This article covers some ground that we've touched on in other articles because so many rules pertaining to the batter overlap other areas. There's a batter, then a batter-runner, and then a runner, and there are often no sharp boundaries between them.
We're going to untangle the mass of disconnected rules pertaining to the batter and batting, and bring them all together in a single article. Not surprisingly, there are an enormous number of details and nuances. So we're going to take this step-by-step.
Here are the items we're going to cover:
- Batter defined
- Batter-runner defined
- Batter completes his time at bat when …
- Batter is out when …
- Batter becomes a runner when …
- Batter is interfered with
- Batter is a pinch hitter
- Batter enters game unannounced
- Batter's legal position in the batter's box
- Illegally batted ball
- Batter delays the game
- Batter causes the pitcher to balk by stepping from the box
- Batter requests time
- Batter abandons the opportunity to advance to first base
- Batter deflects foul ball intentionally
- Batter uses an illegal bat
- Batter switches batter's box
- Batter creates backswing interference
- Batter is touched by the catcher or other fielder
- Batter bats out of order
- The bat touches the ball twice
- Batter is hit by a pitched ball
- Batter is hit by his own batted ball
- Batter-runner leaves the running lane
- Batter may advance on third strike not caught
- Batter-runner must avoid fielder playing on a batted ball
- Batter defined — Definitions (batter)
Pretty simple, this one (and we've seen it before): "BATTER is an offensive player who takes a position in the batter's box."
- Batter-runner defined — Definitions (batter-runner)
Again, pretty straightforward, but notice the overlap with the definition of "batter": "BATTER-RUNNER (BR) is a term that identifies 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."
- Batter completes his time at bat when … — 5.04(c), 6.03(b)
5.04(c) says it quite concisely: "A batter has legally completed a time at bat when he is put out or becomes a runner."
Rule 6.03(b) deals with the batting-out-of-order wrinkle wherein the proper batter is called out on appeal for not batting in his proper place in the order without actually having his at-bat.
- Batter is out when … —
We have an entire article devoted to getting put-outs entitled Getting Outs. In it, we list the twenty ways that you can put a batter out:
- Fly out [ 5.09(a)(1) ]
- Strike out [ 5.09(a)(2) ]
- Swings at strike three and is touched by the ball [ 5.09(a)(6) ]
- Out at first base (ground out) [ 5.09(a)(10) ]
- Tagged out beyond first base [ 5.09(b)(4) ]
- Out of running lane on play to first base [ 5.09(a)(11) ]
- Illegally batted ball [ 6.03(a)(1) ]
- Bat hits batted ball a second time in fair territory [ 5.09(a)(8) ]
- Bunt foul with two strikes [ 5.09(a)(4) ]
- Enter the batter's box with an illegal bat [ 6.03(a)(4) ]
- Infield fly [ 5.09(a)(5) ]
- Infielder intentionally drops fly ball [ 5.09(a)(12) ]
- Batter's interference [ 6.03(a)(3) ]
- Spectator interference [ 6.01(3) ]
- Offensive (team member) interference [ 5.09(a)(15)
- Intentionally deflects batted ball in foul territory [ 5.09(a)(9) ]
- Hit by his own batted ball outside the batter's box [ 5.09(a)(7) ]
- Steps from one batter's box to the other while pitcher is ready to deliver the pitch [ 6.03(a)(2) ]
- Preceding runner interferes with opportunity for double play [ 5.09(a)(13) ]
- Does not return immediately to first base after overrunning and is tagged [ 5.09(b)(11), 5.09(c)(3) ]
- Batter becomes a runner when — 5.05(a)
There are nine sections in Rule 5.05(a) specifying when and how a batter becomes a runner:
- The batter hits a fair ball. Simple enough.
- Batter advances on a third strike not caught with first base unoccupied, or with two outs. Section (b) adds a "Comment" to the effect that if the batter fails to realize his situation and starts for the dugout, he should be called out once he leaves the dirt circle surrounding home plate. This is hard to picture, however, because his entire dugout, his coaches, and half the fans are going to be screaming at him to run.
