Be sure to read the other articles which relate to a runner advancing which can be viewed in this same section – Rules Corner/Runners. There are additional related articles in the Rules Corner/Defense/Appeals section- College Appeal Plays; and in the Rules Corner/The Game/Umpires section – Scoring Runs.
Running the bases encompasses both advancing and returning to the bases. If a runner is returning to a base while the ball is in play or dead (except an uncaught foul ball), the runner must touch the base(s) in reverse order. There are a few instances whereby a runner may not run back to a base during a live ball. (A batter-runner moving backward toward the plate is covered in the BR article.)
A forced runner may attempt to return to the base from which they are forced without penalty; example, R1 stops and retreats toward 1b to delay a possible double-play. Note that home plate is treated differently than a base. A runner may not run back toward 3b after touching home plate.
Play: with R1 on 1st base and R2 on 2nd base with one out, B5 hits a double. Both runners cross the plate but R2 misses 3b. R2 realizes her mistake and attempts to return to 3b.
Ruling: The umpires should not allow R2 to return to 3b as a following runner has scored. The run by R1 counts since there were less than 2 outs at the time of the batter hitting the pitch. If the defense appeals the missed base by R2, she will be declared out. If no appeal is made, both runs score. If there were two outs at the time of the pitch and the defense appeals, no runs score.
What happens when a runner misses a base? This becomes an appeal play (review the aforementioned article) unless the base has been dislodged (see below). What if the runner misses a base because of obstruction? This play is sure to create an argument with umpires. There is no exception in the obstruction rule which covers this; therefore, some umpires insist that the base has been missed and can be appealed. But call to mind, the intent of the obstruction rule is that a runner should be awarded the base(s) she would have attained if she had not been obstructed. Therefore, it is reasonable to award the base to that runner if it is later appealed as a missed base, as she would have initially touched the base had she not been obstructed.
This is supported by a Case Book ruling which clarifies and expands on the apparent contradiction with another obstruction rule (9.5.6) which states that an obstructed runner is still required to touch all bases in proper order, or they should be called out on a proper appeal.
Play: With a runner on second base, the batter hits a single. The runner misses third base on their way toward home plate, but decides to retreat to it once they see the throw come from the outfield to the catcher. On their retreat, they inadvertently collide with the third baseman who then receives a throw from the catcher and tags them out. The umpire awards the runner third base on the obstruction. Can the defense still appeal that the runner missed third base in order to get the out?
Ruling: No. The appeal is not upheld because the runner returned to the missed base on the obstruction award. (See 12.10.15)
Liability, without liability, in jeopardy
These terms are common in the rule book and all college umpires should be very familiar with the concept these word/phrases encompass. But some coaches may not have a full grasp of their meanings. The word “Liability” and the term “in jeopardy” are synonymous. The word liability has 86 occurrences; the phrase “without liability” has 13 occurrences; and the phrase “in jeopardy” has 5 occurrences in the rule book. Interestingly, the phrase “without liability” is in the Definitions rule but the word “liability” is not.
Since the definition of the phrase “without liability” is – cannot be put out as a result of a defender’s action, perhaps the best way to communicate this concept to a coach is include the words “put out. Examples: coach, by rounding first base she was in jeopardy of being put out; coach, the batter-runner can overrun first base without liability to be put out.
Whose base is it?
After safely acquiring a base, the runner is entitled to that base until touching the next base or is forced to vacate it for a succeeding runner. Two runners may not legally occupy the same base simultaneously. The runner who first legally occupied the base shall be entitled to it, unless forced to advance.
Play 1: R1 is on first base and R2 is on 2b. On the pitch a double steal is attempted. R2 stops because she sees that she will not attain 3b safely. R2 returns to 2b but R1 is now on the base.
Ruling: neither runner is forced to advance so the base belongs to R2. If the defense tags only R2 while R1 makes it safely back to 1b, no outs are made. If both R1 and R2 are on the base and the defense tags both, R1 is out.
Play 2: R1 is on first base and R2 is on 2b. B4 hits the ball to F5 who is playing off the line. When R2 sees F5 in the baseline she returns to 2b, but R1 is already on the base. F5 tags both runners and both stay on the base and confusion ensues with neither the runners of the defense doing anything..
Ruling: Both runners are forced to advance. If there is confusion and play seems to stop altogether, the calling umpire should hesitate. After a few seconds of no action, good management requires the umpire to declare a dead ball and announce loudly that R2 is out.
A quick review of the difference between the baseline and the base path is important to the concept of a runner making her own base path.
• Baseline: imaginary direct line between any two consecutive bases
• Base path: established path on the infield traveled by the runner who is attempting to advance to the next base.
The baseline comes into play only when:
• A batter-runner goes outside the extended baseline when returning to first base after overrunning it; see the Look-Back rule
• A runner slides out of the baseline or outside their reach of the base they are attempting to slide in order to slide directly at a fielder; see the Collision rule.
The base path becomes most important when the defense is making a tag play on a runner or when the runner is doing something not within the normal intent of advancing.
• Tag play: the base path becomes the imaginary direct line, and three feet to either side of the line between a base and a runner’s position at the time a defensive player is attempting to apply a tag. The runner may not attempt to avoid or delay a tag by running out of the base path.
• Travesty of game: A runner may not intentionally run into the outfield between bases or run through first base unnecessarily into the outfield on a walk, dropped third strike or any batted ball either to confuse the fielders or to make a travesty of the game.
• Runner may run out of the base path or baseline to avoid interfering with a fielder attempting to make the initial play on a batted ball.
Runner leading off at 3b
This brings to mind a play which happens every once in a while. With a runner on third base (R3) and F5 playing up a bit, R3 may take her path back to 3b after a non-contacted pitch by moving directly toward F5. There are only two reasons for a runner to take this path to the base:
1) Attempt to get an obstruction call or
2) Block F5 from catching the throw
Although runners may, by rule, make their own base path, it must be a legitimate base path and not an action which puts them in violation of a rule. On a quick pick-off throw in this situation:
1) A runner cannot be the beneficiary of an obstruction call if the runner initiated the contact
2) R3 could be called for interference for intentionally denying F5’s opportunity to catch the thrown ball.
Returning, Unusual Situations
Returning and running backwards
A runner may attempt to return to a base. Examples include going back to a missed base and returning to a base which was left too early in an attempt to tag up of a fly ball. On this same vein, a runner may not get a running start when tagging up by positioning behind the base and not in contact with the base.
There is one exception but it relates to the batter-runner, who may not step backward toward home plate to avoid or delay a tag.
These two situations are rare but an umpire must be observant and ready to make the correct ruling;
• Passing a preceding runner – for this to be a violation the following runner must completely overtake the preceding runner before that runner is put out.
• Physically assisting a runner – a coach or anyone other than another runner may not assist a runner actively running the bases. Yes, you read correctly…another active runner may assist a runner.
Combine these two situations, the following play should be ruled as legal:
Play: R1 on first base, R2 on second base. On a gapper to the outfield R2 trips over 3b and is on the ground between 3b and home plate. Speedy R1 sees this after touching 3b so stops to assist R2 to her feet without completely passing R2.
Another unusual situation if for a base to become dislodged from its proper position. If this happens an umpire must approximate where the base should be. Any following runner is not required to touch the dislodged base. As long as one of her feet touch the ground in the close vicinity of the base’s proper position meets the requirement of touching the base.