The Base Runner
The base runner (including the batter-runner) is such an integral and pervasive part of the game of baseball that rules governing the base runner span the majority of Rule 5.0. Additionally, references to the base runner crop up throughout the rule book.
So, while some of the material in this article duplicates information found elsewhere (particularly in the article, Awarding Bases), it's helpful, I think, to still bring everything related to the base runner together in a single article.
Rather that presenting this one as an article, it's probably more useful to create logical groups of bullet points, since the subject is so large and wide-ranging. Starting from the bullet lists, I'll then explain and discuss each item and give its rule reference.
About the Runner
- Runner: Definition
- Scores a run
- Runner is out
- Runner creates his own base path
- Runner touched by fair batted ball
- Runner touched by infield fly
- Runner interferes after scoring or being put out
- Runner breaks up a double play illegally
- Intentionally dropped fly ball or line drive
- Coutesy runner not allowed
- Batter becomes a runner
- Runner acquires right to a base
- Runner advances if forced without liability to be put out
- Return to touch a missed base – when you can, when you can't
- Abandonment: Runner abandons base or attempt to proceed
- Runner fails to advance on game-winning hit
- Base awards; advance without liability to be put out
- Runners advance on a balk
- Advances during batting-out-of-order appeal
About the Runner
- Runner: Definition — Definitions (runner)
The definition keeps it pretty simple: "Runner is an offensive player who is advancing toward, or touching, or returning to any base." That said, there is a slight conflict with Definitions (batter-runner), which is, by definition "… the offensive player who has just finished a time at bat until that player is put out or until the play on which that player becomes a runner ends." As you can see, both definitions apply to the batter-runner.
The latter term, "batter-runner," is typically used in describing base-running scenarios to distinguish runners already on base from the runner whose at-bat initiated the current play. There are some base award situations in which the batter-runner is treated differently from runners on base.
- Scores a run — 5.08(a)
We have to look first at 5.08(a) because this is one of the "golden" rules of baseball, one of the very fundamentals: the rule that specifies how you score a run. Let's read it:"One run shall be scored each time a runner legally advances to and touches first, second, third and home base before three players are put out to end the inning."
Now we need to look at the "Exception" to 5.08(a). A run does not score if a third out is made on the play in any of the following ways:
- The batter-runner is put out before reaching first base.
- Any other runner is forced out on the play.
- A preceding runner is declared out on appeal for failing to touch a base.
The first two exceptions are pretty obvious and likely pretty familiar. The third one, however, frequently causes confusion and arguments. If, with two outs, a runner scores, but a preceding runner (that is, a runner ahead of him) is subsequently called out (for the third out) on appeal for missing a base, then the action of every following runner is nullified because their actions took place, technically, after the third out was made.
- Runner is out — Rule 5.09
We devote an entire article to the matter of Getting Outs, where we list all of the ways that players on offense can be put out. Twenty of these ways apply to the batter, but here are the eleven ways that a base runner can be put out:
- Forced out on infield hit (e.g., fielder's choice) [ 5.09(b)(6) ]
- Tagged out [ 5.09(b)(4) ]
- Out of the base path to avoid a tag [ 5.09(b)(1) ]
- Passing a preceding runner [ 5.09(b)(9) ]
- Offensive interference [ 6.01(a) ]
- Coach's interference [ 6.01(a)(8) ]
- Runs bases in reverse to make travesty of the game [ 5.09(b)(10) ]
- Fail to touch home and make no attempt to touch [ 5.09(b-12), 5.09(c)(4) ]
- Runner abandons base [ 5.09(b)(2) ]
- Missed base advancing or retreating (appeal) [ 5.09(c)(2) ]
- Failed to tag up (appeal) [ 5.09(b)(5), 5.09(c)(1) ]
- Runner creates his own base path — 5.09(b)(1)
The notion of the base path is much misunderstood. In fact, there is no base path on a baseball field. It's definitely not the lines between the bases. There is no such thing as a base path untill …
The base path comes into existence the moment a defensive player with the ball attempts to tag a runner. Then, and only then, does a base path appear (so to speak), and then the base path is a straight line between the base runner and the base to which he is advancing or retreating. Additionally, once that base path is established, the runner cannot deviate from it to avoid the tag more than three feet to the left or right (roughly speaking, a step and a reach). If he does, you should call the runner out for leaving the base path.
