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Psychological Obstruction!

by Dave
Wednesday, June 17, 2009

A reader writes in to ask:

"I was wondering if you might share your thoughts/understanding on interference and obstruction.   I am a coach and league official for 8U softball.   I am trying to figure out how to deal with what is a minor problem, girls standing in the base path when not involved in a play.

For example, a runner is on second, another one on first, and SS is directly between the bases.   The ball is hit to 2B who tries to make a play at third to force out the runner from second.   SS never moves and runner has to go around her.   Does that constitute obstruction?

Another example happens when runner is on second, SS in the baseline again, and ball is hit to 2B who makes a play at first.   Even though there is no play at third, the runner has to run around SS get to the base.   Is that obstruction?"


There are any number of scenarios we could draw up where a fielder stands in the basepaths and, thereby, theoretically forces the baserunner to go around her.   The particular circumstances don't really matter.   There are only three items that matter: whether the fielder does, in fact, obstruct the runner; whether the umpire calls it; and what we want to teach 8s, 10s, etc.

First of all, there is no such thing as an obstruction where the fielder's position causes a runner not to run because she wants to avoid confrontation.   There is no such thing as psychological obstruction!   Obstruction, the act (or inaction) by a defensive player which hinders, impedes, or prevents the opffensively player from doing hitting the pitvched ball or advancing between bases, must actually occur.   This is probably a more important differentiation at 8U where a girl at second might not even go towards third because the SS is in the way.   But if she goes, is forced to go around the SS and is put out before reaching third, at least theoretically, the umpire should call obstruction and award her the base.

The scenarios which the reader presented do constitute obstruction.   Anytime a defensive player impedes an offensive one without making a tag on her (having posession of the ball), that would constitute obstruction.  -; But just because something constitutes obstruction does not mean it will result in a call and even when it is called, there can be no need of enforcing it.

In order for an obstruction to be called, the baserunner must, in the opinion of the umpire, have been able to make it to the next base but for the obstruction.   The umpire sees the obstruction; judges that if the runner were not obstructed, she would have been safe at the next base; calls delayed dead ball by holding out his fist; and, if the runner is put out before reaching that base, awards it to her, negates the putout.

If the runner is not put out, if she gets to the base where the umpire thought she would and is safe there, the call is not enforced since there is no need.   In fact, the umpire will most likely not say another word about it.   Say he/she puts out his hand in a fist and says "obstruction" but the girl gets to the base safely.   He/she will put there hand down and never explain to anyone what it was he called.

More importantly, an obstruction call depends on the umpire seeing the obstruction to begin with.   I don't think I have to tell you that obstructions sometimes occur without umpires witnessing them and go uncalled.   Just like anythihng else in life, if it ain't called, it ain't an infraction.

Further, umpires cannot see what doesn't happen.   So, if a runner is at second when a grounder is hit to 2B and she doesn't go because the SS is in the way, most likely no call will result.   I think it is important to make young girls understand that a fielder standing in their way should never cause them to not run to the next base.   That can be a difficult hurdle, particularly in rec ball.   But we need to make them understand what obstruction is.   They should be taught not to stand in basepaths and, if they are running the bases, to not stop merely because someone is in the way.

Very often at 10U, 12U and, yes, even at 14U we see players unintentionally blocking basepaths.   Say a ball is drilled past the outfielders.   Many times I have seen a third baseman carelessly watching the outfielders retrieving the ball while she is standing right near the bag.   She isn't focused on her position yet because she is not in the play until the ball gets back closer to the infield.   Runners trying to round third sometimes are forced to alter their paths.   Actually, I've seen that at all age levels.   That fairly frequently gets called but often yields no change to the play as the runner easily makes it to third and then home.

Another scenario which can frequently result in obstruction occurs when there is a runner on first, the 2B has positioned herself in the baseline and the runner attempts a steal of second without the 2B noticing.   I see that all the time in 12U.   In 14U, generally girls are more aware of the base stealer.   And this almost never gets called.

I have also seen numerous kids intentionally obstruct baserunners.   There is a local 14 year old travel first baseman who must have been schooled in how to be an aggressive defensive player.   She frequently gets in the way of base runners when she does not have possession of the ball.   She commits other deliberate aggressive acts too but we haven't got time for those today.   In any event, girls mostly shy away from her blocking of the base and umpires seldom call her for obstruction.   This has encouraged her to increase her tendency to obstruct.

I have seen other infielders, particularly 2Bs who appear to intentionally get in the way of baserunners.   They too give off the appearance of having been schooled to play aggressively.   And umpires also seldom call them for their deliberate actions either because they don't see them or because they don't feel the fielder is actually impeding the runner.

