There are several infractions that the umpire does not rule on automatically. These are appeal plays, and the umpire can rule on these infractions only if the opposing team initiates a proper appeal.
The most familiar of these are when a base runner fails to tag up on a caught fly ball, or a runner fails to touch a base while advancing or retreating. To get an out for these infractions, the defense must make a proper appeal at the time of the offense – that is, before a following pitch or play.
Eleven rules govern appeals, and some are rather nuanced, so we'll go through them step-by-step. First, we'll define an appeal, then we'll describe how to make a proper appeal (and how not to screw it up), and then we'll take a close look at each of the appealable infractions. Here's what we're going to cover:
Actually, there are two kinds of appeals:
- The first and most familiar, and the type requiring a proper appeal, is an infraction committed by a runner's action. We're talking about a runner not tagging up, or a runner failing to touch a base (and a few others, as we'll see).
- The second type of appeal concerns non-runner actions. For example, an improper batter is at the plate (batting out of order), or a batter has made a checked swing and the defense wants to appeal that in fact he did swing.
1. Appealable actions and situations
Following are lists of appealable actions and situations. First are those resulting from base-runner actions (requiring a proper appeal); the second list is for other appealable situations.
1.1 Appeals on runner actions
- After overrunning or oversliding first base, the batter-runner fails to return immediately to the base. If the runner fails to return immediately, and if a fielder with the ball touches the runner or the bag and clearly indicates his intention to appeal, call the runner out. Note that the appeal does not need to be verbal [5.09(b)(11)].
Important: If the appeal at first base results in the third out, any runs scored on the play will count, despite the third out being recorded at first base [5.09(b)(11) (Comment)].
- A base runner fails to retouch (tag up) before advancing on a fly ball legally caught [5.09(b)(5), 5.09(c)(1)]. The runner may legally advance when the ball is first touched by a fielder.
- A runner fails to touch each base in order while advancing or retreating. Note that a runner cannot return to touch a missed base once a following runner has scored. This is also true (that a runner cannot return to touch a missed base) once the ball is dead and he has acquired a succeeding base [5.09(c)(2), 5.08 Comment].
Important: If a runner who is declared out on appeal for failing to touch a base is the third out, following runners may not score.
Important: When running in revers order (for example, when trying to touch a missed base after advancing beyond the next base), the runner must retouch the intervening base.
- At home plate an advancing runner (running or sliding) fails to touch home base and makes no attempt to return to touch the base. The fielder can appeal by touching either the runner or home plate [5.09(b)(12), 5.09(c)(4)]. That "and" is important because the fielder (normally the catcher, but sometimes the pitcher) can only get the out on appeal by touching home plate IF the runner is on his way to the bench or dugout and the fielder would have to chase him to tag him. This does not apply to a play in which the runner misses the plate and makes an immediate effort to touch the plate. In this case the fielder must tag the runner (unless there is a force at home, of course).
1.2 Other appeal situations
- Checked-swing ("half swing") appeal [8.02(c) Comment]. Unlike runner-action appeals, which can only be made by any defensive player currently in the game, the checked-swing appeal can be made only by the catcher or team manager. No other member of the defense may make this appeal. Furthermore, the appeal must be made to the home plate umpire; the plate umpire, then, is obligated to appeal to the appropriate base umpire, who then rules. The plate umpire is obligated to uphold the decision of the base umpire to whom he appealed.
Important: The defense can only appeal on the checked-swing when the plate umpire calls a ball (indicating no swing and that the ball was not in the strike zone). There is no appeal allowed when a checked-swing is called a strike. Furthermore, the appeal must be made before the next pitch, play, or attempted play.
Caution: Base runners and umpires must be alert to the possibility that a called ball four on a checked swing, if appealed, could be ruled a strike. Any runners who are off the base on the presumption that ball four protected them to the next base are now in jeopardy to be put out.
Furthermore: On a pitched ball that is not caught and which, on appeal, becomes strike three (unless first base is occupied with fewer than two outs – see 5.05(a)(2), the batter is entited to attempt to advance to first base.
- Batting out of order [6.03 (b)]. Batting out of order is easy to recognize but sometimes really tricky to fix. That's why I've devoted an entire article to it (Batting out of Order). For now, let's note only that any member of the defensive team can appeal batting out of order from the moment the improper batter steps into the batter's box until the time a pitch is delivered to the batter following the improper batter. Note, too, that the team at bat can replace an improper batter with the proper batter without penalty until such time as the improper batter ends his turn at bat.
Important: Batting out of order is an appeal play for the defense. The umpire should never attempt to call attention to or remedy batting out of order without an appeal from the defensive team. No other person (a scorekeeper, for example) should alert the umpire to an improper batter.
- Umpire's improper application of a rule [8.02]. If there is concern that an umpire has incorrectly applied a rule, the affected team's manager (and only the manager) may ask for time and approach the umpire to appeal the decision. This does not apply to judgement calls.
