First things first: As plate umpire, you carry the lineup for the game, and the lineup that you carry is the official lineup for the game. You own it and you manage it. This is not a trivial responsibility because improper substitutions can result in a protest. And nothing makes an umpire look worse that having a protest upheld because you screwed up.

We'll discuss managing the lineup card itself in another article, The Lineup Card. For now, we focus on the sometimes confusing array of substitution rules. The number of rules references we cite makes the subject look complicated, but we're going to simplify it.

First, though, let's point out that substitution rules are where you see the most differences from one league or level to another. In fact, in most respects, the Major League (OBR) rules are the simplest. If, like most of us, you work different leagues and different levels, you are all too familiar with this substitution-rules dilemma.

In what follows, we'll start with the straightforward OBR rule, and then, as clearly as possible, we'll touch on areas where you see the greatest variation. We cover the following:


1  Starting lineup & substitution basics

You own the lineup card; you keep it in your pocket. When a team manager brings you a substitution, you record the change on your linup card, then take this information to the offical scorekeeper ("the book"). If your lineup and The Book get out of sync, it's your lineup that wins out. (That said, be open to noting error that might be yours.) When questions come up about substitutions, it typically happens when there is a batting-out-of-order appeal, or when there has been an unannounced substitution (which is covered farther down the page).

The lineup is a listing of starters and substitutes. There are nine starters on the lineup (ten if using a designated hitter (DH)). When a starter is replaced by a substitute, the starter is done for the day. There is no re-entry in profession baseball. In professional baseball (strict OBR), when a player is sub'd out of a game, that player cannot reenter the game.

In many levels of amateur baseball (probably most), re-entry is allowed. And therein lies the rub for umpires. Each league (NCAA, FED, American Legion, Babe Ruth, Koufax, Little League and on and on) has their own substitution rules, and within each league the rules sometimes vary depending on the age level of the teams.

Of the various re-entry rules, the most common allows for a starter to re-enter the game one time. That is, when a sub replaces a starter, the starter then sub back in the place of his replacement once. However, the starter can only return to the same spot in the lineup he occupied before being sub'd out of the game. A substitute, on the other hand, after entering the game and then being replaced, is done for the day.

For example, let's say Adams is a starter who bats fifth in the lineup. In the fourth inning, Adams is replaced in right field by Jones. Jones must go into the fifth position in the batting order. Two innings later, Adams returns to the lineup. Adams must return to the fifth position in the batting order. The substitute, Jones, is now out of the game (the substitutes cannot re-enter). Adams, for his part, cannot re-enter the game a second time, so if he's subbed for a second time he, too, is done for the day.

I won't try to cover re-entry rules for all of the various leagues (sometimes the rules change again for tournament play), so it would get too confusing. It's a good start, however, to learn the single re-entry rule because that is the most common one used in amateur baseball. All of our discussions following will assume single re-entry. To summarize:

  • There are nine (or ten) starters and some number of substitutes. All are listed on the lineup card.
  • The lineup becomes official at the plate meeting when you receive it from the team manager, review it and accept it.
  • You can enter a sub for a starter at any time (except the pitcher, who must face at least one batter).
  • The starter, now on the bench, can re-enter the game one time, but must re-enter in his original spot in the batting order. (He can play any defensive position.)
  • The starter, now re-entered into the game, can be substituted for second time, but then cannot re-enter the game.
  • A substitute, once removed from the game, may not re-enter the game in any capacity (except as base coach).


2  Offensive & Defensive substitutions

Defensive substitutions. Take your defensive substitutions during the break between half-innings as the substitutes take the field. The team manager should bring you his list of subs. Except for the pitcher, you don't care what defensive position the subs take. However, it is very important that you get the subs into the proper spot in the batting order. In our article The Lineup Card we show you how to track this.

The manager can make defensive substitutions at any time while his team is on defense. You see this frequently when changing pitchers, or when a defensive player is injured. This is perfetly legal.

Offensive substitutions. Offensive substitutions (i.e., pinch hitter or pinch runner) are handled differenly. Offensive substitutions must be made one at a time, at the time the substitute enters the game. Never accept offensive substitutions in advance – that is, don't ever let a manager give you multiple offensive substitutions to (I suppose) save time.

Substitutions with a designated hitter5.11 ]. In professional baseball the designated hitter (DH) bats only for the pitcher. In most amateur ball, however, the DH may bat for any defensive player. We discuss the DH (and the Extra Hitter, the EH) in depth in the article Designated Hitter & Extra Hitter, so for now we'll focus simply on substitutions. Be advised, though, that DH substitution rules can vary quite a lot from league to league, so be sure to consult the rules for your league.