It is important to note that deliberate/intentional is not any part of the definition of obstruction.   So it doesn't matter if a fielder is performing a deliberate act or not.   But I mention deliberate obstruction, whether called or not because what this little piece is really about is what we teach players.   And while, for example, whomever taught the first baseman to block the bag without the ball is probably pretty satisfied with the results, my sense is one day they may be forced to rethink that.

Almost every 8 will play 10U ball at some level.   Almost every 10 will play 12U ball at some level.   Almost every 12U travel player will play 14U and a good portion of those will play ball in high school, 16U travel, and perhaps beyond that.   One of my main themes, in case you haven't noticed, is we should always give kids the tools they'll need at the next level.   We don't really want to teach 10s only how to thrive in 10U ball.   And teaching kids to do things like intentionally obstruct or failing to teach kids to get out of the way when they should can have some drastic consequences down the road.

Teach kids not to play 2B in the baseline.   They should be behind it or in front of it.   There's no real reason to be in it.   We're talking about a couple feet either side of the direct line.   The same is true for SS.   For players who cover bags including all the infielders but probably outfielders as well, teach them where to stand, not where not to stand, with respect to the bag so as to not ever be called for obstruction.   And let's drop this notion of teaching "hard nosed defensive play" to youngsters by having them deliberately block bags.   That stuff might yield an extra out or a few outs at 10U or 12U but as soon as girls start playing this game for real, the kid is going to lose some teeth, break a leg, get severly spiked or receive a concussion.

For example, the first baseman I discussed is certainly going to get away with blocking the bag for a few years.   She's a big strong kid.   But soon she is going to find herself playing varsity high school ball in a league which has many Gold players.   Those girls are going to get to know her tendency.   They're going to talk about it and decide they need to teach her a lesson.   Hard nosed defense is going to meet "sophisticated" offense from girls who can play this game at a high level and have seen these kinds of bush plays before.   And whomever taught her this is going to realize it was a bad idea.

Similarly girls who unintentionally or intentionally get in the way of baserunners are going to meet kids who know how to deal with that.   Players talk about this kind of thing all the time.   And many recognize an opportunity to draw an obstruction call when they see it.   The problem is, when girls who can run a 2.9 or 2.7 decide they want to hit that girl because she's in the way, real harm can be done.

As an additional thought, interference, the act of impeding or confusing a defensive player attempting to make a play should also be taught and understood.   The most common scenario in which this is called happens when a middle infielder is making an initial play on a batted ball and the baserunner runs into her.   I watched a game recently in which this happened and none of the players seemed to understand what was being called.   I looked at the coaches for the offensive team and they too appeared to not understand the call.   The coaches actually gave off the impression of being happy when their runner ran into the SS.   I have to think they believed this to be obstruction.   It isn't.   It is interference, the runner is out and the batter-baserunner is awarded first base.

Too many of us think the baserunner is required to stay in the basepath when running the bases.   The only time this is actually an issue is when a defensive player is trying to make a tag.   That is, if a player is attempting to tag you and you leave the basepath to avoid the tag, you are out.   But leaving the basepaths when nobody is trying to tag you is never an out.   So if you are on second and a grounder is hit to the SS, you should go behind her so as to avoid interference.   If she is deep and you cannot possibly run behind her, go in front but do not run over the grounder or otherwise do anything that can cause an umpire to think you caused her to be confused or otherwise impeded her making a play.   That sounds complicated but it is not.   If you do anything that causes her to have trouble making a play, you can be called out for interference.

I don't know if I have ever watched 8s play where the fielders don't get in the way of runners.   I don't recall an obstruction ever being called at such games.   Less frequently the same sort of thing happens in 10U and, again, it is seldom called.   But I have seen as many as ten obstruction calls in a single 12U game.   I have seen fewer in 14U because the girls are more experienced but I think I have seen more injuries due to an obstruction there as well.   In 18U and high school ball, I see lots more injuries from offensive and defensive players colliding.   And girls who deliberately or unintentionally get in the way are often not only the victim, but also get the worse end of the bargain.   So teach your 8s and 10s to avoid obstructing runners.   Don't teach them where not to stand.   Teach them where to stand.   And don't forget to teach your baserunners not to shy away from fielders in their way.   Yes, we all should avoid contact of all kinds whenever possible.   But bumping into the 2B when stealing is sometimes the only way you'll get the call.   In teaching this, d0on't forget to go over interference.   A runner who does not shy away from a fielder standing in the basepaths should be equally cognizant of the fact that if she is making a play on a batted ball, it is you who must stay out of the way.

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Permanent Link:  Psychological Obstruction!


