This month, we will explain and outline a plate umpire’s parameters for starting an official Little League® game based on the number of players available at the start of the game. The situation described below is contingent on the number of players available and eligible to play at the game site at the time the game is scheduled to begin; and is applicable in all divisions of Little League Baseball® and Little League Softball®.
At the time a game is scheduled to begin, a Little League Major Division baseball team only has eight (8) players able to play due to one player not being available because of illness. Aware of the situation, the home plate umpire instructs the team manager to add the player who is sick (and not at the game and not currently on the lineup card) to the bottom of the lineup submitted during the plate meeting prior the game. The opposing manager is informed of the circumstance and agrees to comply with the decision of the plate umpire. Once in the game, when the sick player is scheduled to bat, an “automatic out” would be recorded against the offense.
In the local league’s bylaws it states: If a team has at least six (6), but less than nine (9) players present for a scheduled game, that team shall “borrow” one or more players from the opposing team to complete its nine (9) defensive positions. The opposing player(s) who made the last offensive out(s) in the previous half-inning will be borrowed and will play in the outfield. The results of a game played with borrowed players will count as a regular game. If a team has fewer than six (6) players present for a scheduled game, that team will forfeit the game by a score of 6-0.
For guidance on this situation, look to Rule 4.00 (Starting and Ending a Game) which applies to both baseball and softball.
According to Rule 4.16, if a game cannot be played because of the inability of either team to (a): Place nine (9) players in the game before the game begins, and/or; (b): Place at least one adult in the dugout as manager or acting manager, this shall not be grounds for automatic forfeiture, but shall be referred to the Board of Directors for a decision. Note that, according to the current Little League rulebook, a game may not be started with less than nine (9) players on each team, nor without at least one adult manager or substitute manager.
Subsequent to Rule 4.00, the local league’s annual charter agreement states that the local league must adhere to all rules and regulations established by Little League Baseball and Softball. It may add local rules and bylaws that extend beyond current and existing official Little League rules and regulations, but the league is not at liberty to alter, circumvent, or ignore any official Little League rules or regulations.
In this instance, the local league rule violates an existing official Little League rule. For this reason, the umpire is incorrect to have instructed the manager to add the ill player to the official lineup and then award “automatic” outs simply for the purpose of getting the game played. This same application of the rule would apply if a player were injured and unable (by Little League rule) to participate in the game. Little League rules also prohibit a team from “borrowing” a player(s) from the opposing team for the purpose of fielding nine defensive players.
A local league may elect to implement a player pool as outlined in Regulation V(c) to assist in circumstances such as this. A player pool allows players in the same division who are interested in participating in extra games to volunteer to fill out another team’s roster when they need players. The player pool is overseen by the league’s player agent.
If the team manager(s) is unaware or does not understand a Little League rule, such as described in this situation, it is the responsibility of the plate umpire to identify the potential violation, explain the rule using Little League terminology, and advise the manager(s) to speak with Board of Directors. In this case, the plate umpire is to suggest postponing the game to a later date when both teams have a minimum of nine players available to play. The responsibility of the manager(s) is to speak with the division coordinator, division vice president, or the League President and explain why the game was not permitted to be played. The Board of Directors is to then conduct a review of this local rule; and any other local rules and bylaws, to eliminate the potential for further confusion, rule violations, or discrepancies.