Calling illegal pitches is an important duty for both the plate and base umpires. In previous years, it was mostly the responsibility of the plate umpire to call illegal pitches for violations involving the pitcher’s preliminary procedures, and the base umpires to call any violations during the step/stride and delivery. The old saying – plate umpire has the hands; base umpires have the feet. That is not true anymore. Any umpire has the authority to call an illegal pitch for any violation by the pitcher during all phases of pitching to the batter. Not only should a crew’s pre-game discussion include a review of the illegal pitch rules, it should include the mechanics for calling the violation and administering its Effects.
This article covers the basic mechanics for an illegal pitch. There are additional mechanics involved with preparing to call two specific illegal pitch violations – taking the signal and pitcher’s lane violation. See the article Mechanics for Pitcher Signal and Lane violations (Mechanics Corner/All Umpires/General Mechanics section) for a more detailed discussion on starting positions and considerations to prepare for this call as a base umpire.
The mechanics for calling an illegal pitch are basic – give the delayed dead ball signal while verbalizing “illegal pitch.” The verbal should be loud enough so that someone from each team hears it, but not so loud that it creates a delay or confusion.
• The plate umpire should verbalize so that the batter and catcher hear it, but not so loud that the pitcher freezes.
• A base umpire should verbalize so that a runner or base coach for the offense hears it at the same time the closest fielder hears it.
The only exception to the delayed-dead-ball part of the rule is when the signal/verbal is called and the pitch is not released such that no further action occurs (e.g. pitcher stops before she delivers the pitch after seeing the signal or hearing the verbal). The plate umpire shall now signal a dead ball, step out from behind the catcher and verbalize “Illegal pitch, a ball is awarded to the batter.” Step back behind the plate and give the count, with emphasis on the ball count. Then, signal and verbalize “play ball.”
What is meant by “…so loud that it creates a delay or confusion”? If the verbal causes the pitcher to react, it is too loud; you have taken away the opportunity for the offense to hit the pitch and perhaps get a better outcome than the standard effect for the illegal pitch. Sometimes the signal will stop a pitcher from delivering the pitch, and there is nothing we can do about that.
Since the illegal pitch results in a delayed dead ball, it is imperative that all umpires keep umpiring until the end of the play. When the play is completely over, the calling umpire must call time immediately and get everybody’s attention:
• If a base umpire called the illegal pitch, move toward the plate umpire; be loud and clear while announcing “partner, I have an illegal pitch.”
• If the plate umpire called the illegal pitch step toward the circle while announcing “I have an illegal pitch.”
Explaining the call
An illegal pitch call is often followed by a discussion between the calling umpire and the head coach or pitching coach. The umpire should prepare for this by quickly reviewing the exact rule verbiage for the situation while observing the offensive dugout. As the coach enters the field, the calling umpire, who should already be moving toward the circle, should meet with the coach close to the circle – often the coach wants the pitcher to hear the explanation.
Let the coach talk first and listen to the exact question; most of the time it is just “why did you call an illegal pitch?” If it is that simple, here are some good replies:
• The pitcher looked at her armband before she set her feet in the legal pitching position.
• The pitcher’s back foot moved back after its initial set.
• The pitcher’s entire stride foot landed completely outside the pitcher’s lane.
• Your pitcher’s pivot foot did not drag on the ground as she delivered the pitch (or, your pitcher became airborne on her initial drive from the pitcher’s plate). That’s a leap which is illegal.
Allow the coach to ask for further clarification. If the coach asks you to tell the pitcher what made the pitch illegal, the umpire must stay until the discussion is over and the coach leaves the field. Explain it again then tell the coach it is time to play ball. Use your EWE game management process if necessary, as this is a judgment call and the discussion must not continue after the judgment is explained.
At this point, the crew must now initiate the protocol for administering an option play. See the article on this Locker Room in the Game Management/General/Managing the Game section titled Administering Option Plays.
Important: the plate umpire is required, after an illegal pitch has been called, to give the count before the next pitch to the batter, unless the Effect or choice of option results in a new batter.