An Apology

by Dave
Tuesday, May 19, 2009

I need to write a public apology to one reader who wrote in to ask what she thought was a simple question.   I over-reacted partly because I harbor some ill feelings on the subject and partly because I am ill with something that has kept me bed-ridden for a few days, missing one of my kids' middle school games, a game in which our high school defeated a top 20 (nationally ranked) high school, the D3 Women's College World Series, not to mention days of work.   I did catch a little of the opening round of the D3 WCWS though since then I have been stuck in bed with what my doctor called a "Horrendous Bronchitis" which I still think is the flu.

(I told the doctor that I had a high fever, sweats, chills, and aches all over my body.   A few minutes later, when I inquired about the possibility of a flu test, he told me there is a shortage of test kits and doctors have been encouraged to only use them when they highly suspect someone has the flu.   I asked him what conditions would cause him to highly suspect someone has the flu.   He said high fever, sweats, chills and body aches.)

In any event, the reader innocently inquired about why she had been prevented from operating a cowbell or airhorn at her granddaughter's KY high school games.   My knee-jerk reaction was kind of over the top, even creepy.   She must have thought me the biggest lunatic to ever have walked the Earth.   Perhaps she is right!

In any event, here is the substance of the question, my approximate response (toned down and altered in substance for readability) and the way I think the issue should be viewed:

The question was, "We were recently told that ... cowbells nor other noisemakers can be used at the KY High School Fast Pitch Games.   If this is true, I'd like to know why?   Almost everyone enjoyed the horns and cowbells, including the players.   The players were so happy, and proud when the horns were blown for them.   They said it made them feel more confident and gave recognition that they had made a good play, or had a good at-bat.   They miss the horns and cowbells and so do we.   Why would the KY Girls High School Softball rules, rule these out?"

I really do not have an answer as I am not all that familiar with KY HS rules or HS rules generally per se, at least not the intricacies which differentiate them from NCAA, ASA, etc.   I am more comfortable with the general concepts similar to all bodies' rules which make them similar.   As such, I have no idea whether artificial noisemakers are prohibited from all high school games generally, or only in select states which have chosen to ban them.   Alternatively, it is conceivable that a single umpire doesn't like them and prohibits their use.   I do know that the NCAA expressly prohibits the use of "artificial noisemakers, air horns and electronic amplifiers."

In any event, I am familiar with the concept under which anyone, absent a specific rule, would still feel justified in banning them and I have to say I fall on that side of the discussion rather than the side which notes "almost everyone enjoyed" them.   Personally, I think at most half of those in attendance or participating in the game enjoyed them.   The other side experienced revulsion in equal measure.

As I said, I have some emotional responses to this very issue.   We play against a travel team which rings a cowbell excessively.   I think initially, it was cute.

A kid got a hit, ring, ring.   OK, no harm done.

A kid stole a base, scored a run, made a nice play, ring, ring, ring.   OK, it must make the player proud(?) or something like that, although, if she isn't already proud of her steal, defensive prowess, etc., there might be a bit of a problem here.   If a kid can't get something out of the game itself and needs to have the world stand still while the tintinnabulation, the gush of euphony, that so voluminously and musically wells, in a happy Runic rhyme, well then, perhaps softball is the wrong kind of game for the kid.

After a few ringy-dingies, the bell began to irritate rather than please.

Runner on first, pitch in the dirt gets by the catcher, bell sounds wildly while the runner heads to second and the catcher, still unable to find the ball, unable to hear the pitcher yelling "left, left, left," finally locates the ball as the runner slides into third.

Then there's the grounder to third with runner on first, third baseman makes a good throw to second but the 2B is slow to cover and the ball sails into right center as we see the RF is late to back up and the ball rolls to the fence.   That lovely cowbell rings incessantly, what a world of merriment its melody foretells, keeping time, time, time as the runner from first, then rounds third and the batter-baserunner rounds second, heads for third.   It continues to ring out its delight as the throw in from the outfield sails over the infielder's head and eludes any other player, the batter rounds third and makes it home without so much as a slide.

Then there's the routine grounder which the fielder misses and which precipitates the rhyming and the chiming of the bells.

Hear the loud alarum bells -
Brazen bells!
What a tale of terror, now, their turbulency tells!

I bet that ringing made the batter feel really special since she can now be proud of reaching base even when all she did was hit a routine grounder.   How does it make the fielder feel?   How does it make the 11 year old first year travel player who was inserted at 2B for the first time and missed her first chance to make a simple play?   Is she proud?   Or does she feel as if the entire world is now familiar with her inadequacy?

