This article was written for, and was published in Referee Magazine…
Fans, players and coaches are often heard stating “the tie goes to the runner.” However, no rule in baseball or softball has this phrase. A few reputable MLB umpires have stated: “there is no tie; they’re either out or safe!” The last half of that statement is inarguably true; there is no “do-over” (both thumbs up in volleyball). So is it possible to have a tie? If so, how do we make a ruling based on the rule book?
Can there be a tie?
The physiology of the human eye
Time is a continuum; there are no pauses, replays, or fast forward. Real time cannot be divide into microseconds or nanoseconds, although humans attempt to do this by digitizing it. Movies and television are created with digital cameras using frames per second. Have you ever seen an old movie which shows the stagecoach wheels seeming to spin backward – the camera’s frames per second could not keep up with the actual motion? But in the time continuum there are no frames-per-second. Since the continuum of time is an accepted scientific fact, in real time there are no ties.
However it has been proven that the human visual system has its limitations. The human eye and its brain interface can process 10 to 12 separate images per second, perceiving them individually. It takes approximately one-tenth of a second for the eye to see an image and project this to the brain to initiate visual sensation. The visual cortex holds onto one image for about one-fifteenth of a second, so if another image is received during that period an illusion of continuity is created, allowing a sequence of still images to give the impression of motion.
In actual time the ball may go into the glove at a different nanosecond than the runner’s foot hits the base but the human eye cannot process this as two different events. So human beings, with the limitations of our current visual capacity, may see two events on the softball or baseball field happen at exactly the same time – a “tie”. A tie is more than theoretically possible.
Flash and Snap Thud
What about the “Flash and snap thud?” The shortest delay perceptible to the human ear is about 7 microseconds. If the umpire is going purely on sound, there’s a range of about 15ms in which he cannot distinguish the sounds of ball hitting glove and foot hitting bag (from ball 7ms early to ball 7ms late).
Interestingly, that’s less than half a video frame, so the umpire can theoretically distinguish things that the TV will show as a tie (one frame: ball out of glove, foot not on bag; next frame: ball in glove, foot on bag).
By rule, does a tie go to the runner?
All rules for ASA, NCAA, NFHS, and USSSA pertaining to this situation use the same wording. The rule references are in the order of ASA, NCAA, NFHS:
Batter-runner: out when she is put out prior to/before reaching first base (8-2B, 12.4.1, 8-2-2, 8.17D).
Runner/force play: out if a fielder contacts the base or tags the runner before the runner reaches the base (8-7C, 22.214.171.124, 8-6-3, 8.18M)
Runner/tag play: out if she tagged while not in contact with a base (8-7B, 126.96.36.199,3, 8-6-2, 8.18M)