Wednesday, March 4, 2020

Case Play 2020-1 Answer - Standoff is Out of Line

After a college stalemate between catcher & runner led to a benches-clearing brawl, we made a Case Play of it. After consulting the relevant rules, it is apparent that the umpire could have declared the leading runner out earlier for running more than three feet away from his base path to avoid a tag.

Recap: Attempting to score on a hit to the outfield, a runner evades a catcher's tag near home plate, incidentally failing to touch the plate in the process. As the runner prepares to correct his base touching error, he sees the catcher ready to apply the tag and waits somewhere well behind the batter's box until the catcher acts.

The catcher, who in turn starts to chase the runner, quickly retreats to cover home plate, wary of the trailing runner who might attempt to score. A stalemate ensues, and finally ends with the preceding runner diving into an out with the catcher quickly tagging the trailing runner as well for a double play.
Related PostCase Play 2020-1 - Home Plate Standoff & Brawl (3/2/20).

The two primarily related rules here are those of the appeal play and those of the out-of-base-path. Let's tackle each possibility.

The catcher begins to chase the runner.
Appeal Play: NCAA rule 8-6-a-4 states that a runner is out on appeal when "the runner does not touch home plate and does not make an attempt to touch it. The fielder may touch either the runner or home plate." Official Baseball Rule 5.09(b)(12) is the related professional rule and states, "[Runner is out when] in running or sliding for home base, he fails to touch home base and appeals to the umpire for the decision." And, for good measure, NFHS (high school) rule 8-2-6b affords a live ball appeal for a runner missing a base, with 8-2-5 declaring, "If a runner who misses any base (including home plate) or leaves a base to early, desires to return to touch the base, he must do so immediately."

In this situation, because the initial "you missed the base" interaction between catcher and runner occurs off camera and we cannot conclusively determine what any potential catcher-umpire interaction was, it is difficult to determine whether the catcher actually appealed the runner's legality. For this reason, we err on the side of the call on the field, but nonetheless, the rule is designed such that the catcher is not required to physically chase a runner who makes no attempt to score or correct his no-touch error.

Runner clearly deviates by more than 3 feet.
Out of Base Path: NCAA rule 8-5-a states that a runner is out when, "In running to any base, while trying to avoid being tagged out, the runner runs more than three feet left or right from a direct line between the base and the runner’s location at the time a play is being made." The pro rule is OBR 5.09(b)(1) ("more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged...established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base") and high school is NFHS 8-4-2a ("runs more than three feet away from a direct line between bases to avoid being tagged...he establishes his baseline as directly between his position and the base toward which he is moving"). Remember, the MLB Umpire Manual states, "Base path rules still apply to the runner" in situations when the runner misses home plate.

Sidebar: NFHS uses the term "baseline" while OBR is "base path".

Ichiro Suzuki safely slides into home.
This is the rule the runner violated; he clearly runs more than three feet away from the direct line between his position at the time of the play or attempted tag (when he's off-camera behind the left-handed batter's box) and home plate. This is evident when he winds up well beyond the right-handed batter's box and more than three feet away from home plate. We contrast this in a video with Ichiro Suzuki successfully avoiding this call during a game in Baltimore.

Other Potential Outs:
Teammate Interference: OBR 6.01(a)(4) would declare the runner out for interference and cause the ball to become dead when "any member or members of the offensive team stand or gather around any base to which a runner is advancing, to confuse, hinder or add to the difficulty of the fielders." Naturally, it would appear the runner's own act of running well outside of his base path caused the on-deck batter to become more involved in the play than he would otherwise have been, in which case the on-deck batter's presence would become somewhat of a red herring (also: did he actually confuse/hinder or attempt to confuse/hinder his opponent?).

Video as follows:

Alternate Link: Case Play Answer - Catcher-Runner Standoff Was Out of Line (CCS)


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