- On interference with a batted ball by another base runner or by the umpire, the ball is dead and the batter-runner is awarded first base (unless he's the one who interfered by touching his own batted ball). In the case of offensive interference, the runner who interferred is called out. In the case of umpire interference, the umpire is merely laughed at.
- Home run – that is, a fair batted ball that passes in flight over a fence and out of the field of play. But here's a part of the MLB rule that you may not know: The distance to the fence must be a minimum of 250 from home plate; otherwise, the batter gets only a double (ground-rule double). Of course, this does not apply to existing MLB parks, none of which have fences that short. Note that other leagues do not have this provision. Little League, for example, provides "recommended" distances to the outfield fences for the various age divisions, but does not enforce a requirement.
- Ground-rule double – that is, a fair batted ball that bounds out of the field of play. That batter and all other runners advance two bases.
- Ground-rule double, part 2 – covering the case of a fair batted ball that goes under a fence or scoreboard, or that lodges there or in bushes or shrubbery (these are old rules, I tell you). The batter and all runners advance two bases.
- Ground-rule double, part 3 – covering the case of a bounding fair ball that is deflected by a fielder out of the field of play. The batter and all runners advance two bases.
- A fair fly ball is deflected by a fielder over a fence and out of play. If deflected out of play in foul territory, then the batter and all runners advance two bases. If deflected out of play in fair territory, then this is a home run.
- Batter is interfered with — Definitions (interference(b)), 6.01(c)
When a batter is interfered with, this is called defensive interference. It is sometimes also referred to as "catcher's interference" because 99% of the time it is the catcher who commits the infraction. That said, defensive interference can be caused by any player getting disrupts or impedes that batter's opportunity to strike the ball. See our full treatment of this subject in the article, Defensive Interference, including a discussion of what's come to be called the "catcher's balk."
- Batter is a pinch hitter — 5.10(a), 5.04(a)
The manager of the team on offensive can make an offensive substitution when the batter he wishes to replace is due up. Such an offensive substitution is commonly called a "pinch hitter." The substitute (pinch hitter) must hit in the same spot in the batting order as the player he replaced. That sounds obvious, but this piece of obvious will be invaluable when sorting out a substitution vs. batting out of order infraction.
As we mentioned in our article on substitutions, the rules on substitutions, including the pinch hitter, vary significantly from league to league. It is most important that you, as plate umpire, are familiar with the substitution and re-entry rules for your league, and that you track and monitor substitutions during the game to avoid the sticky issue of the illegal substitution.
In Major League baseball a pinch hitter may not have previously been in the game, and once he enters, the player for whom he substitutes is now no longer eligible to play in that game. But this is not true for all leagues.
The rules references cited for this topic also cover the issue of the unannounced substitute, in cases where that may happen with a pinch hitter, and distinguishes the unannounced substitute from batting-out-of-order infractions.
When the pinch hitter is replacing the designated hitter, we have a new set of issues to consider. We cover this in our article Designated Hitter & Extra Hitter.
- Batter enters game unannounced — 5.04(a)
We touched briefly on this in the section above on the pinch hitter. In brief, a substitute batter (a pinch hitter) that a manager forgets to formally enter into the game becomes official when "he takes a position in the batter's box." We cover this area in far greater detail in our article Substitutions.
- The batter's legal position in the batter's box — 5.04(b), 5.04(b)(4)
The batter must take a legal position in the batter's box. The legal position requires that both feet be within the batter's box while addressing the pitcher. The lines marking the batter's box are to be considered to be in the batter's box for the purpose of this rule.
Note: While the batter's feet must be entirely within the batter's box when addressing the pitcher, this requirement does not hold while the batter is striding while swinging at a pitch. We discuss this below with respect to the illegally batted ball.
