Monday, October 31, 2011

Rules Every Umpire Should Know: Unannounced Substitutions

Unannounced substitutions give some inexperienced umpires fits. The reason? It seems like something sneaky or illegal is going on. Generally this is not the case. Usually an unannounced substitute occurs late in the game on defense only; when there is an obvious pitching change at the beginning of the inning; or when the manager simply “forgets.”

The umpire should not be concerned about keeping track of batting lineups and substitutions. Those areas are team responsibilities. The umpire is required to announce each substitutions, when he is notified.

Rule 3.06 requires that the manager notify the umpire in chief of any substitution. However, there is no penalty for the manager’s failure to do so. On the contrary, Rule 3.08(a) tells us that an unannounced substitute has entered the game when:
(1)   If a pitcher, he takes his place on the pitcher’s plate;
(2)   If a batter, he takes his place in the batter’s box;
(3) If a fielder, he reaches the position usually occupied by the fielder he has replaced, and play commences;
(4)   If a runner, he takes the place of the runner he has replaced.

Rule 3.08(b) tells us that “[a]ny play made by, or on, any of the above mentioned unannounced substitutes shall be legal.” So an unannounced substitution, by itself, is legal. I say “by itself” because an unannounced substitute may also be illegal.

When a manager announces multiple substitutes, he gets to choose the spot the substitutes will occupy in the lineup. See Rule 3.03. When the manager fails to immediately designate this information, the umpire in chief has the authority to choose the places in the batting order. “Immediately” is generally interpreted as “before the player takes his position.” See Wendelstedt Umpire Manual, p. 48. Rule 3.03 states that “[a] substitute player shall bat in the replaced player’s position in the team’s batting order,” which means the default is a one-for-one switch.

Failure to immediately notify the umpire in chief of multiple substitutions can mean the loss of the opportunity to double switch. Note Rule 3.06 (above) states that a pitcher has entered the game when he toes the rubber to begin his warm up pitches.  However, a fielder has not entered the game until play commences. Take, for example, a manager brings in a relief pitcher and another player to play second base. Once the pitcher takes his place and begins his warm up pitches, by rule it is too late to switch the players’ positions in the batting order since the pitcher has already entered the game and second baseman has not yet entered the game.

Good game management would call for the umpire to ask if anyone else is coming in when a new pitcher is called. However, umpires are not required to babysit managers and managers are expected to know the rules. Ignore them at your own peril, skip.

Poor communication can lead to serious problems, as the Padres discovered on August 7, 2008. In the top of the eighth inning, Padres Manager Bud Black pinch hit Edgar Gonzalez for reliever Cla Meredith in the nine hole, and Brian Giles pinch hit for second baseman Tadahito Iguchi in the two hole.  During the middle of the inning Black motions to plate umpire Tim Tichenor with two fingers and a chopping motion.  Tichenor interprets this motion as an indication that Black wants his new reliever, Bryan Corey, to replace Gonzales and annotates the lineup card.  Black intends that Gonzales will remain in the game at second base and Corey will bat in the two hole.  After Corey takes the mound and begins his warm-up tosses, Tichenor and Black discuss the situation. 

Since Corey has entered the game, he is locked into the nine spot and has replaced Gonzales under the Rules. Unfortunately for the Padres, this confusion caused them to lose their only remaining second baseman (Gonzales). It also resulted in Black and one of his coaches to be ejected. Ambiguous gesturing to the umpire led to this confusion.  See story and video at:

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