Here are general guidelines for handling substitutions involving the DH:

  • Using a designated hitter is optional; however, if a team uses the DH, the DH must be on the lineup at the plate meeting at the start of the game. A DH cannot be added to a lineup after that. Also note that the DH must bat at least one time (unless injured, ill, or ejected) before being replaced.
  • The position of the DH in the batting order may not change. If the DH on the starting lineup is set to bat third, he and his replacements (if any) must remain in that spot in the lineup throughout the game.
  • The DH and the player for whom he bats are locked together in the batting order. However, a team may "kill" the DH by inserting the DH into the game defensively (as a substitute for any other player). Also, if you insert the person for whom the DH was batting into the game as a pinch-hitter or pinch-run for the DH, this also kills the DH. Once the DH is killed, you have a nine-player lineup for the remainder of the game.
  • In most amateur baseball, the DH can bat for any defensive player, and that player's substitutes. For example, if the DH bats for Baker at second base and then Charlie subs for Baker, the DH may now bat for Charlie. This is most common when the DH is batting for the pitcher and subsequent relief pitchers.
  • The DH is a "starter" and a team can substitue for the DH (i.e., replace the DH with a pinch hitter or pinch runner); that substitute then becomes the new DH. The original DH can re-enter later in the game, either in the DH spot or for any other player. At this point he is merely a starter who is re-entering the game under standard re-entry rules.

Again, these are general guidelines. It is important that you are familiar with the specific DH rules for your league.


3  Pitching subtitutions

Pitching substitutions are a special case, particularly when the DH is in use. Before going into this, let's first mention Rule 5.10(f, g, h, i). This rule requires the pitcher to pitch to at least one batter (unless injured or ejected). It seems like a silly rule, but in fact it servers a very important purpose.

Here's why: Sometimes, when a manager makes a pitching change, the opposing manager will bring in a pinch-hitter to face the new pitcher. This is usually to counter a the righty-righty or lefty-lefty setup. When this happens, what is to prevent the manager on offense from then making yet another pitching change to counter the other manager's counter of his original move? You're catching on, I suspect. So, yes, Rule 3.05(a) prevents this by making the pitcher face a batter, putting a stop to a potentially ridiculous back-and-forth.

The double switchRule 5.10(a, d) ]. When you have a nine-player lineup (we're talking National League), in cases where the pitcher is a weak hitter, a team may use a double switch to work around the weak spot in the batting order. To do this, a manager enters two substitutes at the same time, one a pitcher and the other a position player, but switches their positions. That is, the pitcher (who is due up soon) is switched for a position player (a good hitter, presumably) while a position player is subbed out for the new pitcher. The manager then switches their defensive positions so the position player will bat in the former pitcher's slot (due up soon) while the new pitcher will bat in the position player's slot (farther down the lineup). It sounds confusing, but once you do it a couple of times the logic becomes clear.


4  Unannounced substitutions

If a manager fails to notify the plate umpire of an otherwise legal substitution, what you have is an "unannounced substitution" [ 5.10(j) ] When this happens, the substitution takes effect when the player takes his proper position on the field, specifically, (1) the pitcher takes the mound, (2) a batter steps into the batter's box, (3) a fielder takes his defensive position and play begins, or (4) a runner takes the place of another runner. Ultimately, you treat an unannounced substitution just like any other substitution. It is not an infraction and there is no penalty (even though some opposing managers will try to tell you there is).

Be alert for one potential issue when you have an unannounced substitute on offense (that is, a pinch hitter). You will sometimes get a defensive manager claiming he is batting out of order. Maybe he is, but probably not. Call time, consult your lineup and confirm whether the batter is (or is not) a player in the lineup batting out of order, or really a substitute just entering the game. If really a substitute, play on. If not, see batting out of order for how to straighten it out.


5  Illegal substitutions

Unlike an unannounced substitution, and illegal substitution is where a player who is ineligible to enter the game (or ineligible to assume a position such as DH, pinch-hitter or pinch-runner) is entered into the game. The governing rule is 5.10(a, d).

And that's unfortunate because play with an illegal player is a protestable infraction. It may be for this reason that both Jaksa/Roder devotes considerable time to clarifying the rule and providing suggested remedies.

MLB, NCAA, and FED all differ somewhat on handling and penalizing use of an illegal substitute. I'll hazard a few general guidelines culled from the three sources (plus Jaksa/Roder)"

  • Preventive umpiring is your best defense against illegal substitutions. Don't simply accept a team's substitutions casually. When managers bring you their subs, review your lineup and satisfy yourself that every substitution is legal. When a manager attempts to enter an illegal sub, point out the problem and refuse to accept the substitution.
  • When illegal substitutes do get into the game, remove them immediately upon becomming aware of their presence in the game.
  • The player (starter) whom the illegal substitute replaced may not re-enter the game when you remove the illegal substitute from the game (MLB and NCAA).
  • If an illegal sub is discovered on defense while in the field or during the half-inning following his turn in the field, or on offense after he has taken a pitch, but before a pitch or play following his at-bat, Jaksa/Roder suggests the following rememdies:
    1. An illegal sub playing defense should be removed from the field and ejected from the game. Replace him with a legal substitute.
    2. An illegal sub playing offense (again, before a pitch or play following his at-bat) (a) should be declared out and he is ejected from the game. (b) Any advancement by other runners resulting from the illegal sub's at-bat must be returned to their original position. However, (c) any outs that occurred as a result of his at-bat should stand. Finally, (d) replace the illegal substitute with a legal substitute.

      Note: If the illegal sub was the pitcher and a DH is in use, the DH is terminated for the remainder of the game.

    3. If an illegal sub on offense is discovered after a pitch or play following his at-bat, he is ejected from the game and a legal substitute replaces him. However, all action resulting from his at-bat shall stand.