Batting Out of Order
There aren't very many baseball rules that are dealt with incorrectly more frequently than batting out of order. The applicable rule is 6.03(b), which was last revised (and clarified) in 1957. So the rule has been around for a while.
Note: For an interesting read about the history and confusion surrounding this rule, see an article in the SABR Research Journal entitled, fittingly enough, Batting Out-of-Turn Results in Great Confusion, written by Mark Pankin.
The rule, penalties, and remedies for batting out of order are really not that difficult once you catch onto their logic. The tricky part is knowing how to fix a batting-order infraction once an appeal is upheld. The plate umpire owns this one since the plate umpire owns the lineup.
To begin, let's be clear about two terms essential to discussing batting out of order: proper batter and improper batter. These are important because when you are untangling a batting-order infraction, the only two batters that matter are the batter presently at bat and the previous batter. We'll see why shortly.
- Proper batter. The correct batter at bat with respect to the official lineup and batting order. To belabor the obvious, there is always just one (and only one) proper batter at any given time.
- Improper batter. Any offensive player other than the proper batter who is at bat, until such time as there is a pitch to the batter following the improper batter. If there is no appeal made on the at-bat of an improper batter, that batter becomes normalized (becomes the proper batter, retrospectively) once there is a pitch to the batter following. Sounds confusing, but it makes sense.
Important: Batting our of order is an appeal play. You should never point out an improper batter on your own initiative, nor should you let the scorekeeper or anyone else "outside the fence" have any say. Only members of the team on defense can ask for time and appeal a batting order issue, although the offense can ask for time and rectify the mistake while the improper batter is still at bat.
The Appeal Process
Here's how a batting-out-of-order appeal works. It begins with the defense asking for time and the manager approaching the plate umpire to appeal a batting-order infraction. You must stop and consult the lineup card to establish whether a player batted (or is batting) out of turn.
Note: Frequently, what appears to the defense to be a batting-order infraction turns out to be confusion caused by an unannounced substitution [ 5.10(i) ] Be alert for that.
If you confirm that you have batting-order infraction, you must take one of three courses of action, depending on the circumstances at the time of the appeal:
- The improper batter is still at bat. If either the defensive or offensive manager asks for time and points out that the player at bat is an improper batter, stop and confirm by consulting the official lineup. If you confirm that the batter is improper, you must do two things. First, send the improper batter back to the dugout; second, you call the proper batter to the plate. The proper batter assumes the count that was on the improper batter. That's it. Play on. There is no penalty if the infraction is discovered while the improper batter has not completed his turn at bat.
- A pitch has been delivered to the batter following the improper batter. If, upon appeal, it is discovered that the batter who has just completed his time at bat was an improper batter, and yet the following batter, who is now at the plate, has received one or more pitches, the defense is out of luck. Once a pitch is delivered to the batter following an improper batter, then the improper batter (whether on base or in the dugout, if he's been put out) is now "normalized" and now is considered to have been the proper batter. The lineup, then, continues from the newly normalized batter and continues from there. The matter of normalizing an improper batter, and then establishing the corrected batting order, is where a lot of mistakes are made.
- Improper batter has reached base or otherwise completed his at-bat. If, upon appeal, it is discovered that an improper batter has reached base by any means, or if he has completed his time at bat by being put out, but there has not yet been a pitch delivered to the batter following the improper batter, then you must take the following steps:
- First, consult the lineup and identify the proper batter (the player who failed to bat in his spot in the lineup); call that player out. (You do not call out the player who batted improperly, but rather the player who failed to bat in his turn. This is another common mistake.)
- Next, you must nullify any action that resulted from the improper batter's at-bat. If the improper batter is on base, you must send him back to the dugout. If other runners advanced as a result of his at-bat, return those runners to the base they occupied when the improper batter advanced. If the improper batter was put out, that out comes off the board. (Note: If a runner advanced by stealing a base during the improper at-bat, that runner's steal stands.)
- Finally, call the next batter to the plate. The next proper batter is the batter whose spot in the lineup follows that of the proper batter who failed to bat in turn, whom you've just called out. If the batter now due up is already on base, then you simply pass over him and move to the next batter in the batting order.
Important: If the improper batter's at-bat results in his being put out, and if the defense then appeals the batting order infraction, that put-out is nullified. The defense gets the out from the batting out of order infraction, but they don't also get the out on the batting-order infraction. Taking it one step further, if the improper batter's at-bat results in a double-play, an appeal of the infraction nullifies both of those outs. In short, a defensive manager is wise to know this rule well, since sometimes it's best to just leave well enough alone.
This all sounds somewhat confusing, and in fact it can become a really tangled mess; however, if you learn the rule and approach this systematically you can usually untangle it without too much trouble. Also note that 6.03(b) Approved Ruling includes several example scenarios. These are useful learning tools.
The following chart summarizes the courses of action for handling a player batting out of order.