The basics for appeal plays are covered in this companion article – College Appeal Plays. It would be wise to read that article before reading this one.
PROPER APPEAL PROCEDURE TO AVOID CONFUSION
The two runners on base both appear to have left their bases before the batted ball was first touched by the outfielder who catches the fly ball. Both runners advance and are stopped at the next base. The ball is now in the infield with infielders and dugout personnel yelling to appeal a runner for leaving the base early. There is a lot of confusion.
Is the proper procedure for the defense to throw the ball to the pitcher, who must then step on the pitcher’s plate to put the ball back in play, and then throw the ball to 2b for the appeal? NO – this may be the proper procedure for baseball, but NOT for softball. Because of the confusion, and since all runners are stopped on their bases, the base umpire should call “time” and ask the player with the ball what exactly she wants to appeal. In this case with multiple runners and bases, the appeal must be specific – which runner(s), which base(s)? The same would apply to missed bases. This is a dead-ball appeal.
This proactive action will eliminate further confusion, for example, the defense starts throwing the ball to bases and perhaps an errant throw occurs causing even more confusion. Let’s say the pitcher has possession of the ball in the circle but, before an umpire calls time, the pitcher throws the ball to a base for live-ball appeal. This now allows the other runner(s) the opportunity to advance, probably adding to the confusion. If that were to happen and any subsequent throws go out of play (more confusion), bases are now awarded. Then an umpire can accept an appeal if runner(s) did not correct their mistake(s).
APPEALS AT THE PLATE
Live-ball appeal for missed plate
If the runner misses the plate and the fielder either misses or makes no attempt to tag the runner, the umpire should make no signal, verbal or nonverbal. If an appeal play is made by tagging the runner or touching the plate, the umpire should rule on the appeal.
This is a different mechanic than when the batter-runner misses first base before the throw from an infielder arrives for the force play. This might happen, for example, if an infielder bobbles a ground ball then throws to first base, or in an attempt to get a double-play the throw to first is too late. The appeal on the BR missing must be done while ball is live and before BR returns to 1B. The umpire should make a call – verbalize and signal safe.
Dead ball appeal for missed plate
Here is the Corrected Dead-Ball Appeal Situation posted by the SUP on May 5, 2017:
Situation: The batter hits an out-of-the-park home run but does not touch home plate. How does the defense make an appeal without the ball?
Ruling: The runner can return and touch home plate as long as she has not entered the dugout. By rule, a runner may not return to touch a missed base if she has touched the final base of her award, so the only base the batter-runner can return to on an out-of-the-park home run is home plate. If she has gone into the dugout, she has left the field of play and cannot return to touch the plate. This is a dead-ball appeal. The appeal cannot be made until the ball is put back into the game by an umpire. Once the umpire places a new ball into the game, any fielder (with or without the ball) may ask the umpire to rule on the appeal of not touching home plate. Since this is a dead-ball appeal, touching home plate or tagging the runner cannot be made (those procedures are allowed for a live-ball appeal only).
For a homerun which ends the game, the offense will most likely be on the field celebrating the win. The defense can appeal if they have not left the field; no appeal can be made if the umpires have left the field. How do we administer this appeal if the umpire has no reason to put the ball in play? First, the umpires should give the teams reasonable time for a possible appeal play or protest. Until we get an official ruling, it is suggested we follow this procedure:
• Umpires should check to see if the home-run hitter is now attempting to touch the plate or if any other runners are attempting to touch missed bases; the appeal cannot be ruled on until the runners complete their base running responsibilities.
• If no runners are attempting to touch missed bases at the time of the appeal request, the umpire should put the ball in play per the interpretation – give a ball to the catcher or toss it to a pitcher or any fielder.
• See the Case Book for this ruling – since the runner has completed her base running responsibilities, and by celebrating with her teammates displayed to the umpires no immediate intention of returning to touch home plate, the plate umpire should rule the runner out on the dead-ball appeal.
• If the game is not over, tell the teams the game must continue. Then prepare for a big argument and ejections.
Note: if other runners miss bases during this out-of-the-park home run the runner(s) may go back and touch any missed bases during this dead-ball action until they touch the plate or a preceding runner is declared the third out because of an appeal on this preceding runner for missing a base or leaving a base too soon on a caught fly ball (18.104.22.168.6, 12.10.17).
Physically Assisting the Runner during a dead ball:
An off-shoot of the dead-ball appeal at the plate is the possibility that a team member may be near the plate, see the action and assist the violator in returning to the plate she missed. This was posted on the SUP website on May 5, 2017 – Addendum to Dead-Ball Appeal Situation from May 2, 2017:
“The rule states the runner is out “When a coach or anyone other than another runner who has not yet crossed the plate physically assists her while she is actively running the bases and the ball is in play.” Ruling: even though a coach “assisted” the runner to return to touch home plate, the runner had crossed the plate, she was not actively running the bases, and the ball was not in play. It was a dead ball as a result of the out-of-the-park home run. This rule (assisting a runner) does not apply – the coach is not considered to have assisted the runner, and the runner will not be called out for this action.”
