Thursday, January 15, 2009

Baseball Rules Myth #1

Myth Number 1: If the batter does not pull the bat out of the strike zone while in the bunting position, it's an automatic strike.

This past season I was working a two-man crew under major-league rules with the bases loaded and a 2-2 count. As the pitcher came set, the right-handed batter squared to bunt. When the pitcher delivered the runner on third broke for home. The batter remained motionless (likely a designed play to obstruct the catcher in an attempted steal of home) as the pitch came inside and hit the batter at the same time the runner slid into home.

The umpires threw up their hands and called, "Dead ball!" The fans cheered and the runners began advancing.

The umpires called time and conferred. We ended up determining several things that made both teams enraged and every fan entirely perplexed. Here are our conclusions:

1. The batter had not attempt to hit the ball, and the ball did not cross the plate, therefore there was no strike. Rule 2.00 states (among other things) that a "Strike" is a legal pitch that is struck at and missed. We determined that the batter did not strike at the ball by simply holding the bat over the plate.

Rule 2.00 also defines a "Bunt" as "a batted ball not swung at, but intentionally met with the bat and tapped slowly within the infield." Since the batter showed no intention to meet the ball with the bat, and there was no contact between bat and ball, there was no bunt.

2. The batter was hit by the pitch, but did not attempt to avoid the pitch, so the ball was dead, a ball was called, and we placed the runner back on third.

Rule 6.08 states "The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base. . . when—
(b) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (1) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (2) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;

If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.

APPROVED RULING: When the batter is touched by a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runner may advance.

Offensive team naturally wanted a HBP. Defensive team wanted a strike three call / dead ball. My partner and I returned the runners to their bases, and a ball was called on the batter. Well, all heck broke loose. My partner and I were able to avoid ejections (through a great deal of patience and restraint) and explain our conclusions to both teams.

A very weird story, but I think it illustrates the myth quite well.

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