The check swing has been a topic of importance for the SUP for a long time and umpires are strongly encouraged to keep working on the mechanics of ruling on a check swing as they work on other parts of their game. It has been a topic in the Expanding the Manual section in 2008, 2009, and 2011; and was covered in the Difficult Situations section of the 2012 manual.
In 2009 the SUP (at that time called the SUIP), changed the long-accepted practice – from the plate umpire going to the open umpire for check swing help to always going for help to the umpire who is on the line. This was changed back to the traditional mechanic for the 2013 season -always go to the open umpire for check swing help.
A check swing is the restraining action taken by a batter to stop an attempted hit or slap that puts the batter in jeopardy of a strike being assessed. If the batter is attempting to avoid being hit by a pitch rather than attempting to contact it, check swing does not apply. A pitch should be called a strike when it is in the strike zone, regardless of whether or not the batter checked her swing.
A pitch should be called a ball when:
o The plate umpire is in doubt regarding a check swing or is blocked out.
o If the catcher requests help, the plate umpire shall ask for help.
o If anyone else (on either offense or defense) asks for help, the umpire may (but is not required) to ask for help.
As a general rule, there are four factors when determining if a batter has swung at the ball or checked the swing:
(1) Did she make an attempt to hit/bunt/slap the pitch?
(2) Was the barrel of the bat out in front of her front hip?
(3) Did she roll her wrists?
(4) Did she swing through the ball and bring the bat back or draw the bat back before the pitch arrived?
Check Swing Mechanics
From CCA 2012, page 325; CCA Manual 2011 (Expanding the Manual)
Umpires need to stay alert and aware that during every batter they may be called upon to rule on a check swing. As a base umpire always know when you have check swing responsibilities. It should be a routine portion of you pre-pitch preparation. Have the mind-set that it is an important part of your job. It is not simply an “oh, by the way.” It is a job that needs to be practiced and honed the same as the other jobs required of the base umpire.
Note: From the 2016 Manual -for U3 in a 3-umpire system “With a runner on third base, adjust your position to accommodate seeing your check swing responsibilities. Move farther off the line but face home plate. Do not straddle the line.”
There are several criteria to assist with judging a check swing:
o Did her wrists roll?
o Did she swing through the ball?
o Did she bring the bat back before the pitch arrived?
o Was the bat out in front of her body and in front of the plate?
o Did she make an attempt to hit, bunt or slap the ball?
Note: All these criteria come down to whether the base umpire is convinced that the batter offered at the pitch.
The 2009 CCA Manual went to extended lengths to clarify for umpires how to rule on a check swing. It included these points because too often a swing was being ruled when the batter was not really swinging:
o In order for a check swing to be ruled a strike the batter must be trying to hit the pitch
o If she is trying to get out of the way of a pitch and her wrists roll or the barrel end of the bat flails out in front of her body, she is not trying to hit the pitch.
o In these cases, forget about the suggested criteria and go with what you know. That should not be ruled a strike.
Further, if the batter is so fooled by the pitch that, without actually trying to hit the pitch, the bat goes out in front of the plate or in front of her body and she is able to bring the bat back before the pitch gets there, that is not a strike or an attempt to hit the ball. If she can recover quickly enough she can now take her only legitimate attempt to hit the ball – this is not a second swing attempt.
Longstanding and still valid instruction to plate umpires is that you rule it a swing only if you have no doubt whatsoever. Once ruled a strike, it is a strike forever. If even a slim shadow of doubt exists, rule the pitch a ball, then go get help. You do not have to be asked. If you have any inkling that the batter swung or was unable to check her swing, be proactive and ask a partner.
The base umpire who is in position to rule on the check swing should watch the batter intently as the pitch nears the plate. Use the same flash technique you use for force plays – watch the ball approach the plate and when it is about 10’ from the front of the batter’s box, flash your eyes to the batter. This settles your eyes and gives you a better look at the batter’s actions.
If the ball is batted you will have plenty of time of time to respond; in fact, you may actually see the ball off the bat better. If the ball is not batted, make a judgment (every time) whether you think the batter was trying to hit the pitch and then, whether she was successful in her effort to stop. Doing this consciously every pitch, along with noting when the plate umpire rules a check swing strike and when he needs to come to a partner for help, will hone your own judgment when called upon to assist.
Excerpts from the first NCAA SUIP College Softball Umpires Manual 2006
The check swing mechanic deals with a pitch that is not in the strike zone and the plate umpire makes a judgment on whether the batter swung. If the pitch is in the strike zone, call it a strike – it does not matter what the batter did. Do not ever go for help if you have ruled it a strike.
If the pitch is not in the strike zone, but the plate umpire judges that the batter swung, the umpire should point at the batter’s waist (it does not matter which arm because the Point is a separate and distinct signal from the one that will follow) and say “Yes” or “Yes you went.” Then bring the arm back into the body and with the right arm signal a strike. Do not ever go for help.
If the pitch is not in the strike zone and the plate umpire does not think the batter swung, call it a ball. Do not say “No” or “No she didn’t.”