Like its counterpart, catch, tags are such a fundamental part of baseball that it's a wonder there's so much to say about them. One reason I talk about catches and tags in the same breath is because both of them call on the important concepts of secure possession and voluntary release. The definition of a "tag" does not use the term "voluntary release" as does the definition of "catch," but the requirement is the same. I'll explain.
Let's start with the definition then step through the scenarios.
Definition of tag
Here's the key language from Definitions (tag):
TAG is the action of a fielder in touching a base with the body while holding the ball securely and firmly in the hand or glove; or touching a runner with the ball or with the hand or glove holding the ball, while holding the ball securely and firmly in the hand or glove.
Okay, let's break this down:
- For a legitimate tag, the fielder must have the ball held securely in either the hand or the glove. Nowhere else.
- With the ball held securely in hand or glove, the fielder can, in a force situation, touch (tag) a base with any portion of his body, including his gloved hand.
- In a non-force situation, the fielder can tag a runner with the ball held securely in the hand; or, he can tag the runner with the glove in which the ball is held securely.
- Upon making the tag, and in the sequence of events immediately following the tag, the fielder must maintain possession of the ball. If the ball drops or bobbles, this is not "secure possession" and it is not a tag.
The remainder of the language in Definitions (tag) is equally important:
It is not a tag, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his touching a base or touching a runner, the fielder drops the ball. In establishing the validity of the tag, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball. If the fielder has made a tag and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the tag, the tag shall be adjudged to have been made.
This last sentence is where the issue of "voluntary release," while not stated, is implied. If the ball is dropped while making a throw following the tag, this is "voluntary release" and the tag is legitimate.
When is a tag not a tag?
There are cases where what appears to be a tag is not a tag. Some of this we've touched on already, but let's be explicit:
- In a force situation, the fielder must have the ball held securely in hand or the glove. He cannot have the ball, say, pinned to his chest, in his lap, between his legs, or any other way that "securely in hand or glove."
- In a non-force situation, where the fielder must tag either with the ball securely in hand, or with the glove holding the ball securely, the fielder cannot hold the ball in his hand and tag the runner with his glove. This is not a tag.
A few more points about tags
There are a few more points to make about the tag. Some of this is obvious, but let's go over it anyway.
- In a force situation, with a runner advancing to a base to which he is forced, the fielder may tag either the base to which the runner is advancing, or the runner himself [5.09(b)(6)]. In either case, the guidelines we covered in breakdown items #2 and #3 apply.
- An attempt to tag a runner triggers establishing the base path for the purpose of 5.09(b)(1). We have much more to say about this topic in the article, Basepath & Running Lane.