out. In sliding to a base he must be able to reach out and touch the base with his hand. If he slides into a fielder while more than an arms length from the base it is interference if the fielder is attempting a play. If a runner goes into a base standing up and this act hindered the fielder in an attempt to make a play, it is interference. If he does not slide, he must get out of the fielder's way.

The "must slide" rule is a myth. Only when the fielder has possession of the ball, is the runner required to make a choice of actions. The runner has two choices, slide OR attempt to get around the fielder. He is not required to slide only.
See also; Sliding

Rule 7.09 is the main rule that covers interference.

INTERFERENCE BY THE BATTER

Many people believe the batter's box is a safety zone for the batter. It is not. The batter MAY be called out for interference although he is within the box. The key words, impede, hinder, confuse or obstruct apply to this situation.

An umpire must use good judgment. The batter cannot be expected to disappear. My philosophy is: if he has a chance to avoid interference and does not, he is guilty. If he just swung at a pitch, or had to duck a pitch and is off-balance, he can't reasonably be expected to then avoid a play at the plate. The batter should always be called out when he makes contact and is outside the box. See also Examples of interference

OBSTRUCTION

Obstruction is called when the defense hinders the runners ability to run the bases. There are two different applications of the rule. One causes an immediate dead ball and the other is delayed dead. If a play is being made on a runner who is obstructed, the ball is immediately dead. If no play is being made the ball is delayed dead. A play for purposes of this rule is when the ball is in-flight heading toward the base the runner is heading, an attempted tag, or when the runner is caught in a run-down. The rule book definition is:

"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.

If a fielder is about to receive a thrown ball and if the ball is in flight directly toward and near enough to the fielder so he must occupy his position to receive the ball he may be considered "in the act of fielding a ball." It is entirely up to the judgment of the umpire as to whether a fielder is in the act of fielding a ball. After a fielder has made an attempt to field a ball and missed, he can no longer be in the "act of fielding" the ball. For example: an infielder dives at a ground ball and the ball passes him and he continues to lie on the ground and delays the progress of the runner, he very likely has obstructed the runner."

A fake tag is considered obstruction.

The fielder may stand in the base path without the ball, IF, the throw is almost to him and he needs to be there to catch the ball. However, he may not actually block the base until he has possession of the ball. Until he has possession of the ball he must give the runner some way to get to the base.

As with interference, obstruction is also a tough judgment call. Contact between the runner and fielder is not necessary to meet the definition. If a runner must slow down or alter his path to avoid a fielder who is not in possession of the ball or in the act of fielding, he has been obstructed.

If no play is being made on the runner at the time he is obstructed, the play continues. The tough part comes when the play stops. The umpire will award the runner the base to which the umpire believes he would have reached had he not been obstructed. For example: the batter hits a ball in the gap for what looks like an easy double. No play is being made on him. As he rounds first the fielder is in his path and they collide. The batter stops at first. The umpire will award the runner second base if he believes the runner would have made it there had he not been obstructed.

It does not matter where the obstruction occurs. If a runner is obstructed at first base and the umpire believes he could have made it to third base, he will be awarded third. The umpire must be the judge. If, in the umpire's judgment, a runner is slowed down by one step at first and then is thrown out by five steps at third, the out should stand.

An immediate dead ball obstruction is called when obstruction occurs while a play is being made on the runner. For example: a runner on first is attempting to reach third on a hit. He is obstructed by a fielder between second and third as the throw from the outfield is heading toward third. This is a play on the runner. The umpire should call "time" when the obstruction occurs and award the runner third base. Another example is a run-down play. It does not matter which way the runner is heading. If he is obstructed while being played upon in a run-down, he is awarded at least one base beyond the last base he held.

If a runner is obstructed attempting to get back to first on a pick-off play, the ball is dead and he is awarded second.

Rule 7.06 covers obstruction. 7.06(a) is when a play is being made and 7.06(b) is when there is no play being made.

AWARD OF BASES

Much confusion exists regarding the proper award of bases after a ball enters dead ball territory.

The most common myth is the statement "he gets 1 plus 1." This is not correct. Rule 7.05 covers award of bases and an umpire must know all the details of this rule. Rule 7.05(g) is the focus of this document.

The basic thing to remember is:

When the pitcher throws the ball into dead ball territory while he is in contact with the rubber, the runners are awarded one base. If he is not in contact with the rubber he is a fielder. When any fielder throws the ball into dead ball territory, the runners are awarded two bases.

The complicated part of this rule is deciding from what position the two bases are awarded. There are several exceptions that can affect the award. I will try to simplify making the decision.