In most cases this is pretty straightforward. It gets tricky, however, in a pickle. When you're following a runner in a pickle you need to pay very close attention because every time the defense tosses the ball and the runner reverses direction, he is establishing a new base path. If a pickle goes on more than about three or four throws, the base path can migrate pretty far from where it started. This is not an issue (even though someone in the stands will be hollering something like "he's out of the base path, blue!"). The guy in the stands, as usual, doesn't know what he's talking about. There is, theoretically, no limit to where a pickle can go, so long as the runner does not deviate from his base path by more than three feet.
A final note, so long as we're talking about pickles. You must also watch closely for obstruction when you're following a pickle. If the runner contacts the fielder who has the ball, he's out, of course (assuming the tag is on). However, if the runner reverses direction, say, and runs into a fielder who no longer has the ball, you have Type 1 (Type A) obstruction. Don't forget to watch for this.
- Runner touched by fair batted ball — 5.09(b)(7)
We have an entire article on the subject of base runners touched by a fair batted ball. In most cases the runner is out, the ball is dead, and other runner must return to their last acquried base. But not always! Interference is a big subject and there are several quirks and wrinkles, so you sould read all five of our articles on the subject, starting with Offensive Interference. It is very important that you are fully familiar with the rules on interference.
- Runner touched by infield fly — 5.09(b)(7)
If a base runner is touched by a called infield fly while in contact with a base, the runner is not out. There is no interference and the ball is in play. Of course, the batter is out on the infield fly call. (Contrast this with a batted ball that is not an infield fly; even if in contact with the base the runner is out for interference if hit by a batted ball.)
If the base runner is touched by an infield fly while not in contact with a base, however, the base runner is out on the interference (and the batter out on the infield fly). The ball is dead on the interference.
- Runner interferes after scoring or being put out — 6.01(a)(5)
A base runner who has been put out, or who has just scored, has an obligation to not impede the defense when it tries to make a play on other base runners. If you do, that's interference and the runner on whom the play was being made should be called out. For this to be interference, however, the offender must actually impede the defense. If a runner simply continues to advance after being put out, this in itself is not necessarily interference.
- Runner breaks up a double play illegally — 6.01(a)(6, 7), 5.09(a)(13)
Rule 6.01(a)(6) deals with actions by the base runner in illegally breaking up a double play, while 6.01(a)(6) deals with the batter-runner breaking up a double-play illegally.
Breaking up a double play illegally under 6.01(a)(6) usually means the offending runner has slid into second illegally with the intention of disrupting the fielder's attempt to complete the double play. This get a bit tricky because the matter of a legal slide vs. an illegal slide is one of those matters that very somewhat from league to league. For example, high school (NHSF) rules say that sliding through/beyond the bag is an illegal slide, whereas most other codes do not. You must be clear about the rule under which you are working.
In my view, the best written rule on the illegal slide and interference resulting from it is the NCAA rule – Rule 8-4: Force-Play-Slide Rule. Compare the high school (NFHS) Rules 2-32-1, 2, which is also a good guide. The two are quite similar, but there are some important differences. We've already mentioned sliding beyond the bag, which is illegal in high school (if you disrupt the play, that is). There's also the matter of the pop-up slide, which is acceptable in NCAA, but not in high school.
This issue should always come up at your plate meeting. In most cases (non-NCAA and non-NFHS), you play what is basically a mash-up of the NCAA and NFHS rule:
- The runner must slide within arm's length of the base, but not to the side of the bag the fielder is on. The fielder is protected on either side of the bag, but not straight in.
- The runner may not do a rolling, cross-body, or pop-up slide into the fielder, nor raise or kick the leg into the fielder higher than the fielder's knee.
- The runner cannot kick or slash at the fielder, or in any way intentionally disrupt his opportunity to make a play.
- On a force/double-play situation, the runner may not remain upright and in the fielder's line of sight make a play on the following runner; he must slide or otherwise avoid impeding the fielder's play.
- The runner may not run out of the base path in the direction of the fielder.
- Once impeded, the fielder does not need to complete the throw to have interference.
- Intentionally dropped fly ball or line drive — 5.09(a)(12)
The rule on the intentionally dropped fly ball dovetails with the infield fly rule. We'll explain. But first, let's be clear why a fielder would intentionally drop a fly ball or line drive. Simply put, it's to get a cheap double-play on base runners who are holding back because of the fly ball in or near the infield fly, when catching the ball gets you just one out.
