Over the years many myths have developed around the game of softball. One of these is – “the hands are part of the bat.” NO, the hands are NOT part of the bat. Although this myth is an old one, most umpires are aware this is not true, yet we still sometimes hear it from coaches or spectators. Think about it – when the bat was first purchased it did not come with hands on it. The hands are part of the batter’s body!
This ruling is stated clearly in most of the softball rule books. In NFHS and USA Softball, it is part of the Batter Becomes a Batter-Runner rule. In the college book it is listed as the second Note for rule 11.13.
But there is more than the rule which comes into play when this situation happens, as it can often be a controversial call. Award the batter first base? Call the batter back to the plate after she starts running to first base? Call the batter out because it is ruled a swing and the batter had two strikes? Strong mechanics are needed to help convince the coaches you saw what you ruled (sell the call!).
If the pitched ball hits the batter’s hands, it is a dead ball immediately and is treated the same as a pitched ball hitting any other part of the batter’s body. It is possible that the pitch could hit both the bat and the batter’s hands due to the physical nature of a round ball. For this situation take into consideration that the hands are on top of the bat; most of the time it should be ruled either a hit batter or a dead-ball-swinging-strike.
The pitch could also, but rarely, hit the bat first. Again, because of the ball’s round surface it might hit the hands immediately after hitting the bat. The sound of the ball hitting the bat is louder in this situation and often the judgment leans toward it not being a hit batter. Do not assume this, as it is a rare occurrence.
Here are some plays to consider. In all these plays, the plate umpire must take his/her time and let the brain decipher what is seen, what was heard, and how the batter is reacting. See the Mechanics section below for more detail.
Play 1. The batter tries to check her swing as the pitch comes in on her and the pitched ball hits either the hands or the bat. The plate umpire must make two decisions.
• Did the ball hit the hands or the bat?
• Did the batter swing?
If the judgment is that the ball hit the hands, then the batter is awarded first base, right? Not so fast. A hit batter is not automatically awarded first base if she swings at the pitch or she intentionally lets the ball hit her.
Now the second umpire decision (above) comes into play. If it is ruled a swing, then we have a dead-ball strike, and it could even be a third strike. If it is not a swing but it is judged to be an intentional act by the batter to be hit with the pitch, then we have a dead-ball and a ball or strike is given to the batter depending on the pitch’s location. If the plate umpire is not sure if the batter swung or successfully checked her swing, ask the base umpire for help on the check swing.
Play 2. The batter, with one strike, takes a full swing and the ball rolls to the pitcher as the batter stays in the batter’s box and vigorously complains about the pain caused by the pitch hitting her hands. As the pitcher throws the ball to first base for the apparent force play on the batter-runner, the umpire judges that the ball hit her hands and not the bat. This decision will probably get some argument from the defensive coach unless the batter had two strikes, in which case the batter would be out on the third strike. Since it is always an immediate dead ball when a pitch hits a batter the apparent play is nullified, and the batter is returned to the plate with an additional strike being charged.
Play 3. Same as #2 but the batter has two strikes and the apparently batted ball rolls foul. The plate umpire judges the pitch hit the batter’s hands on her swing. Now it is the offensive coach’s turn to argue. This is not a foul ball, it is a dead ball and strike three.
These plays can create difficult calls for the plate umpire. Many times, the action of the batter will cause the hands and bat to be in front of her body on contact. The area where the batter grips the bat is often blocked from the umpire’s view by the batter’s movement to hit the pitch. The catcher can also get in the way. But the pitch hit something…now what?
The umpire must make a call on the action although it is not easy to see over the catcher and around the batter to determine exactly what the pitch hit – hands or bat. This is one situation for which the umpire must use more than sight to help with the call. The sound of a ball hitting a bat is different than the sound of the ball hitting hands. The batter’s immediate reaction can also help to ascertain if it hit her hand. But do not be fooled by the batter who hesitates and then tries to fake her way to first base.
If you are not 100% sure whether the pitch initially hit the batter’s hands or the bat, hesitate…take your time…think it through. Allow yourself time to gather all the information available – sight, sound, your gut feeling, and the batter’s reaction. Then, and only then, come up big and strong with one of these calls:
• Dead ball signal as you loudly declare “Dead Ball!! – that hit her hands!” Then award first base with a strong point.
• Dead ball signal as you loudly declare “Dead Ball! – it hit her hands first; that’s a swing. Strike on the batter!”. When you finish discussing it with the offensive coach and get behind the plate again, give the count.
• Dead ball signal as you loudly declare “Dead Ball!! It hit her hands first; foul ball!” Then, perhaps a second dead ball signal. And perhaps a discussion with the coach..and then the count.
• Point fair ball if you judge it hit mostly bat and the ball is hit fair.