Batter Touched by Live Ball
You should read this article in tandem with its companion, Runner Touched by Live Ball. Originally I had just one article that covered both scenarios because there is so much overlap between them. The rule book differentiates between the batter, the batter-runner, and then the runner. I changed my mind, though, but I'm still be keeping a tight connection using links.
Let's begin by breaking this down into its two main parts:
1. The batter is touched by a pitched ball
2. The batter-runner is touched by his own batted ball
Because you handle each one differently, well go deep on both. One thing to remember, though, is that when we talk about a batted ball, we're talking about a live batted ball. A batter-runner touched by a batted ball over foul territory is just a foul ball, unless he intentionally deflects it [ 6.01(a)(2) ]
1. Batter touched by pitched ball
Let's start with a batter hit by a pitched ball. We all know that a batter hit by a pitch is awarded first base and that other runners advance if forced. Right? WRONG!
In truth, most often it is the case that a batter is awarded first base when he or his clothing is touched by a pitched ball. But not always. Let's look at some of the exceptions and nuances of the rules covering batters touched by a pitched ball:
- The originating rule is 5.06(c)(1). A batter in a "legal batting position" (that is, with feet in the batter's box) is awarded first if he or his clothing is touched by a pitched ball. The ball is dead. Runners advance if forced.
- But hold on a minute. In 5.05(b)(2) we get our first exceptions – actually, two exceptions. The first is, if the pitch is in the strike zone when the batter is hit, he is not awarded first base. You see this when batters crowd the plate and their arms and hands are out over the strike zone. The ball is dead and call a strike, but keep the batter at the plate (unless it's strike three). Any runners who were advancing on the pitch must return to their time-of-pitch base. And be ready for some arguments.
- The second 5.05(b)(2) exception requires that the batter must attempt to avoid being hit by the pitch. Now, this one is tricky. The move to avoid the pitch can be as subtle as a quarter-turn away from the pitch. If there is no attempt at all to avoid the pitch, by rule you keep the batter at the plate. That said, there is some discretion in cases where the pitch is well into the batter's box. In that case, most umpires give the batter the benefit of the doubt and award him first base regardless. But be careful with that.
But watch out for this one: You'll see some of the older, more experienced batters do that quarter-turn away from the ball, but what they're really doing is slyly moving into the path of the pitch as they make the turn. It's subtle, and it's easy to get fooled (I've been fooled by this). You won't see this in the younger kids (most of them are too afraid of the ball to begin with), but you can run into this at the upper levels.
- The exception that surprises some new umpires (and players) is the 5.09(a)(6) exception. This is the rule saying that if you are hit by the pitch while swinging at it, it's just a strike. No base award; just a strike (and the batter is out if it's strike three).
Caution: If you have a batter hit by pitch on a checked swing, be alert. If you rule that he went (or if you go to your partner and he says "Yes, he went"), then you have a strike (and the batter's out if strike three). If you or your partner rules that "No, he didn't go" then you have a batter hit by pitch and a base award. Be alert for this.
We have an MLB video that captures just this scenario. Miguel Cabrera checks his swing on a pitch that hits him square in the knee. Home plate umpire, Brian Gorman, rules that he went, so instead of hit-by-pitch, it's a strike. Cabrera grouses and is eventually tossed.
- Let's be really explicit about one thing: Regardless of all other circumstances, a batter hit by a pitched ball is always a dead ball, regardless of all other circumstances. Whether there's a base award or not, the ball is dead and no other runners can advance unless forced.
- Finally, let's touch on the subject of batters who are hit by a pitch intentionally [ 6.02(c)(9) ]. This is a judgment call, of course, but if you suspect there's head-hunting going on, you must deal with it immediately and firmly. Fortunately you have tools – not just under 6.02(c)(9), but also under 8.01(d) (unsportsmanlike conduct).
- Warn the benches. If you suspect a pitcher of head-hunting, call "Time" and warn both benches. (If you warn the bench of one team you must also warn the other.) Subsequent incidents should result in ejection.
- If you believe there is a serious issue of organized head-hunting, eject the pitcher. If necessary, you can also eject the manager, either at the same time, or subsequently.
In rare situations where, for example, rival teams appear particularly hostile as they prepare for the game, you have the authority to issue the bench warnings preventively at the start of the game.
Batter touched by his own batted ball
There are two scenarios where a batter is touched by his own batted ball, and each is handled differently. Either (1) the batter is still in the batter's box when a plate shot bounces up and hits him or the bat, or a batted ball hits him directly on the foot or ankle, or (2) he is touched by a fair batted ball after he's left the batter's box.
The first scenario, where the batter is hit by his own batted ball while still in the box, is simply a foul ball [ 5.09(a)(7) ]. Sometimes it's difficult for the plate umpire to see this, so the base umpire(s) should immediately call "Foul" if they see it.
In the second scenario, where the batter is touched by his fair batted ball after he's left the batter's box, you have interference. The batter is out, the ball is dead, and runners, if moving, must return to their time-of-pitch base. This is no different from other base runners touched by a fair batted ball, which we discuss in the article Runner Touched by Live Ball.
Here's a video showing an example of a batter being hit by his own batted ball – in this case, on a bunt attempt. You can see that he runs into his own batted ball as he leaves the batter's box. No arguments on this one.
However, if the ball is over foul territory when it touches that batter, there is no interference; it's simply a foul ball. But there's an exception if the batter-runner intentionally deflects a batted ball in foul territory. In that case, call the batter out, dead ball, runners return.