As with the infield fly, 5.09(a)(12) is only in force when there are fewer than two outs. Unlike the infield fly, however, the rule can be applied any time there is a force out potential at any base.
It is entirely a judgment call as to whether a ball was intentionally dropped. If you do judge the violation, you must call an immediate dead ball, call the batter out, and base runners return to the original bases without liability to be put out.
Caveat: Note that this rule only applied to an intentionally "dropped" ball. For a ball to be dropped, it must first be touched. If a fielder allows a ball to drop untouched, there is no infraction and the batter is not out (unless, of course, the infield fly rule applies).
- Coutesy runner not allowed — 5.10(e)
Courtesy runner rules are speed-up rules intended to help quicken the game. They typically allow enter a courtesy runner (not a substitute) for the pitcher or catcher, either at any time these players are on base, or when there are two outs. The rules vary considerably from league to league – particulary in club, select, and travel ball leagues.
OBR does not allow courtesy runners; however, this is one of the OBR rules that youth leagues typically override. Most of the Pony, Koufax, and other select leagues provide for courtesy runners.
Little League does not allow courtesy runners. High school (NFHS), on the other hand, does alow courtesy runners and devotes a special section in the rule book to them.
NCAA does not allow courtesy runners, although NAIA does. The NAIA rules for courtesy runners can be found in "Appendix F - Rule Modifications" in the NAIA Baseball Coaches Manual.
Unless you're working exclusively NCAA, Little League, NFHS, or straight-up OBR, it is very important that you cover this issue at your pregame meeting and clarify the courtesy runner rules for your league.
Runner Advancing / Retreating
- Batter becomes a runner — 5.05(a), 5.05(b)
In our article The Batter, we devote an entire section to listing the ways in which a batter becomes a runner, along with discussions and clarifications.
- Runner acquires right to a base — 5.06(a)(1)
This is the rule that dispells the age old myth (and sandlot rule) that on a close play at first base the tie goes to the runner. In fact, the runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base "when that runner touches it before he is out." In other words, the runner must beat the throw (or tag). Rule 7.01 adds, in its Comment, that after acquiring a base, and once the pitcher is on the mound, the runner may not return to a "previously occupied base."
- Runner advances if forced without liability to be put out — 5.06(b)(3)
When preceeding runners are awarded bases, following runners advance if forced. The concept is pretty basic (obvious, really), but let's list the ways that a runner is forced to advance without liability to be put out. This differs from provisions in which all runners advance, whether forced or not (e.g., on a balk, ball thrown out of play, etc.); see Awarding Bases for a complete rundown on these.
- Batter awarded first base on being hit by pitch; runners advance if forced.
- On offensive interference by a runner touched by a live batted ball, the batter is awarded first and runners (except the runner who interfered) advance if forced.
- Return to touch a missed base – when you can, when you can't — 5.09(b-12), 5.09(c)(2), 5.09(d)
If a base runner miss a base while advancing or retreating, he's normally allowed to backtrack and touch the base. But not always. There are conditions under which the base runner loses the right to return.
Let's start with 5.09(b-12). This concerns the case of a runner who slides into home but fails to touch home plate. If the base runner then starts heading for the dugout or otherwise makes no attempt to return to touch home plate, the fielder (normally the catcher) does not need to chase the runner down and tag him. He can, with possession of the ball, simply touch home and appeal to the umpire, who then rules safe or out.
Why, you may ask, is abandonment at home treated in this special way? Because otherwise the offense would have an unfair advantage. The base runner who failed to touch home could force the catcher to chase him, wasting time while other base runners are advancing. He's going to end up being put out, of course, but he could allow a tremendous advantage for runners on base. As you can see, this issue dovetails very closely with the matter of abandonment, which we discuss in the next section.
Rule 5.09(c)(2) deals with appealing that a runner missed a base, but the interesting part is the the Approved Ruling. Here we learn that a base runner cannot return to touch a base that he's missed after a following runner has scored. This would typically happen at home plate with successive runners scoring. If the first one missed home, once the second runner scores the first runner is SOL. He's dead meat … if the defense appeals. If they don't, then both runs score.