BALL GOES OUT OF PLAY
A runner may try to correct her base running mistakes after the ball goes out of play. All runners must be given the opportunity to complete their running responsibilities (advancing or returning), as determined by the umpire. If after sufficient time the runner shows no immediate intention of doing so, a dead-ball appeal can be made. However, a runner may not return to touch a missed base or one left before a fly ball is first touched when:
• She has left the field of play
• A following runner has scored
• She is standing on a base beyond the base she missed or left early and the umpire suspends play
• The ball is put back into play after having been dead
• On a dead-ball award, she has touched the final base of the award.
Play 1: after an out-of-park homerun, the BR misses first base and while between 2b and 3b, an infielder appeals the missed base. The BR, hearing this, retreats to retouch 2b and 1b and completes her base-running responsibilities correctly.
Ruling: The BR may legally retreat because she has not yet touched the final base of her award. The appeal is denied.
Play 2: the runner at 1b (R1), takes off on a hit and run. She touches 2b and is on her way to 3b as the outfielder makes a diving catch. R1 is between 2b and 3b when the outfielder releases a throw which goes into the 1b dugout.
Ruling: the runner is awarded two bases, but she must return to touch 2b and 1b before she may legally finish her award. Once she touches the final base of her award, she may not return.
THE COMPLICATED APPEAL
There are five types of appeals for college softball, one more than all other codes which are identified in the College Appeal Plays companion article. Three of these appeals are likely to happen sooner or later during one of your games and are typically easy to adjudicate – BR attempting to advance to 2b; missing a base; and leaving a base before a caught fly ball is first touched. These are covered in the companion article. The other two might never happen to you but still need to be studied for the possibility they do.
Runners switching bases
This is a dead-ball appeal after the ball is put back into play after the conference. It must be made before the end of the half-inning, or before the umpires leave the field if the violation occurs in the last half-inning of the game. In the few times this has actually occurred, it was appealed either immediately or the runners were still on the improper bases. This makes it an easy appeal to administer – each runner on an improper base is declared out and ejected; and the head coach is also ejected.
Play 1: Bases loaded with one out. After the conference R3 returns to 3b but R1 and R2 switch bases. R3 scores on a sacrifice fly while R1 and R2 remain on their improper bases. The defense appeals the switching of bases.
Ruling: The second and third outs are made on the appeal, but R3 score counts as it did not involve the violating players and is a timing play. The runners and head coach are ejected.
The complication arises when it is not appealed until after the violating runners have advanced or scored. The rule book does not go into detail if this appeal is made after the runners have advanced, and the Case Book does not clarify the rulings for these situations. We have asked the Softball Secretary-Rules Editor for the following interpretations and are awaiting a reply. It would become quite complicated unless we assume that if the runners have advanced, scored, or are no longer on their improper bases, the appeal must be made before the next pitch. Otherwise, all advances are valid. The following Rulings are based on this assumption.
Play 2: runners on second base (R2) and third base (R3), who switch bases after a conference. With no outs, the batter hits a sacrifice fly and the runner at 3b (previously R2) scores. The runner at 2b (previously R3) stays at 2b.
Ruling: 1) If this is appealed before the next pitch, both runners are out, negate the score and do the ejections, even though one of the runners is now in the dugout and no longer on her improper base; and the other is still on the improper base. 2) if not immediately appealed, the run scores and if the original R3 is still on second base at the time of the appeal, she is declared out.
Play 3: same as above but both R2 and R3 (on their improper base) tags up and advance. Now the original R2 is in the dugout after scoring and the original R3 is back on her original base (third base).
Ruling: Same as Play 1. If appealed immediately, both runners should be called out. If not appealed immediately, all advances are legal. Like all appeals, the defense has a responsibility to appeal at the proper time.
We are waiting for official rulings on these plays from the NCAA Softball rules editor; a mass email will be sent when we receive the rulings advising that this post has been updated.
The other complication with the rule as written is the timing element of appealing this play. How long can we allow the defense the opportunity to appeal? This could become complicated if a few batters have batted, runners have advanced, and now the defense demands that we negate the run which R2 scored a while ago. The offense might argue that R2 is no longer on the improper base so 12.8.3 does not apply. How long can the defense have to appeal a runner who has scored three plays ago?
We have requested interpretations or plays added to the Case Book so we have a better idea on how to administer this appeal for various situations. And we have asked that the rules which govern this appeal be reworded for the 2022-2023 book.