This requirement can cause headaches. On turf fields where the lines of the batter's box are painted, this is pretty easy to enforce. On dirt fields, however, where the lines are marked with chalk, the lines of the batter's box are usually gone by the second inning. This creates opportunities for the batter to crowd the plate. You must watch this and enforce some approximation of the batter's box, even if the lines are missing.
On a related note, if a batter is hit by a pitched ball while he is crowding the plate, you must judge whether the pitch that touched the batter was actually in the strike zone. If so, the ball is dead, but the batter remains at-bat and is chared with a called strike.
- Illegally batted ball — 6.03(a)(1)
If a batter swings at and strikes a pitched ball with one or both of his feet touching the ground entirely outside the batter's box, this is an illegally batted ball. The ball is dead, the batter is out, and runners, if advancing, must return.
It doesn't matter if he ball is fair or foul (or foul tip, for that matter) – if the batter's stride is such that it carries one or both of his feet to where it touches the ground outside the batter's box, he's out. For the purpose of this rule, the lines marking the batter's box are considered to be in the batter's box. Also, note that the offending foot must be touching the ground outside the batter's box. If hovering in the air, there is no infraction.
- Batter delays the game by refusing to enter or stepping out of the batter's box — 5.04(b)
You, the plate umpire, have an obligation to keep the game moving. This is one of your jobs. And few things slow a game down more than batters stepping out of the batter's box between pitches, taking swings, adjusting gloves, and otherwise imitating major league players. You can, and must, put a stop to this by directing the player to step back into the box. If the player fails to comply, you can call a strike on the batter without a pitch being thrown.
The oddest situation is when batter's step out of the box without being granted time. This generally happens with younger players who seem to think that simply holding up thier hand effectively calls time. It doesn't. Only you can call time. If a batter steps out of the box without your granting him time, just stay in your stance behind the plate and call the pitch when it's delivered. And again, call it a strike. He's going to complain (especially if it's strike three), but he'll never do it again.
Of course, if the batter's stepping out of the box causes the pitcher to balk, that's different. We talk about that next ….
- Batter causes the pitcher to balk by stepping from the box — 5.04(b)(2) Comment
If the action of a batter stepping out of the batter's box causes the pitcher to interrupt his delivery such that he balks (with runners on base), this shall not be called a balk. Call time, direct the batter back to the box, and direct that the pitcher start again.
- Batter requests time — Definitions (time), 5.12
The batter may request time at any point; however, it is up to you to decide whether to grant it. Only an umpire can call time.
Generally, if the pitcher is not yet in his windup or delivery, I will grant time. Most umpires will. The exception is if the batter is asking for time too frequently. Also, if the batter is deliberately waiting until that last possible second, clearly trying to mess with the pitcher's head, you may elect not to grant time.
That said, when the pitcher takes an inordinate amount of time in the set position, pausing much to long before delivering the pitch, you should give the batter time if he asks.
- Batter abandons the opportunity to advance to first base — 5.09(b)(2), 5.09(b)(11)
A runner can be called out for abandonment if he fails to advance when he is entitled to. There are three situations in which the batter/batter-runner is subject to being called out for abandonment.
- On a third strike not caught (with first base unoccupied and fewer than two outs, or with two outs in any configuration), if the batter fails to realize he can advance and instead heads for the dugout, once he has left the dirt area around the plate and you are convinced that he has abandoned his opportunity to advance, you may call the batter out.
- In the last half of a final inning, when the batter hits a walkoff base hit, the game does not end until a runner touches home and the batter-runner advances to and touches first base. See 5.08(b).
- On a base hit, after the batter-runner runs through first base, he must return immediately to first base. If the batter-runner fails to return directly to first base he may be tagged out, OR, if he believes he's been put out and heads for his dugout, the umpire may call him out for abandonment once he's convinced that he's abandoned his opportunity to return to first.
The first and third scenarios are pretty unlikely to happen because even when a batter or runner initially fails to realize his opportunity to advance, it's highly likely that his teammates and coaches will be screaming at him and that he'll quickly realize his error an advance.
