Saturday, October 15, 2011

Cheats and Rule-Benders

For as long as there have been rules in baseball, players and managers have worked hard to "get around" the rulebook. In some cases trick plays are allowed. Some trick plays are allowed, like the hidden ball trick. Other tricks, like getting a running start behind third base on a sacrifice fly, are not.

Catcher's Pop Fly
The Situation: A runner on first is stealing. The catcher makes a rainbow throw to the shortstop. The runner believes it is a fly ball and scrambles to return to first where he is tagged out by the first baseman.

Variations: in some cases the bench will clang bats together to coincide with the throw. The shortstop may shout out, "I got it!" Other fielders may shout out, "Throw it to first!"

The Rules: there is no penalty for the catcher's throw to the shortstop under FED, NCAA, or OBR. However, under FED rules verbal obstruction is penalized. Clanging bats, and shouts by the defense to confuse or misdirect the runner are penalized as verbal obstruction. There is no verbal obstruction under NCAA or OBR.

"Foul Ball"
The Situation: the runner steals second and the middle infielder tells him it is a foul ball. The runner steps off second and is put out.

Variations: the middle infielder may ask the runner to step off the bag, "The umpire wants me to check it."

The Rules: under OBR and NCAA this play is legal. Under FED it is verbal obstruction. It may also be unsportsmanlike conduct and warrant an ejection at lower levels.

Switched Base Runner
The Situation: a slow runner at second and a fast runner at third. During a time out the offensive coach speaks with his runners. The umpire tells them to get going and the runners hurry back to their bases, only now the slow runner is at third and the fast runner is at first!

Variations: none

The Rules: this is a clear example of cheating and unsportsmanlike conduct. The runners and the head coach should be ejected.  This is also an illegal substitution play. An appeal for the illegal substitution must be timely. In this case, if the batter singles and the fast runner from second scores, the appeal must be made before the next pitch to the subsequent batter. If a proper appeal is made, under OBR the runs score, but the players are ejected. Under NCAA and FED, the runs are discounted, the runners are declared out, and the players ejected ("restricted" for illegal substitution under FED, but ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct).

Hidden Ball Trick
 The Situation: Runner on first. Batter singles and runner moves to third and the throw comes in to the third baseman. While speaking to the third base coach, the runner fails to keep track of the ball. When the runner wanders off the base, he is tagged out. Here is an example of the hidden ball trick successfully used in the Major Leagues.

Variations: the third baseman may pretend to give the ball to the pitcher.

The Rules: this play is perfectly legal. However, the pitcher cannot deceive the runner by placing a rosin bag in his glove. The pitcher may also not stand near the mound to deceive the runner. NCAA rules states that the pitcher may not stand with one or both feet on the dirt of the pitcher's mound; OBR states that the pitcher cannot stand on or astride the rubber if he doesn't have the ball; and FED states that the pitcher may not stand within five feet of the pitcher's plate. If the pitcher violates one of  these rules, any out on the hidden ball trick is discounted, and the pitcher is penalized with a balk.

Skunk in the Grass
The Situation: Runners on first and third. The runner on first takes his lead into the right field grass. The pitcher, is confused and plays on the runner at first. During the tag attempt, the runner from third scores.


The Rules: a runner may take his lead in the outfield. The restriction on where a base runner may run applies only when running the bases in reverse order, abandoning a base, or running within a baseline which is established while a play is being made on the runner. Once the runner at first is played on, he must run in a direct line to a base. Usually the "skunk in the grass" will stand still while the fielder approaches and the runner from third inches closer to home.

Wild Throw From The Pitcher
The Situation: Runner at second. The pitcher attempts a pick off, and the short stop dives over the bag. The second baseman runs into center field, the center fielder runs in hard. Here is a video example:

Variations: the first (and most famous) use of this trick play was during the 1982 College World Series. The Miami Hurricanes used a hidden ball trick to pick off the very speedy Phil Stephenson of Wichita State. When Stephenson took his lead from first, Miami pitcher Mike Kasprzak stepped off and faked a pickoff throw. First baseman Steve Lusby dove to the ground then raced down towards the Hurricane bullpen where pitchers Dan Smith and Bob Walker leaped up, acting like they were avoiding the ball. When Stephenson ran to second, Kasprzak tossed the ball over to the shortstop for the tag. The Hurricanes went on to win 4–3.

The Rules: there is generally nothing illegal about a deceptive play. Under FED rules, any verbal obstruction is illegal, such as shouts from the defense or defensive coaches like "get the ball!" or "over here!" A fake tag is also illegal under FED rules.

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