Rule 5.09(d) deals with another narrow scenario. In this one, you have multiple runners scoring, but one of them misses home plate. Depending on the situation, your rulings differ:
- Scenario #1: If there are fewer than two outs, then a following runner's status is not affected if a preceding runner is put out on a missed-base appeal. This is especially important at home, where a following runner can leagally score even if a preceding runner is put out for missing a base – so long as there were fewer than two outs to start.
- Scenario #2: Same situation, but now with two outs. If a runner is put out on appeal at home and that out is the third out, then no runs scored by following runners will count.
- Scenario #3: If a third out is the result of a force play, then neither the preceding nor following runners can score. This is consistent with on the third out being recorded before the batter-runner reaches first base, or on a force play with two outs. No runs score.
- Abandonment: Runner abandons base or attempt to proceed — 5.09(b)(2), 5.09(b)(12, 13), 5.09(c)(3, 4)
We've touched on abandonment in some of the preceding sections, but let's put it all together in one place. Abandonment can happen in several ways. Let's touch on each of the rules.
Rule 5.09(b)(2) deals with abandonment on the bases. A batter-runner runs through first on a close play and, for whatever reason, believe he's been put out and begins heading for the dugout. This is a judgment call and requires the umpire to judge "the act of the runner to be considered abandoning his efforts to run the bases." It's hard for me to imagine his teammates and base coach wouldn't be screaming at him to get back on the base well ahead of the time required to judge abandonment, but I suppose it could happen.
This could happen at other bases, too, is a player believes he's been put out and abandons the bases. If it does happen and you call a runner out for abandonment, do not kill the ball. You get the out but the ball stays live and action continues. This is important because, unless there were two outs at the time, other runners could score.
Another important scenario that comes into play is in a walk-off home run. On a walk-off home run the batter-runner and all preceding runners must touch all of the bases and home plate. If a preceding runner incorrectly believes he does not need to run the bases and peels off toward the dugout, he can be called out for abandonment. If his is the third out, the home run will not count.
Rules 5.09(b)(12, 13) deal with the situation where the batter-runner runs through first, then fails to return directly to the base. He must return directly or he can be tagged out (or the base tagged on the appeal).
Important: 5.09(b)(2) Comment tells us that a runner called out at first base for abandonment (after having arrived safely) "has reached first base" for the purpose of scoring runs with respect to 5.08(a) Exception. If the abandonment call is the third out, judge runs scored as though it were a time play.
Rules 5.09(c)(3, 4) reiterate issues that we've already discussed: Overrunning first base and returning immediately in 5.09(c)(3), and the matter of appealing when a runner fails to touch home plate – 5.09(c)(4).
- Runner fails to advance on game-winning hit — 5.08(b)
I've placed this item following the section on abandonment because the two are close cousins. This scenario, which you'll typically see in only lower levels of ball (the older guys usually know better), in some respects amounts to abandoning an effort to advance, albeit in a very specific situation. I'll explain.
The specific situation we're talking about is the walk-off. That is, it's the last half of the final inning (either regualation game or extra innings) where there is the potential for a game-ending hit. Let's say, for example, that you have a tie game, home team at bat, fewer that two outs, and a runnr on third. Any hit (almost any hit) wins the game. Okay, so the batter gets the hit – a little blooper over the shortstop's head, let's say. Game over, right? WRONG.
The game is not over until two things happen: (1) The batter-runner must touch first base, and (2) the runner on third must touch home. To be clear, the winning run must actually reach and touch home plate, and the batter-runner must complete his at-bat by acquiring first base. In the case of a walk-off home run, the batter-runner must round the bases and score.
Here's what happens if these two requirements are not met:
- With fewer than two outs, if the runner on third base fails to advance and touch home "in a reasonable time," the umpire should call that runner out, disallow the run, and direct that the game be resumed.
- With two outs, if the batter-runner fails to touch first base, the umpire should call the batter-runner out, disallow any run(s) that may have scored, and direct that the game be resumed.
- With fewer than two outs, if the batter-runner fails to touch first base, the batter-runner is called out, but the run will count if a runner reaches and touches home.
- Base awards; advance without liability to be put out —
We devote an entire article to this issue, covering both base runners and batters. See Awarding Bases.
- Runners advance on a balk — 5.06(a)(3)(A), 6.02(a) Penalty
There is really not very much to cover on this one. When a balk occurs, all runners advance one base. For an extended discussion of balks, see the article Balks and Illegal Pitches.