- Batter deflects foul ball intentionally — 5.09(a)(9), 6.01(a)(2)
I don't know why a batter-runner, after hitting or bunting a ball that's moving in foul territory, would intentionally deflect the course of the ball, but if he does you must call him out under 5.09(a)(9). The ball is dead and other runners, if advancing, must return. Rule 6.01(a)(2) specifies the infraction as interference.
- Batter uses an illegal bat — 6.03(a)(4), 3.02
The entire issue of bats is a hornet's nest in every league and division except MLB (which uses wood bats only) because bat regulations seem to change every few years.
Rule 3.02 defines a bat for the purpose of the Rules of Baseball, and Rule 6.03(a)(4) clarifies that a batter is subject to enforcement of the penalty from the moment he steps into the batter's box with an illegal bat until such time as there is a pitcher to the player following. The penalty is to call the player out and eject him from the game. The ball is dead and any action resulting from the at-bat is nullified.
But the penalty I've just described is for OBR. Regulations on this vary considerably from league to league and it is very important to be aware of bat regulations for your league. In NCAA, for example (Rule 1-12-b), if an illegal bat is identified prior to the first pitch, the bat is simply thrown out of the game and no other penalty is applied. Only after the first pitch is the batter subject to being called out (but not ejected).
In high school (NFHS), the batter is called out upon entering the batter's box with an illegal bat. But rather than eject the player, it is the team manager who is in jeopardy. On the first instance of use of an illegal bat in a game, the manager is restricted to the bench. On the second instance, the manager is ejected. There is a recognition that the team manager is ultimately responsible for the misconduct of his players.
In the many and several amateur leagues, you must consult the league rules to confirm bat regulations.
- Batter switches batter's box — 6.03(a)(2)
It is a common baseball myth that a batter is required to remain in one batter's box throughout an at-bat. This is not true. A switch-hitter can switch boxes almost at will. There is only one restriction – that the batter may not switch boxes "while the pitcher is in position ready to pitch." So he can't jump from one box to another after the pitcher comes set. But there is no other restriction on how many times the batter can switch boxes.
- Batter creates backswing interference — 6.03(a)(4) Comment
Backswing interference is when a batter swings so hard that his follow-through carries his bat around and hits the catcher or the ball in back of him on the backswing. If unintentional, this is not interference. Instead, the ball is dead, no runners advance, and the ball is called a strike. If strike three, however, the runner is not entitled to attempt to advance to first base.
High school (NFHS) rule (7-3-5c) differs somewhat. In cases where backswing interference impedes the catcher's ability to make a play on a runner advancing, the batter is out for interference even if the batter's action is unintentional.
- Batter is touched by the catcher or other fielder — 6.01(c)
What we're talking about here is defensive interference – the only form of interference that is committed by the defense. Defensive interference can be called against any fielder, but in reality it's almost always the catcher who interferes and for this reason defensive interference has come to be known as "catcher's interference."
We cover this issue in detail in our article entitled Defensive Interference.
- Batter bats out of turn — 6.03(b) (entire)
Batting out of order is a sometimes complicated rule and it's important that you understand the rule, its penalties, and how to fix batting order issues … because if you can't do it then nobody else at the field will be able to.
We devote an entire article to the topic of Batting out of Order.
- The bat touches the ball twice — 5.09(a)(8) and Comment
The comment on Rule 5.09(a)(8) expands the rule to cover several scenarios in which the bat (including broken bat) and batter's helmet strike a fair batted ball.
- First is the case of a batted (or bunted) ball that bounces directly back and strikes the bat a second time. This happens in an instant, so the batter is still in the batter's box. In fact, it doesn't matter if the ball hits the bat or the batter – both have the same result: Dead ball. No runners advance, of course, and in all other respects it's just a foul ball.
