The batter swings at the pitch and while the bat is still in the batter’s hands, the batted ball bounces back into the bat. Or…the batted ball rolls on the ground near the plate area and the discarded bat contacts the batted ball. These are not unusual plays during a typical game and the plate umpire must be ready to make the correct call. There are many factors to consider and very little time to observe the action. Here are some examples and considerations:
The batted ball comes straight back up and hits the bat, especially for a slapper or bunter. This second contact can be immediate – did it actually hit the bat? Where are the batter’s feet?
The ball and bat are both moving on the ground when the ball/bat contact occurs. Should a violation be called or let the play finish?
The ball is in fair territory when it hits the bat. Should dead ball be called immediately?
Plate umpire is blocked out from seeing the batter intentionally throw the bat at the ball. Should the base umpires call dead ball immediately?
When a batted ball hits the bat a second time, the initial judgments should be
Is the bat still in the batter’s hands (one or both)?
If so, is the batter in or out of the batter’s box?
Is the contact with a fair ball or foul ball?
Bat Still in Batter’s Hand(s)
If the bat has not yet been discarded and the batter is within the batter’s box at the time of the bat/ball contact – foul ball.
If the batter is out of the batter’s box, the batter is now a batter-runner. If, at the time of bat/ball contact:
The ball is fair – batter is out, runners return.
The ball is foul, and it is accidental contact – foul ball
The ball is foul, and the batter intentionally contacts the ball with the bat – dead ball, batter is out
Batted Ball and Discarded Bat Make Contact
The normal procedure for the batter is to discard the bat relatively quickly after hitting the pitch. Most of the time the batter drops the bat, but sometimes the batter will use more force while dropping the bat – we will use the phrase “throwing the bat” for this action. So, now let us get into the detail of when the bat is out of the batter’s hands and contacts the batted ball.
The major consideration when this happens is…” did the ball hit the bat, or did the bat hit the ball?” This phrase is common among many umpires. It would be more accurate if this phrase were changed to: “did the ball roll into the bat, or did the bat hit the ball.” If you have not heard this before, it needs some explanation. The general theory is that if either of these elements (bat or ball) is moving and the other one is either stationary or almost stationary; the moving element is most likely the deciding factor.
Ball moving, bat stationary or almost stationary – ball hit (rolled into) bat; no violation, live ball
Bat moving, ball stationary or almost stationary – bat hit ball; most likely a violation
Once the bat is discarded after the pitch is hit, the batter is a batter-runner. It does not matter where the feet are so now the umpire should determine if the ball is fair or foul at the time of the bat/ball contact. In addition, the ruling for this situation depends on how the second contact with the ball takes place.
In determining how the contact takes place, consider the terms in the rule book and note the difference in the wording in the Effect. Notice there is an entire rule section for these type of plays, including a table with details – 11.12. The Effect for this rule has 5 “Ifs” (you should number them in the rule book now if you are using the rule book to help digest this article):
The 3rd If – “…the ball rolls against…”
Side note: with its parenthetical phrase, it assumes the discarded bat is on the ground. See the Case Book play below for when the bat is out of the batter’s hands but not yet on the ground. *
The 5th If – “If the bat…(dropped or thrown), and it hits the ball…”
Note – the word “rolls” is used for the ball only, as that is what a ball normally does with the type of hit which causes this second contact. To determine whether the bat caused the problem, the umpires should judge whether the bat was dropped as it should be (bat is not moving quickly on the ground) or whether the bat was thrown with more force than could be considered “dropping.” If the bat is dropped and the ball is moving, play on. If the bat is thrown and the ball is moving or stopped, the most likely call would be to rule the batter out (the 5th If).
The direction of either element is not a consideration. Always consider the ball’s contact as rolling, as that is what the batted ball is expected to do. If both bat and ball are moving, unless the bat was dropped or thrown with such force that it causes the bat to “hit” (not “roll into”) the batted ball, then the most likely call would be no violation.
Some umpires insist that if the bat is moving in any way when the ball rolls into it, it should be considered a violation. Black-and-white determinations, like this one, which take away an umpire’s common sense and judgment, are dangerous. If the contact between the ball and the almost-stationary bat does not affect the fielder’s action, let the play develop and the players decide the outcome.
Here are the most common scenarios and their rulings:
If the batter drops the bat and the ball accidentally rolls into the bat in fair territory – ball is live and in play. If the ball eventually rolls into foul territory – foul ball.
If the batter drops the bat and the ball accidentally rolls into the bat in foul territory – foul ball
If the bat hits the ball in fair territory (for example, the bat is thrown into fair territory and it hits the ball) then the batter is out, the ball is dead, and no runners can advance.
If the dropped or thrown bat hits the ball in foul territory – foul ball
If the batter drops or throws the bat with the intent to hit the ball a second time (rare), and the bat contacts the ball – dead ball; batter is out. This is true whether the ball is fair or foul at the time of contact
To summarize: if the ball hits (or rolls into) the bat unintentionally the ball is alive and in play If the bat hits the ball a second time the ball is dead, the batter is out, and no runners can advance.
*Case Book play (A.R. 11-18), if the bat is still in the air (falling down out of the batter’s hands) when the contact is made with the ball, it should be ruled that the bat hit the ball. If the ball is over fair territory at the time of contact, the batter is out and runners return. If the ball is over foul territory, a foul ball is ruled unless the batter intentionally hit the ball with the bat.
The entirety of this discussion leads to the fact that the proper call for this play requires judgment, and all the above factors should be taken into consideration to make this judgment. This is not a black-and-white situation.