Sometimes when rule changes occur or an emphasis is put on a current rule, new mechanics may also come into play. The 2020-2021 Rule Book included a change to the pitcher Taking the Signal rule. A few years ago, the pitcher’s lane was added to the line markings on the field. A few years ago, the pitcher’s lane was added to the line markings on the field. Both of these changes resulted in an added emphasis for base umpires to also watch for a the violation of the these rules.
Pitcher taking the signal
In previous years, the responsibility for illegal pitch calls involving the pitcher taking the signal were the primary responsibility of the plate umpire. Now, that responsibility is not only shared with the base umpire, it may become more of their responsibility than the plate umpire’s. See the article in the Rules Corner/Pitching/Procedures – Pitcher taking the signal for a more detailed explanation of the current clarifications for Taking the Signal. By rule, the pitcher is allowed to take defensive signals while off the plate, so the question is how do we decide what is a pitching signal, what is a defensive signal and why is the responsibility now more on the base umpire?
The plate umpire is watching the pitcher prior to stepping onto the plate but cannot see what the catcher is doing. When watching the pitcher prepare to step on the pitcher’s plate, she may stop or walk slowly onto the plate. There may not be any other visible signs to give the plate umpire enough information to credibly make that call. Simply stopping before stepping on is not illegal. This can be especially true, if the pitcher also stops and properly takes the signal while in the pitching position. That is why the base umpire must now share this responsibility with the plate umpire.
In the past, much of the base umpire’s focus was on the feet, the runners and the batter. Now, they must also focus on the catcher. Is she giving signals prior to the pitcher stepping on? A major clue would be how the catcher makes her signals. If she is using verbal signals and/or are her hands are up and in a position for the other members of the defense to see; this may be considered a defensive signal. If her hands are down and the signal is partially hidden, they should then be considered a pitching signal. If those signals are delivered to the pitcher prior to her stepping on, then a violation of Rule 10.2.2 has occurred.
Prior to stepping on, the pitcher may stop, delay her movement or walk directly toward the pitcher’s plate. Base umpires in all positions must be aware of the situation. When walking the line, they should look for the catcher’s hands being down and hidden from the offense. Off the line, they should be able to actually see if the catcher is providing hand signals prior to the pitcher stepping into the pitching position.
Pitcher’s Lane violation
In 2009 the rule book included the addition of pitching lanes on the field. The 2009 CCA Manual had a write-up which discussed this, and for the first time allowed base umpires to call this violation. The purpose of the new pitcher’s lane is to aid the umpire in seeing when a pitcher steps completely outside the “chute” with her non-pivot foot during the delivery.
Determining that violation has always been the sole responsibility of the plate umpire. It will remain the plate umpire’s job to make that call at all times; however, when a base umpire’s starting position is not on the line, he too, will have responsibility for seeing, determining and calling that infraction of the rules
When to use these mechanics
These mechanics apply to both 2 and 3 umpires systems. It is recommended that in the 3-umpire system with runners on base, the umpire that is in fair territory should have the primary responsibility for making these calls based on the credibility of their position. In the 2-umpire system it may not be as credible to call these when starting on the line. All umpires should continue to judge any violations regardless of position. Being on the line while your partner is starting in fair territory does not relieve you of your responsibilities to make the call. Prior to the pitcher stepping on the pitcher’s plate, all umpires must continue to watch for violations.
Plate umpire: Any time it happens and is seen
U1: Never from the Standard Starting position. Any time it happens and is seen from the counter-rotated starting position
U3: Never from the Standard Starting position. Any time it happens and is seen from the rotated starting position