If the throw was the first play by an infielder, the award is two bases from where the runners were at the time the pitch was thrown in 99% of the plays. There is an exception that will be described later.

If the throw was the second play by an infielder, or any play by an outfielder, the award is two bases from the time the throw left the fielder's hand. The moment when the ball enters dead ball territory has no effect on the determination of the placement of the runners. The placement is from where the runners were at the time of the pitch or the time the throw left the thrower's hand depending on whether the play was the first play by an infielder or some other play.

A key thought to remember is:
"first play in infield = time of pitch. Second play or outfield = time of release." The award is always two bases. The only decision is; from where?

EXCEPTIONS:

If ALL runners including the batter runner have advanced one base before the first play by an infielder, the award is from time of release. The key word is ALL. Example: Runner on second. A high pop-up is hit to the shortstop. The runner holds. The shortstop drops the ball, then throws to first attempting to get the batter who has already rounded the base before the release of the throw, and the ball enters dead ball territory. This was the first play by an infielder which means the award is from time of pitch. The exception states that ALL runners must advance a base before the time of release award is used. Because the runner at second held his base, the award is from time of pitch.

A play for purposes of this rule is a legitimate attempt to retire a runner. A throw to a base, an attempted tag or attempting to touch a base for a force out are plays. A fake throw or fielding a batted ball are not.

PLAY:

Runner on first. Ground ball to SS. The throw to second is too late and R1 is safe. The second baseman throws to first and the ball goes into dead ball area. R1 is awarded home and the batter is awarded second. This was the second play so time of release applies. R1 was at second when the throw was made. The batter was not at first at the time of the release.

APPEALS

APPEAL is an act of a fielder in claiming violation of the rules by the offensive team.
Appeals must be made while the ball is in play. (Alive). When the ball is dead, it becomes in play when the pitcher has the ball and is on the rubber and the umpire says "play."

When the ball is alive an appeal may be made by the defense in any of the following ways;

  1. by touching the runner whom they believe committed a base running infraction;
  2. or by touching the base they believe was missed while the runner was advancing;
  3. or by touching the original base that a runner left before a fly ball was caught.

In all cases, the defense must make a verbal appeal to the umpire or complete an act that is unmistakably an appeal. Accidentally touching a base that was missed is not an appeal. A throw to a base to catch a runner who had not retouched is unmistakably an appeal.

Appeals must be made before the next pitch or play. If the defense makes an appeal after "time" has been called, the umpire should say "put the ball in play and appeal again." Since no runner may advance or be put out while the ball is dead, this is not a play and the defense has not lost their right to appeal after the ball is put in play.
The appeal itself is not a play. A fake throw to hold a runner is not a play. It is a play when a balk is committed during an appeal. Plays that occur during "continuous action" after an infraction do not cancel the defense's right to appeal.

The defense loses their right to appeal when any of the following actions occur:

  1. When the throw made in an appeal attempt goes into dead ball territory. When this occurs no more appeals may be made at any base. This is an "err" on an appeal and is interpreted to be the same as a play.
  2. A balk is committed before or as part of an appeal attempt.
  3. A pitch is made to the batter.
  4. A play is made that is not part of continuous action.

Continuous action example:
Runner on first misses second as he advances to third on a hit. The defense makes a play on him at third and he is safe. The play was part of continuous action after the hit, therefore, the defense may appeal the infraction at second.
An appeal should be clearly intended as an appeal, either by a verbal request by the player or an act that unmistakably indicates to the umpire that it is an appeal.

Rule 7.10 covers appeals.

BALKS

This document will not attempt to cover everything regarding balks. It will cover the most frequently asked questions. For a detailed analysis of the balk and pitching rules; see More on pitching and balks

Once he is on the rubber he may do one of three things:

  1. Throw to a base
  2. Deliver a pitch
  3. Disengage the rubber (pivot foot first)

In (1) and (2) above, the move must be completed without interruption or alteration, except for a fake to 2nd or 3rd.

The ball is not immediately dead if a pitch or throw is completed after the umpire yells "That's a balk."

Example play:
A runner is on second, 2-2 count. The pitcher stretches, but doesn't come to a set before delivering the pitch. The umpire yells "Balk!", but the pitch is thrown and the batter hits a grounder to shortstop. F5 looks the runner back and throws to first too late to get BR. What's the call? Where do you place the runners?

Answer: R2 is awarded third and the batter returns to the plate with the count 2-2.

In Pro rules, and Little League®, the ball is not immediately dead when a balk is called. If the pitch is thrown or a pick-off attempt is made the ball is still live. (Sometimes called delayed dead ball.) The ball becomes dead when all play has ended after the balk call or when the pitch or pick-off throw is caught.

