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Award or Not, It's Your Call

Let’s talk about a rather common occurrence in a baseball game: The batter being struck by a pitched ball. We’ve all seen it. We’ve all had discussions with coaches about it. We’ve all heard the fans’ opinions of our ruling. Now let’s take it apart and examine this play and all of the pieces that make it up.

In order to fully understand whether we’re going to have base award or just a change in the batter’s count, we need to understand some basic parts of the rule book. According to Rule 2.00, A Pitch is a ball delivered to the batter by the pitcher; A Pitcher is the fielder designated to deliver the pitch to the batter, and finally, A Batter is an offensive player who takes a position in the batter’s box. We have now, by rule, established the three basic elements of our situation.

In order to determine the moment that a batter becomes a runner we need to refer to Rule 6.08 section (b), which states, “The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided said runner advances to and touches first base) when (b) the batter is touched by a pitched ball which the batter is not attempting to hit. Sounds simple, doesn’t it?

Now the fun starts, the next word that appears in the rulebook will bring all your skills and abilities into play. That word is “unless,” and it is followed by two subparts, an Official Note and an Approved Ruling. It would appear that this rather simple play is about to become a lot more complex.

Before we consider the complexity of the situation, it is important to identify the two situations which will nullify the award of first base. Rule 6.08(b)(1) states: The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter or as part (2) tells us: The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball. The NOTE and APPROVED RULING which follow make it clear how we as umpires should handle these situations.

Basically it boils down to 1). If the pitch is in the strike zone when it touches the batter IT IS A STRIKE regardless of whether or not the batter tried to avoid it and 2). If the pitch is outside the strike zone it will be called a BALL if the batter makes no attempt to avoid it. Remember this, regardless of whether or not you award a base, the ball is DEAD immediately and no other runners may advance unless forced by the batter-runner.

Notice that the rule book does not define what constitutes “an attempt by the batter.” This is where your judgment enters the picture and may spark a debate with one of the coaches and moans and groans from the fans. The attempts that you see will be much different depending on the ages and skill levels of the players. A nine-year-old may become paralyzed by an inside fastball and the fact that he blinked may constitute an attempt in your judgment. On the other hand, a sixteen-year-old “taking one for the team” should not automatically be rewarded.

When this happens in your game, and it will happen, remember the ball is immediately DEAD. Your first reaction is to call TIME! And do it with authority. Take an extra few seconds to replay everything in your mind. Sort out the following things 1). Was it in the strike zone? If it was, you have a dead ball strike and if its strike three, the batter is out. 2). If it was not in the strike zone, did you have an attempt by the batter to avoid the pitch? If not, you have a dead ball and a ball will be added to the batter’s count. (Remember, you define what makes up an attempt.)

Two final points to bear in mind. First, the hands are not part of the bat, they’re part of the batter. If a pitch hits the batter’s hands it can never be a foul ball. Second, a pitch in the dirt that strikes a batter will result in the batter being awarded first base. It is not reasonable to expect a batter to know where a ball is going after it strikes the ground. Don’t let coaches talk you out of either of these.

Good Luck, and remember it’s nothing until YOU call it.

By Tom Rawlings
Pennsylvania District 5 Umpire-In-Chief