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 > Little League Online > Learn More > Newsletters > Fairball Newsletters > 2013 > Fairball - May 2013 > Fair or Foul

Fair or Foul

One of the most common things we do as umpires while calling either the plate or the bases is to make decisions regarding whether a batted ball is fair or foul. Yet, many times the entire process of being in position, making our decision, and then using good mechanics to indicate our decision is not performed properly. To examine this process closely we will break things down into 4 categories: (1) Definitions. (2) Responsibilities. (3) Positioning. (4) Mechanics.

Definitions
Using the Rule Book definitions makes it easy for us to differentiate between a fair ball and a foul ball. In doing so we must keep in mind that the decision on a “touched” ball is always made relative to the position of the ball when it is touched and never the position of an umpire or player.

Fair Ball – A batted ball that settles on fair ground between home and first base, or between home and third base, or that is on or over fair territory when bounding to the outfield past first or third base, or that touches first, second or third base, or that first falls on fair territory on or beyond first base or third base, or that while on or over fair territory touches the person of an umpire or player, or that, while over fair territory, passes out of the playing field in flight.

Foul Ball - A batted ball that settles on foul territory between home and first base, or between home and third base, or that bounds past first or third base on or over foul territory, or that first falls on foul territory beyond first base or third base, or that while on or over foul territory, touches the person of an umpire or player, or any object foreign to the natural ground.

Responsibilities
For the purposes of this discussion we will relate Fair/Foul responsibilities with that of a two-umpire crew.

Plate Umpire – Is responsible for all fair/foul decisions from the plate down the third base/left field foul line all the way to the foul pole … Is responsible for all fair/foul decisions from the plate down the first base foul line up to, but not including, first base.

Base Umpire – When in the “A” Position, is responsible for all fair/foul decisions from the front edge of first base, down the right field foul line all the way to the foul pole. This includes any ball that reaches or passes first base untouched, even though the ball may have been in foul territory prior to reaching first base.

When in the “B” or “C” Position the base umpire will have no fair/foul responsibility.

Positioning
To be in the proper position for making any fair/foul decision; the umpire must always try to be straddling the foul line or extended foul line. On hard hit balls the plate umpire must hustle to get into the proper position.

If a call is to be made on a ball that is between two umpires or a ball in the immediate vicinity of first base, always make eye contact with your partner to make certain who will take the call. If this technique is properly covered in the pregame and properly practiced on the field you will minimize the possibility of a “double call.”

If the umpire(s) vacates the foul line to cover a pop-up in foul territory that has no obvious chance of becoming “fair;” the fair/foul decision has already been made and the call now becomes a catch/no-catch.

If the base umpire vacates the foul line because of a hard hit ball coming directly at him/her; the responsibility for the fair/foul decision reverts to the plate umpire. One major concern is when umpires vacate the line too quickly. In most situations, if you just hold your ground and let the ball pass; you will still be in good position to see the ball and make the call. If you feel you must vacate the line, it is always best to move into fair territory. A batted ball down the right field line off the end of the bat of a right-handed hitter or pulled by a left-handed hitter will tend to move toward foul territory. If you do vacate the line, don’t come back to the line to make the call. Move on to your next responsibility. Remember that if the ball is “fair,” you have responsibility for the batter-runner.

Mechanics
When to Call - A batted ball should be declared fair or foul when, on the infield, it is within the area between the inside edge of the coach’s box and the second-base side of the (1st or 3rd) base cut out. If a fair/foul decision must be made on a batted ball in the outfield it should be named if it is initially touched or falls untouched to the ground within approximately 20 feet on either side of the foul line. “Obvious fouls” (i.e. banging off backstop, over fence into stands, etc...) should not be called.

Now let’s talk about the basic mechanics.

Fair – No verbal signal!! While straddling the foul line, point in the direction of fair territory. The point should be made with the hand closest to fair territory. The hand should be closed except for the index finger is extended and pointing with the thumb tucked. Recognizing that when the plate umpire is on the first base line he/she will be pointing with the mask in the left hand.

Foul – Remember the proper “foul” call uses two separate and distinct mechanics. (1) While straddling the foul line/extended foul line; raise both hands slightly above the shoulders and slightly forward of the body, while verbally declaring “foul” or “foul ball.” The hands should be about shoulder width apart with the palms facing forward and the fingers together. After dropping the hands back to your side; (2) raise your arm and point in the direction of foul territory. The point should be made with the hand closest to foul territory. The hand should be closed except that the index finger is extended and pointing with the thumb tucked. Recognizing that when the plate umpire is on the third base line he/she will be pointing with the mask in the left hand.

With the base umpire in “A” position, when a decision must be made on a ball in flight down the right-field line, the umpire will use the “drop step and turn” technique. To perform this technique; simply drop the right foot back and bring the left foot around into fair territory while pivoting on the ball of the right foot. This will position the umpire straddling the foul line and facing the right field foul pole. Depending on how hard/high the ball is hit; you may or may not be able to gain ground in the direction of the ball. It is important that you are stopped and set (standing set) when it is apparent that the ball will be touched or land.

If the ball is touched in flight, you will immediately point to indicate if the ball was first touched in fair or foul territory. If the first touch was in fair territory, you will wait to signal catch/no catch depending on whether the fielder completes the requirements of a catch. If the first touch was in foul territory you will wait to signal catch/foul depending on whether the fielder completes the requirements of a catch. If you vacate the foul line to follow the fielder moving toward the fence in foul territory; the decision on foul has been made and the call will be catch/no catch.

Following these guidelines and practicing good mechanics will allow you to make all of your fair/foul calls with ease and confidence. If asked to explain either a fair or foul call, make certain to use “Rule Book” terminology. An example of this would be: “Coach, the ball was foul because it bounded past the base in foul territory.”