- Advances during batting-out-of-order appeal — 6.03(b)
We devote an entire article to Batting Out of Order; however, there is one wrinkle that is worth discussing here.
We learn in 6.03(b) that when rectifying a batting out of order infraction (in the case where the improper batter has completed his at-bat and there has not yet been a pitch to the next batter), that among other things the umpire nullifies any action that occurred as a result of the improper at-bat. This includes returning base runners to their time-of-pitch base.
However, there is an exception to this. If a runner advances while the improper batter is at bat due to a stolen base, and illegal pitch (i.e., balk), wild pitch or passed ball, then that base runner's advance is legal and supercedes the penalty for batting out of order. In other words, that runner stays where he is.
- Two runners on the same base — 5.06(a)(2)
Contrary to some baseball myths, two runners on a base is not automatically an out. That said, only one of the runners is entitled to and protected on the base, and the other is out if tagged. So which one is out?
Except for two exceptions, which I'll talk about in a moment, the trailing (following) runner is out when tagged. This is based on the principle that a runner is entitled to the protection of a base (that is, he "owns" the base) until he acquires a following base. Until then, he can reverse direction and return to the preceding base and once there he's legally entitled to it, even if a following runner has arrived there too.
So what are the exceptions? Well, the most common exception is on a force situation. If runners are forced to advance, then they are legally entitled to that base. So a preceding runner, who is also forced, is not protected at the base from which he is forced.
The other exception is quite rare. In fact, I've never seen it. However, let's return to the principle we discussed earlier – that a runner "owns" a base until he legally acquires the next base. At that point the previous base is up for grabs. So if a following runner acquires that base after the leading runner has acquired the next base, then the leading runner cannot reverse direction and return to the base he left (which is now occupied by a following runner) and still be protected there. He's out if tagged.
- Two runners touched by the same batted ball. — 5.09(b)(7)
This is really a continuation of our discussion about interference (in the article Offensive Interference). And that said, it's a pretty quirky scenario and pretty had to picture, but rest assured there's a rule for it.
If two runners are hit by the same batted ball, only one runner, the first runner hit, is out for interference. This is because interference is an immediate dead ball, so when the first runner is hit the ball is dead and once the ball is dead there can be no put-outs. The second runner must return to his last acquired base.
- Runner passes a preceding runner — 5.09(b)(9)
A base runner is out if he passes a preceding runner. He must pass him entirely to be in violation. There are two scenarios in which this is typically seen – one of the stupid, one of them not.
The stupid scenario is the case of batter hitting a home run (a walk-off, let's say), and in trotting around the bases triumphantly, a preceding base runner hangs back to high-five him and accompany him home. Stupid move. The batter-runner is fairly likely to pass the preceding runner at some point during this dance around the bases, and there's going to be some woeful complaints when he's called out.
The more common scenario is this: A couple of runners on base and you have a sharp hit to the gap so there's a great opportunity to score multiple runs and everyone is running as hard as they can. But one runner, in his haste, misses a base, realizes it, and reverses quickly to touch it. Oops. The following runner is right on his tail and when he reverses the following runner passes him.
When a runner passes a preceding runner, call the runner out. However, the ball is not dead (unless this is the third out), so don't kill the play. Let action continue. Note that if you are in a walk-off situation, the out you call does not affect the scoring of other runners, unless this is the third out. If it's the third out, then treat it like a time play; that is, any runner who touched home before you called the out, their run counts.
- The "flying start" is prohibited — 5.09(c)(1) Comment
The "flying start" is a move wherein the base runner takes a position behind the base when there is a deep fly ball so he can take a running start and time his touch of the bag with the catch of the ball. This would give him a tremendous advantage in tagging up and advancing. But the move is illegal and the runner may be called out on appeal as if he failed to tag up.
- Shall not make a travesty of the game — 5.09(b-10)
We've now reached my favorite of all of the rules of baseball. And I wonder if this has ever been called. Let's just read it together: "Any runner is out when …""After he has acquired legal possession of a base, he runs the bases in reverse order for the purpose of confusing the defense or making a travesty of the game. The umpire shall immediately call "Time" and declare the runner out."
Now, let's be clear that we're not talking about a runner reversing direction to touch a missed base, to tag up, or to return to a base on a caught fly ball. What we're talking about is … well, making a travesty of the game. If any of you ever call this, please click the feedback link and let me know about it. I'd love to hear the details.