In a three-umpire system, umpires generally have a more confined and defined area of responsibility and thus have some working luxuries not available in a system with fewer umpires. One of the exceptions to having confined areas is when the opportunity for a full rotation arises. U1 must hustle toward the plate area as the plate umpire moves toward third base, which then requires U3 to take over with calls at both first base and second base.
Rotations are used only when no umpire chases and there are only three times when umpires use the rotation mechanic – full rotation with no runners, full rotation with a runner on 3b only, and partial rotation. Much of the information below is included in the CCA Manual but presented here as an additional way to review the rotation mechanics.
This rotation is used when there are no runners on base or a runner on third base only. With no runners on a full rotation should be used at all times as appropriate. With a runner on third base only, it should be used only if R3 will score without any possibility of a play on her. The general guidelines for these rotations are listed in the CCA Manual but there are a few nuances which need to be covered, so let us dig further into these rotations.
Most of the time a base hit in this situation will not result in a full rotation:
• Plate umpire moves into the infield in the direction of flight of the ball unless a fair/foul call is imminent
• U1 holds the position near first base.
• U3 hustles to 2b
When the base hit is a gapper with a clear possibility of the batter-runner (BR) attempting to advance farther than first base, the fun begins. All three umpires start moving as the BR advances to second base:
• Plate umpire moves to a primary position for a tag play at third base.
• U1 watches the BR touch first base then moves into the baseline in either fair or foul territory; if the BR advances to third base U1 will mirror the advancement by moving all the way to the point of the plate to make any calls there.
• U3 prepares to take any play at second base while reading the play and ascertaining whether the BR will attempt to continue toward third base; if so, U3 watches the BR touch second base and then should open up and watch the play at 3b as a second set of eyes for obstruction and swipe tags.
Runner on 3b only – R3
The rotation for this situation will apply only when R3 will score without any possibility of a play on her.
• Plate umpire moves to the point of the plate, watches R3 touch home and then move quickly into the infield toward the holding area in front of the plate. If the BR approaches second base, move to a primary position at third base and make any calls on the BR at 3b.
• U1 may move into fair or foul territory depending on the location of the batted ball and be ready for a play at 1b if the ball is hit toward right field. If the BR advances to 3b, U1 mirrors the advancement by moving all the way to the point of the plate holding area.
• U3 should read the play and if R3 will score without a play, immediately move straight across the diamond to a primary position for tag play at second base.
The only situational mechanics which apply to this rotation are:
• Plate umpire – if there is a throw to 1b, which is only likely with a hard base hit to the right field area, move to the first base line extended trail position in foul territory.
• U1 – if R3 does not immediately score or U3 has to stay near 3b for a possible back-pick or rundown, be ready to take the BR to second base.
• U3 – when R3 does not advance immediately, stay outside the diamond in foul territory at 3b; as soon as R3 advances look at U1 with the BR. If they are moving to second base, hold position; if the BR reverses direction back to first base, hustle to a primary position at second base and communicate to U1.
Partial rotation – runner on first base only (R1)
The umpires are in the rotated starting position and the crew must communicate and observe their partner’s movement as they are now dealing with two runners approaching three bases and possibly the plate.
• Plate umpire moves into the infield in the direction of the ball and as soon as the batted ball is not caught moves for a primary position at 3b for a tag play.
• U1 may move into fair or foul territory depending on the location of the batted ball and be ready for a play at 1b if the ball is hit toward right field. More likely, U1 watches both the fielder’s and runner’s actions and reads the play, prioritizing R1’s movement. If R1 advances to 3b, U1 mirrors the advancement by moving all the way to the point of the plate holding area.
• U3 should read the play. If there is a play on R1 at second base, make the call. If R1 is continuing to 3b without stopping and when U1 rotates to the plate area, U3 has responsibility for the BR at both first base and second base.
Situational mechanics may play a big role in this situation.
• If there is a high potential for a play on the BR at 1b, U1 must stay with the play until U3 can take over the responsibility.
• If U1 is unable to rotate home, U1 must communicate with both the plate umpire and U3. The plate umpire must recognize the situation and stay at the plate area.
• If U1 is unable to rotate home, U3 must be prepared to take any calls on the BR at second and third base.
At one time the CCA Manual had an additional opportunity for a 3-umpire crew to do a delayed rotation. This advanced mechanic was initially called the Freedom-for-U3 rotation when it was first introduced to college softball mechanics. It is now included in the full rotation with R3 only and is listed above as one of the situational mechanics. In addition, it is listed as a bullet with runners on second and third bases (bullet 2 for U3 on page 251 in the 2023 CCA Manual). Here is the on-time freedom-for-U3 mechanic which is now included in the CCA Manual:
• When R3 does not advance immediately, stay outside the diamond in foul territory at 3b.
• As soon as R3 advances look at U1 with the BR; if they are moving to second base, hold position.
• If the BR reverses direction back to first base, hustle to a primary position at second base and communicate to U1.
One additional note which applies to the 3-umpire rotation mechanic in relation to the home runs hit out of the park – the alternate mechanic introduced in the CCA Manual in 2021 (no runners on base) has been removed from the CCA Manual in 2023. U1 will not watch the BR touch first base and then move with the BR to watch the touch of second base. Thus, U3 does not stay at third base and the plate umpire stay at the plate. We are back to using the full rotation mechanic with no runners as describe above.
Umpires are expected to use the standard rotations at all times until a developing situation requires the crew to deviate from the manual. The situation causing the deviation is most often an unusual play or a player error that the crew does not have enough time to adjust to in the moment using standard mechanics. It may also be caused by an umpire that does not adhere to the appropriate mechanics for a given play, forcing the other members of the crew to adjust. The impact of choosing to deviate from the standard rotation may result in poor or no communication and an inaccurate rotation. Since many plays involving a rotation may result in a close play at the plate, it is imperative that the rotation develop properly. Recognizing that there is an opportunity for a full rotation must be a part of all three umpire’s pre-pitch preparation.
Do not let this happen to your crew.