Rule 8.05 - PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.

APPROVED RULING: In cases where a pitcher balks and throws wild, either to a base or to home plate, a runner or runners may advance beyond the base to which he is entitled at his own risk.

It took me a long time to understand the wording in this rule. What it means in simpler terms is: When the play ends, the ball is dead. When a balk is committed and a pitch is thrown, if all offensive players advance at least one base on the play; ignore the balk. If ANY runner is put out BEFORE he advances one base or does not advance during the play; put everyone back where they were before the play began and then award all runners one base. If a runner is put out after all runners have advanced one base, the out stands and the balk is ignored.
The ball becomes dead when the catcher catches the pitch. If it is a passed ball or wild pitch, the ball remains alive until all play ends. When the balk is made in a pick-off attempt, the ball is dead when the fielder catches the throw. If the throw is wild, play continues.

Example: Runner on first. The pitcher balks during his throw to first and the ball gets away from the first baseman. The runner attempts to get to third and is thrown out. The out stands. He made the one base he would have been awarded and went beyond it at his own risk. If he had been thrown out at second the out would not count and he would be awarded second because of the balk

Rule 8.05 covers balks.

More on pitching and balks

LITTLE LEAGUE RULE 7.13

When a pitcher is in contact with the pitcher's plate AND in possession of the ball AND the catcher is in the catcher's box READY TO RECEIVE delivery of the ball, base runners shall not leave their bases until the ball has been delivered and has REACHED THE BATTER.

Confusion on this rule arises in regard to what exactly do they mean by "REACHED THE BATTER" and "READY TO RECEIVE" and just when does a runner have to return and what is the proper penalty when a runner leaves early and then the pitch is hit.

Ready to receive means the catcher must have his equipment on (including his helmet) and be in the catcher's box facing the pitcher. He does NOT have to be squatting. The batter does not have to be in the batter's box. Because the batter may not be in the box, the catcher is not required to squat.

Reached the batter means literally that. If the batter is standing in the front of the box the pitch reaches him at a different time than when he is standing in the back of the box. It is NOT when the pitch crosses the plate, which is the most common misinterpretation.

Frequently in Little League, a batter who is a fast runner will run all the way to second after receiving a base-on-balls. This occurs mostly when a runner is on third. Managers think they can stop this by having the catcher immediately return the ball to the pitcher and have the pitcher step on the rubber before the runner arrives at first. SORRY! The official ruling from headquarters is: you may not stop a runner who is ALREADY ADVANCING and continuing to advance prior to the pitcher and catcher being in position. If a runner stops or is already stopped when the pitcher steps on the rubber, that runner must return. He is liable to be put out while off base, but if he advances after being stopped while the pitcher was on the rubber, he shall be sent back. The umpire must use good judgment. The defense should not be granted time out while a runner is advancing. All play must be stopped before the umpire grants time out.

LEAVING EARLY WHEN A HIT OCCURS.

The rule book takes a full page attempting to explain what to do in all possible situations when any runner leaves early before a hit. I will try to simplify it. It's not easy though. There is one loophole in the rule that allows the offense to go unpenalized. If a runner or runners are forced to advance and have left early and the batter gets a "clean" hit. No penalty is imposed. A "clean" hit means it was a single, double or triple in the umpire's judgment. If it was a hit and an error or an advance on the throw, the batter will be sent back to the base that was the scored value and all runners must go back to the bases they originally held or the one nearest the batter. Any time a base becomes available after a hit, runners will be sent back.

Here are some basic keys that help simplify the rule:

  1. If one runner is guilty they are all guilty.
  2. You move the batter-runner back to where you judge the value of the clean hit. Any advance made by him, beyond his scored hit, is nullified.
  3. Place all runners back on their original bases whenever possible. Put them as close as possible to the batter-runner after placing the batter-runner at the base judged to be the clean hit.
  4. If any bases become empty due to any runner or the batter-runner being put out, return the runners to those bases.

EXAMPLE: Bases loaded, no outs. Batter hits a "clean" double, and tries for third thinking the throw is going home. The throw is cut-off and they get him out at third. Before the hit a runner left early. Guess what? The batter is out and ALL runners return. Because his out left bases empty, you put all runners back to their original bases. The offense just loves that call! In that same play, if the out on the batter had been the third out, no runs would count due to the fact that they could have been put back if it had not been the third out. The really love that call!!!

When a runner leaves early he remains guilty even if he returns before or after a hit.

EXAMPLE: A runner on 2nd leaves early, then a fly ball is hit to right field. The runner retouches after the catch and heads for 3rd. The throw gets past F5 and the runner scores. RULING: You put the runner back on second. They love that call too!