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Ask the Umpire
By Ralph Nelson
MLB VP Umpiring

Throughout the season, Major League Baseball umpires will be fielding your questions on Have a question? Send it in.

Note: All rule references are from Official Baseball Rules, as published annually by The Sporting News.

As an umpire, you might have ejected a few players/managers. I know it's annoying for our favorite player(s) to be ejected, but what exactly are the causes for an umpire to eject a player or a manager?
-- Johnathan Stephenson

Most ejections occur as a result of a prolonged argument or profanity being directed at the umpire. There are several other situations outlined in the Official Playing Rules which call for immediate ejection: Intentionally throwing at a batter after a warning has been issued; using a "loaded" bat; the pitcher possessing a foreign substance; to name a few.

How is it decided what umpires get to the All-Star Game?
-- Jimmie Hambach, Warren, Ohio

Assignments for the All-Star Game as well as post-season games are based on merit. Each year we attempt to choose "all-star" umpires who have shown exemplary work during the season.

Here's a situation that happened in a recent game: Runners on 2nd and 3rd , one out, full count on the batter. The batter swung at a high, inside pitch and missed, but the ball hit the batter's shoulder and went to the backstop. The batter took off for 1st, and the runner on 3rd ran in to score. Umpire ruled dropped third strike, runner safe at 1st and the run counted. Correct ruling?
-- Tom Sands

"Time" should have been called and the batter ruled out in this situation. Rule 6.05(f) provides that the batter be declared out when "he attempts to hit a third strike and the ball touches him." Rule 5.09(a) provides that the ball is dead in this situation. Rule 6.08(b) also covers your play.

My friends and I play street ball, but we try to play by MLB rules. I have two questions: 1) When hit by a pitch, does the batter have to make an attempt to dodge the pitch? 2) When pitching, what is the rule for making a pick-off move and not balking?
--Sean Lindaas

Rule 6.08(b) provides that the batter must make an "attempt to avoid being touched by the ball" in order to be awarded 1st base.

Your second question is not as easy. The Official Rule 8.05 provides no less than 13 ways the pitcher can balk. Throughout the rule book there are also several other violations for which the penalty is a Balk. At the Major League level, the most frequent balk committed is when the pitcher fails to step directly to 1st base before throwing there [Rule 8.05(c)].

I have recently heard that sometimes on a double-play ball the second basemen doesn't have to be quite on second base for the runner to be called out. Is this true?
-- Mary Mauldin

That is not true. The fielder must be on the bag while in possession of the ball in order for the umpire to rule an out, and umpires are instructed in this manner.

To me one of the craziest rules is that the catcher must make a clean catch (no dropped ball) on the third strike even if it is a called third strike or the batter swings and misses. How did this bizarre rule make its way into baseball? This rule then allows the batter who is technically out to run to first and he must then be thrown out or tagged out.
-- Brent Emery

Odd as it may seem, the batter is out "on strikes" ONLY when the third strike is legally CAUGHT by the catcher (otherwise he is NOT out). See Rule 6.05(b). This rule goes back to the early days of baseball. We are all familiar with the exception to this rule [found in Rule 6.09(b)] when 1st base is occupied with less than two out.

In a recent Little League game, one boy at first decided that he wanted a better reach. So, being a righty, he put his mitt on, and then proceeded to put another mitt on his RIGHT hand. There was snickering from the crowd, until he made the last out of the inning, catching the ball with his right hand. Is this legal? I couldn't find anything indicating otherwise.
-- Shmuel Goldstein

In the early days of baseball, fielders did not wear gloves or mitts. Today the rules allow for a fielder to wear A leather glove (mitts only for the 1st baseman and catcher), so this would not be permitted at the Major League level.

I have a question about a rule I haven't heard of before. In our last game, I hit a home run and when I came to the home plate, my teammates waited there to cheer. Then the umpire gave me out by rule because my teammates were standing in the batter's box. This sounds very strange to me. Are there any rules for the team where they are allowed to stand or not after a home run? Thanks for helping.
-- Uli Vetter, Denmark

Under the rules, players are to remain on the bench during the game. After warning, the umpire may disqualify an offender (Rule 3.17). Often on a game-ending run, players leave the dugout and congratulate the player who has just scored the winning run. The rules cover a situation when FANS run onto the field and prevent a runner from touching home plate. In that situation the runner is awarded the base because of the obstruction by the fans.

First of all, kudos on doing a difficult (but fun) job to the best of your ability night in and night out. Most fans do appreciate your efforts; we're just not as loud as the hecklers. My question is in regards to the old "hidden ball" trick (when the ball is slipped to the fielder, usually the first baseman, during a conference on the mound). If the pitcher no longer has the ball, is he allowed to step on the rubber?
-- Justin M.

With the ball in play, the pitcher is not allowed to step on or straddle the rubber without the ball. The penalty is a balk, as specified in Rule 8.05(i).

Hi, I want to ask you about the rule with the catcher's box. Last year, one Major League team made an issue of it, and then it seemed like every team started complaining. But I have not seen any calls against the catcher for being out of the box this year. Why is it necessary for there to even be a catcher's box to start with cause usually by the second or third innings the catchers have rubbed out the lines. Thanks for your answer.
- Jason

The catcher's box is the area in which the catcher must stand until the pitcher delivers the ball. This is specified in the Official Rules-and has been for many years. As covered in Rules 1.04 and 3.01(b), every Major League club is required to have the lines of the catcher's box laid out prior to the start of the game.

The batter squares to bunt as the pitch is made. He leaves his bat over the plate, but does not make an effort to lay down a bunt. If the pitch is not in the strike zone is it considered to be a strike, if the batter does not attempt to pull his bat back from over the plate?
-- Jerry Knowles

There is no restriction about the batter holding his bat over the plate. In order for the umpire to rule a strike, the batter must attempt to "strike" at the ball (see Rule 5.03 and the definition of "Strike"). We often say the batter has "offered" at the pitch if he attempts to hit it.

Hi. I recently was coaching a game in Little League and one of my players asked me a question about equipment. He wanted to know if he could wear his catcher's equipment to bat. I said that he couldn't but I don't know of any rule in the book that states what equipment you can and can't wear while batting. Can you state the rule in the rulebook that clarifies this? Thank you.
-- John M

The rules specify that a batter must wear a protective helmet, and players who have been injured have on occasion worn helmets with a face bar attached. Players with injuries often wear pads (ankle or elbow, for example). However, the umpire would not allow a player to wear equipment which would cause a travesty of the game. Players must conform (in general) to the appearance of their teammates.

My husband and I enjoy listening to Jim Joyce call a game, but we have only seen him once last year and not at all this year. How is the rotation of the umpiring crew determined? Has something changed since the 1999 season?
-- A. Webb

Umpire crews are determined at the start of the season. Generally a crew will work together throughout the entire playing season. Temporary changes occur, but generally you will see the same crew together through the year. Jim Joyce works on Crew J with and Terry Craft, Bill Miller. Jim McKean, originally the crew chief of this crew, is out with a knee injury, and Jim Joyce is the acting crew chief.

Since we no longer have American League or National League umpires (only MLB umpires), there are 17 crews. Crews therefore go to cities fewer times than they did when there were nine National League and eight American League crews.