Calling an illegal pitch is the responsibility of every umpire on the field. It requires a good knowledge of the rules governing this violation, using the correct mechanics, and administering the ruling which may involve explaining the options for the violation. The articles for correct mechanics and administering the rule can be found in the Mechanics and Game Management sections of this Locker Room.
There is a separate article in the Pitching Procedures section of this Rules Corner which discusses most of the rules covering the actions which may result in an illegal pitch being called – Pitching Procedures Before Pitch. Here is a summary of all the rules which have the Effect of calling an illegal pitch.
Violations of rules covering the pitching procedure:
• Any violation of the legal pitching position – hands, feet, hips, catcher in position, taking or simulate taking the pitching position without the ball.
• Stride foot moves back after its initial set
• Improperly taking the signal
• Not bringing the hands together in view of the umpire before the windup
• Any violation of the windup rule
• Any violation of the step/stride rule
• Any violation of the delivery rule
• Deliberately dropping, rolling, or bouncing the ball to prevent the batter hitting the pitch
• Improperly discontinuing the pitch (see section below)
Other violations which result in an illegal pitch
• All infielders and outfielders must be in fair territory from the time the pitcher steps on the pitcher’s plate until the pitch is released.
• Throwing to a base from the pitcher’s plate.
When an illegal pitch occurs, it shall be called immediately by the plate or base umpire. The Effect can result in one of two actions:
• If the pitch is not released, give a dead-ball signal and stop play.
• If the pitch is released, let the play develop and do not stop play until a non-contacted pitch reaches the plate or the play has completed
For the latter, one of four things can happen:
• If the batter does not reach first base safely, or if any runner fails to advance at least one base, the offensive team coach has an option – take the result of the play or the standard effect (ball on batter)
• If the batter reaches first base safely and each other base runner advances at least one base, the illegal pitch is canceled and all play stands.
• If the batter is hit by the illegal pitch not swung at, the batter is awarded first base and forced runners advance
• If ball four is an illegal pitch, the batter is awarded first base and forced runners advance
Illegal pitch canceled
Here are a few examples of the illegal pitch Effect results in the call being canceled (second bullet above):
Play 1: Runner on 1b and the batter hits a gapper; the runners end up at 2nd base and 3rd base. U1 calls time and tells the plate umpire that he/she called an illegal pitch. The plate umpire then goes to the offensive coach and says, “there was an illegal pitch called; you probably want the option of the result of the play.”
Ruling: this is not the correct ruling. Effect is very clear: (1) If the batter reaches first base safely and each other base runner advances at least one base, the play stands, and the illegal pitch is canceled.
Play 2: With a runner on 1b only (R1), an illegal pitch is thrown which the batter hits for a double to the outfield. R1 is thrown out at the plate.
Ruling: the base runner advanced at least one base and the BR reached first base safely; the play stands with no option given for the illegal pitch.
Play 3: With two outs and nobody on base, an illegal pitch is called. The batter hits to the outfield and successfully gains 2b. However, the defense appeals that the BR missed 1b. The appeal is upheld.
Ruling: The runner is considered to have possession of the base once she passes it so the option for an illegal pitch is no longer given. The runner is called out and the inning is over.
The illegal pitch rule is one of eleven rules which create an option situation for one of the teams. See the article in the Game Management Corner/General – Administering Option Plays for an in-depth discussion on how to handle the option plays, along with some plays and rulings. Here are the ones for illegal pitch. See the above-mentioned article for other plays; it includes plays for multiple violations which include an illegal pitch.
Play 4: With no outs, 1-1 count, and a runner on 1b only (R1), F1 is called for a leap by U1. The batter hits into a double-play.
Ruling: Time will be called by U1 at the end of the play and meet with the crew. The plate umpire will review with the crew what the options are (result of play – both outs remain, or Effect – resume play with 2-1 count on batter and R1 is returned to 1b). PU presents the options to the offensive head coach (hopefully a no-brainer for the coach), then the PU will reiterate the selection to verify.
Play 5: With a runner on 2b only (R2), no outs and a 3-0 count on the batter, R2 attempts to steal 3b. The pitch is a strike and R2 is safe at 3b.
Ruling: Even though R2 advanced one base, the batter did not reach 1b safely. The offensive coach may take the result of the play (R2 stays as 3b and the batter now has a 3-1 count), or the standard Effect for an illegal pitch (ball awarded to batter and she is awarded 1b for ball four; R2 returns to the base she occupied at the time of the pitch since she is not forced to advance, resulting in runners at 1b and 2b.
Play 6: With a runner on 2b only (R2), no outs and a 3-0 count on the batter, R2 attempts to steal 3b. The pitch is a ball and R2 is safe at 3b.
Ruling: The pitch was called a ball so the batter is awarded 1b. Since R2 advanced at least one base, the play stands and the illegal pitch is canceled, resulting in runners at 1b and 3b.
Play 7: With a runner on 2b only (R2), no outs and a 3-0 count on the batter, R2 attempts to steal 3b. The pitch is a strike and R2 is out at 3b.
Ruling: The ball should be called dead at the time of the out at 3b. Since the batter did not reach 1b safely and R2 did not advance at least one base, the offensive coach may take the result of the play (one out, no runners on, 3-1 count) or the more obvious choice of the standard effect (no outs, runners at 1b and 2b).
Play 8: With a runner on 2b only (R2), no outs and a 3-0 count on the batter, R2 attempts to steal 3b. The pitch is a ball and R2 is out at 3b.
Ruling: The ball should not be called dead until the BR stops at a base with the ball in the pitcher’s possession in the circle. Since the runner did not advance at least one base, the offensive coach will be given an option when the ball is dead. One option will be the result of the play (one out recorded on R2 and the BR wherever she ends up safely), or the standard effect (no outs, runners at 1b and 2b).
An additional wrinkle on Play 8 – if the BR attempted to advance and is called out at 2b, the illegal pitch is canceled and the result is 2 outs and nobody on base.