Participation by an improper player appeal
This appeal must be a dead-ball appeal. It does not need to be appealed before the end of the half-inning as the player in question might be participating for multiple innings. At the end of the game it must be requested before the umpires leave the field.
Batting out of order is included in this rule and a smart coach might not appeal it if the improper batter makes an out. The appeal may come in later innings if this batting out of order causes any future batting out of order. Example – C bats instead of B and makes the third out. The defense does not appeal this as they hope that the next time B is supposed to bat, C again bats and gets a hit. This is exactly what happens three innings later; the defense can now appeal this to get an out. C is the next bater.
Likewise, an inaccurate lineup appeal may not be requested until that player is involved with a play which results in an out or gets a hit. An appeal for an improper player has so many possible situations that they cannot be covered in this article. Read the Rule Book for the appropriate sections for batting out of order, inaccurate lineup card, unreported/misreported players, and illegal player.
THIRD OUT APPEALS
Third out appeals are unique because they can nullify runs; the appeal can be straight-forward or complicated depending on the situation. Any time the appeal results in a third out which is a force play, all runs are nullified – batter-runner misses first base; runner misses a base to which she is forced (the status of the runner is based on her status at the time she misses a base).
There are also situations for which runs are nullified even if the third out is on an appeal which is not a force out. The Effect is to declare the out and nullify any runs which might have scored:
• A preceding runner is called out by appeal for the third out, no other following runners are allowed to score on the play
• An improper player who is the batter is called out on appeal for the third out. This would apply with two outs and her violation is batting out of order, inaccurate lineup, unreported/misreported player, or illegal player
Play: With 2 outs and bases loaded, B6 hits an inside-the-park home run. The runner from 2b (R2) misses the plate and the defense appeals when the ball finally comes back into the infield.
Ruling: Because R2 is declared out for the third out of the inning, the runs scored by R1 and the batter-runner do not count.
Things get more interesting when the third-out appeal is made on the:
• Batter-runner for an attempt to advance to second base after touching first base
• Batter-runner for missing a base other than 1b
• Runner for missing a base to which she is not forced
• Runner leaving a base too soon on a caught fly ball (there can never be a force out on a caught fly ball)
When an appeal is made for any of the above situations, a timing play is involved and the umpires must be alert to the positions of all runners during this play. This includes the live-ball appeal of the BR attempting to advance to 2b – yes, a long run-down could allow a run to score if the run scores before the BR is tagged out.
FOURTH OUT APPEALS
The third out does not always result in the end of a half-inning. Umpires may accept a request for a “fourth out” even though a third out has already been made on the just completed play. This typically is caused by a rule violation. Verbatim from the college rule book – “An appeal can be made after the third out.”
In that same rule it is stated that no run shall be scored by a runner who is ruled out for the fourth out as a result of an appeal of a missed base or left too soon. In addition, a Case Book play states the defense may appeal after a third out for an infraction by a base runner who apparently scored (same as rule mentioned above), to re-establish the correct batting order and to obtain an inning ending force out to nullify an apparent score. No runner can score after a runner is ruled out on the fourth out.
Play 1: B6 gets a hit with R2 at second and two outs. R2 misses 3b and scores. B6 tries to advance to 2b on the throw to the plate but is thrown out at 2b. The defense appeals R2 missing 3b.
Ruling: The fourth out is granted and R2’s run does not count.
Play 2: Runner on second (R2) and third base (R3) with two outs. The batter swings and misses strike three, but the catcher does not catch the pitch; R3 scores. F2 eventually recovers the ball and throws to the pitcher covering the plate who tags out R2 also attempting to score (third out). The batter-runner has started toward 1b but thinking the inning is over stops before touching 1b. The pitcher realizes she has a play and throws to first base.
Ruling: The play at the plate is the apparent third out however the defense may appeal after a third out. A dropped third strike is a force out, therefore the apparent run does not count.
How can a batting out of order result in a fourth out? This play is very, very unlikely to happen, but it also makes us think “outside the box” and/or what if it did happen in your game?
Play 3: Bottom of the seventh inning, two outs, tie score. The batter in the sixth spot in the batting order (average hitter but slow base runner) is scheduled to bat, but the coach sends the batter in the ninth spot (fastest base runner on the team) to home plate with instructions to strike out for the third out. The defensive coach notices batting out of order but waits to see the result of their turn at bat.
Ruling: Even though the defense got the strikeout as the third out, the team may appeal batting out of order to correct the batting order for the eighth inning when the tiebreaker was to begin.
As you can see, although appeals may be welcomed by umpires as another opportunity to get an out, umpires need to study these appeal rules in Rule 7 and all the rules referenced in that section to assure a smooth adjudication of the situation.