- Second is a case where a batter hits the ball and drops the bat and the bat then touches the ball a second time in fair territory. This is interference. The ball is dead, the batter-runner is out for interference, and no runners advance. Note that if the bat hits the ball a second time in foul territory, it's just a foul ball.
- Third is the case of the ball hitting the bat a second time in fair territory. In the second scenario we have the bat hitting the ball a second time; in this scenario we have the ball hitting the bat. (See the difference.) The rules distinguish between the two. When that bat hits the ball a second time we have interference and an out. However, when the ball hits the bat we have nothing – play on.
Note: If a bat breaks and a broken portion is in fair territory and is hit by a batted ball (or if a fielder is touched by the broken portion of a bat), there is no interference. Live ball. Play on.
- Batter or his clothing is touched by a pitched ball — 5.05(b)(2)
We cover the matter of the batter or runner being touched by a live ball – whether thrown, pitched, or batted – in great detail in our article Batter Touched by a Live Ball.
- Batter is hit by his own batted ball — 5.09(a)(7)
Actually there are two scenarios where a batter is hit by his own batted ball and, while both are covered under 5.09(a)(7), each one is handled differently. Either (1) he's still in the batter's box when a plate shot bounces up and hits him or the batted ball hits him directly (typically 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. 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 batted ball after he's left the batter's box, you have interference. The batter's out, the ball is dead, and runners return.
- Batter-runner leaves the running lane — 5.09(a)(11)
When running to first base, the batter-runner must remain in the three-foot-wide running lane the last half of the distance to first base. If not, the batter-runner may be called out for interference. We discuss the running lane violation in detail in our article, Basepath & Running Lane.
- Batter may advance on third strike not caught — 5.05(a)(2)
This is often called the "dropped third strike rule," but that is a misnomer because whenever a third strike is not caught (whether dropped or simply missed – a wild pitch or passed ball) under the proper conditions the batter may attempt to advance to first base. Okay, so what are the "proper conditions" that allow the batter to attempt to advance?
- With fewer than two outs, first base must be unoccupied at the time of the pitch. If you have a runner on first and he steals on the pitch that is a third strike not caught, this does not vacate fist base and the batter may not advance.
- With two outs, any configuration of base runners is allowed, so be mindful of your forces at other bases, which may be created when the batter attempts to advance to first.
Note: With the bases loaded and two outs, any third strike not caught creates a force out at home. The catcher need only secure the ball in hand or glove, then touch home plate, and the inning is over. Don't forget to watch for this.
There is frequently a confusing moment when there is a third strike not caught and quite often the offensive dugout will begin screaming for the batter to run, even when first base is occupied. In fact, often a runner on first might (mistakenly) feel he is forced off first base and will begin to advance toward second base.
It is important that you do two things to help alleviate this. The plate umpire must come up big with one of two signals:
- (1) If the the batter is allowed to advance, you should clear the catcher and give the safe sign. That is all.
- (2) If the batter is not allowed to advance but is running toward first base anyway, you must vocalize loudly and repeatedly "BATTER'S OUT! BATTER'S OUT!" while giving the out sign. The base umpire may echo the call.
Other than that, the runners and fielders are on their own. Ultimately, the players are responsible for knowing the rules and are accountable for their actions, so if a runner from first gets stranded and picked off because he thought he had to advance, then tough luck. Call the out.
- Batter-runner must avoid fielder playing on a batted ball — 6.01(a)(10) and Comment
We've touched on this many times: The fielder has the right-of-way when playing on a batted ball and runners, including the batter-runner, must actively avoid the fielder. Not doing so puts the runner at jeopardy for Offensive Interference.
That said, there is a special consideration in the vicinity of home plate, where sometimes the batter and catcher can become slightly entangled while the batter attempts to advance and the catcher plays on a batted ball or bunt near home plate. We're talking about "incidental" contact. As related in 6.01(a)(10) Comment: "When a catcher and batter-runner going to first base have contact when the catcher is fielding the ball, there is generally no violation and nothing should be called." Note, however, use of the "generally." Judgment call.