Baseball rules are confusing

Published 1:00 am Thursday, April 3, 2008

More than once, I have admitted my ignorance about the rules of almost every sport except football. Baseball, of course, falls into that category.

While watching a recent high school baseball game, I (along with many other fans) became confused when a pitch, which had skipped in the dirt, then hit the batter in the ankle. He had tried to avoid getting hit by the pitch.

The umpire awarded the batter first base. Most of us had been under the impression that, after a pitch had hit the ground before hitting the batter, the hit by a pitch rule no longer applied. None of us who were watching the game were knowledgeable enough about the rules to voice any objection, but our confusion was obvious.

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A reading of baseball’s rules (I am fairly sure National Federation High School rules closely follow professional baseball’s rules in this matter) is clear on the matter of a hit batsman. Rule 6.08 makes no mention of the pitch hitting the ground.

It clearly states that a batter, touched by a pitch, is awarded first base, with only a few exceptions. If the batter swings at the pitch, or if the batter fails to try to avoid the pitch, he is not awarded first base.

If the batter is in the batter’s box and makes no effort to avoid the pitch, but is hit anyway, a ball is called. I am aware that veteran high school umpires might have a clearer view of this rule, and I welcome clarification. After 33 years officiating football and 24 years as an alderman, my skin has gotten real thick.

A couple of years ago I wrote about some general misconceptions generally held about baseball rules. Probably the most common is that ties go to the runner. Nowhere in baseball’s rules is the word tie mentioned. A runner is always either safe or out.

The close play at first base is probably where the tie thought originated. That is the toughest umpire’s call in baseball, and the call that is most often disputed. It is always a bang-bang play, and one umpires quickly learn to make in a decisive manner. Accordingly, they must sell their call every time.

Spring football practice (the third season) is winding down at most schools. Many smaller high schools wait until after baseball season to hold spring football practice so more kids can participate.

Mississippi State held their annual Maroon and White game Saturday, as part of Bulldog Weekend. State Coach Croom decided to run the spring game with a shortened format in order to try to avoid injuries.

The game was played with 12-minute quarters and a running clock. The contest actually went into overtime after being tied 0-0 at the end of regulation play. I am surprised Coach Croom allowed overtime to be played, but it actually ended quickly with a touchdown pass. The short football game allowed most fans to attend State’s baseball game, where over 7,700 fans watched State drop a 5 – 1 decision to Georgia.

And, That’s Official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. He can be reached by e-mail at