There are many examples of rules that inexperienced umpires misapply. Improper awarding of bases (see Awarding Bases), confusing interference with obstruction, the nuances of player hit by a live batted ball, and many others.
When a team manager appeals to an umpire on matters of rules application, get the umpire crew together [8.02(c)]. Make sure you're out of earshot of players and the manager. Discuss the rule, the manager's objection, and if you decide that the manager is correct and that you improperly applied a rule, then correct it then and there. If, on the other hand, you think the manager is wrong, then deny the appeal. If you deny the appeal, the manager has the option of playing the remainder of the game under protest.
2. What is a Proper appeal?
Appeals on runner actions can only be recognized and ruled on by an umpire if there is a "proper appeal." What, then, makes an appeal "proper"?
- First of all, the ball must be live. If for any reason the ball is dead, you must put the ball back in play.
Note: After putting the ball back in play with runners on base, ensure that the pitcher properly disengages the pitching rubber (pivot foot moved to behind the rubber), or else you have a balk. A balk is technically a "play" and therefore nullifies the opportunity to appeal.
That said, it is not necessary for the pitcher to disengage the rubber before throwing to a base for the purpose of making an appeal. This is a common rules myth.
Note 2: High school (FED) rules differ somewhat by allowing a "dead-ball appeal." See FED Rule 8-2-6-c.
- The appeal must be explicit. A defensive player with the ball must then either tag the player whose action is being appealed, or touch the base at which the appealable action took place, and then must indicate to the umpire either verbally or with an unmistakable action the intention to appeal. "An appeal should be clearly intended as an appeal, either by a verbal request by the player or an act that unmistakably indicates an appeal to the umpire." [5.09(c) Comment].
- The appeal must be specific. In cases where more than one runner, for example, passed a base at which one of the runners failed to touch the base, the defense must be clear about which runner's actions they are appealing.
- There are no "accidental" appeals. For example, if on a clean hit you see a runner miss a base, and when getting the ball back to the pitcher the cuttoff man, with the ball, inadvertently touches the base that the runner missed, do nothing. Again, appeals do not need to be verbal, but the intent to appeal must be unmistakable.
- When overrunning first base, if the batter-runner misses the base, he is nevertheless presumed to have touched the base and is technically safe unless the defense appeals before the runner returns to touch the base. In this situation, do not call the runner out when a throw arrives at first base unless an unmistakable appeal is made before the runner returns to the base.
- The appeal must be immediate. An appeal must take place before the next pitch, an intervening play or attempted play, or before the defense leaves the field. Note that an attempt to make an appeal is not a play in itself, so making one appeal does not prevent the defense from making a second appeal if more than one appealable infraction occurred. The "defense leaving the field" is defined as when all members of the defense have crossed the foul line on their way to dugout or bench.
- The defense cannot appeal an infraction of a given runner more than once at the same base. This does not mean the same runner cannot be the subject of successive appeals at different bases. If the runner misses touching two bases, and if the appeal at the first of these bases is not successful, you can appeal the same runner at the second missed base. Furthermore, you can appeal successive runners at the same base, if, in fact, two runners missed the same base. The purpose of the rule is to prevent appeals of the same infraction to successive umpires, prolonging the process and delaying the game.
- If the defense errs while attempting to appeal by throwing the ball into dead ball territory, that error is considered a play and therefore nullifies the opportunity to make any appeal. Play on.
Note: NCAA rules differ somewhat. The defense does not need to throw the ball into dead ball territory; rather, if they throw the ball away (not necessarily into DBT) and any runner advances, they lose the opportunity to appeal. (See NCAA Rule 6-b-3.)
- Committing a balk is considered a play. If the pitcher balks while attempting to throw to a base (or before throwing to a base) for the purpose of making an apppeal, this nullifies the opportunity to appeal. Note, however, that a pitcher is not required to disengage the rubber before throwing to a base to make an appeal.
- A base runner may not return to a missed base once the pitcher is on the mound and holding the ball in a pitching position. The point, here, is to prevent a runner from retreating to a missed base after the pitcher has disengaged the rubber to make an appeal. (But you're probably never going to see this one, except maybe with 9-year-olds.)
3. The fourth-out appeal
There are situations where an appeal may require the umpire to acknowledge a fourth out. In such a case, the fourth out supercedes the third out. This will make sense in a moment.
Consider this scenario: You have runners on first and third (R1, R3) with one out. The batter hits a deep fly ball that is caught (two outs, now). Both runners, R1 and R3 tag up and attempt to advance. The center fielder makes an awesome throw to second base and they catch R1 for the third out; however, R3 crossed home plate before the out was made at second, so the run counts (because it's a time play).
But hold on, says the defense. They maintain that R3 failed to tag up (left early), so they make a proper appeal at third and the umpire upholds the appeal, ruling R3 out (the fourth out). This out superceeds the third out made at second, and because this out is on the runner who scored, the run no longer counts. This could be decisive in a close game.
Remember, however, that in the above scenario the appeal must take place before the defense leaves the field.