I'm going to stop at this point because this is where I got really nasty about the use of artificial noisemakers at softball games.   I suggested that any team which uses such becomes marked by its opponent.   Parents on that team may begin to wonder why it seems that every other team aside from their own is so nasty and unpleasant.   They may be surprised when efforts are expended to learn the identity of the ringer and the number of the player who is related to the ringer.   They may be surprised when another sort of music is played, chin music.

That's right boys and girls, when you obnoxiously use some sort of artificial noisemaker in this kind of a setting, everyone in attendance does not love and adore your musical sounds.   At most, the votes of confidence amount to right about half.   The other half despise your innocent cowbell.   They'd like to ring something of yours but it isn't the bell.   And the other team will likely mark you for its most spirited efforts from that time forward.

Now, to the way in which I think any sort of artificial noisemakers, etc. ought to be viewed under a more strict interpretation of the rules.   Obvi0ously the NCAA has a specific prohibition.   I'm not sure about the NFHS.   I don;t recall whether ASA or other youth bodies have such.   I only know that we have heard some bells wrung in youth travel (ASA, NSA, FAST, PONY) and never have seen an umpire act to put a stop to it.   But that's beside the point because, all these bodies have specific prohibuitions against making any attempt to deliberately distract your opposition.   This is manfiested, for example, in rules against anything verbal done deliberately to confuse the defense.

When, in MLB, A-Rod ran out at 2-out pop fly, ran behind the third baseman who called for it, and said something, it really doesn't matter what he said.   The fact that he said anything should have been enough to require a call of interference from the umpire.   You're not allowed to do that.

Then again, A-Rod never has seemed to have a firm grip upon the nuances of the rules of the game.   I was at Yankee stadium when he infamously tried to knock the ball out of a player's hands during an ALCS game.   At the time, I, being a rabid Yankee fan who was in full froth, was pretty sure it was a legitimate play.   I couldn't see what had happened because I was on the other side of the field but I was sure the ump had blown the call until the next day when I saw the replay.   It isn't legitimate.   The ump made the right call.   You can no more do this than you, as a batter or baserunner, can run into the outfield and do circles around a fielder on a high fly, position a fielder right in front of the plate by the opposite batter's box on an obvious bunt situation, run around the outfield like a lunatic to distract the batter like Jimmy Piersall did to Ted Williams, or for that matter, ring a cowbell while the ball is in play.

I can imagine that an extremely reserved and disciplined person could theoretically restrain themselves enough to only ring their cowbell after the ball is dead.   That one person on the planet, however, does not usually attend youth or high school softball games due to their other responsibilities such as conducting religious services for the other folks in his monastery.   Now that I've said that, I do have to note that in the many, many sporting events I have observed over the years, members of the clergy do tend to be among the more "spirited" fans I have seen.   I'm not sure a religious person would be the right candidate for significant restraint at a sporting event.   Perhaps there does not exist a single humnan being who, while rooting for one side in a contest, can be trusted to restrain themselves so much.   That has probably been the experience of a number of sports organizing bodies including the NCAA.   And, if KY high school softball rulemakers, or the NFHS itself have decided to ban these at all games, I guess I can see their logic.

OK, so that's my rant.   I am genuinely sorry to have been so abusive to the person who wrote me.   I'm a little grouchy these past several days.   I would have liked to have seen Jessica Rhoads of Messiah College pitch another game.   She's really good.   I would have liked to see my kids play school ball though the game I missed turned out to be uncompetitive and there's a few more still left.   I would have liked to watch our local high school in all its glory but there are games still ahead including rematches with nationally ranked teams, assuming they remain so after losses.   I apologize for being abusive.   But noisemakers are not harmless or fun for all.   Your exhuberance in proclaiming them loved by all, combined with a coughing and sneezing fit, made me react harshly.   Please accept my apology.

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Permanent Link:  An Apology


Rule In A Pickle!

by Dave
Monday, August 25, 2008

Substantially revised 8/26

Ed writes in to ask a question about a questionable ruling his team suffered recently as follows:
"Runner on 3B.   After the pitch, she draws a throw from catcher to 3B.   Runner breaks for home, and is caught in pickle.   She heads backs to 3B, then home.   On her way home, catcher is about 5 feet up the line, and in basepath, and doesn't have the ball.   The ball arrives to the catcher a split second before runner runs into catcher, and the runner knocks the ball lose.   Umpire calls runner out for making contact, and tells us she has to slide.

What should the runner do in this situation?   If a) she slides she'll never reach home; b) she runs around the catcher, she's out of the basepath; and c) she runs into the catcher, she's out for interference.

These are 14 y/o girls, playing ISA rules."


Before we begin looking at this, I want to address an issue contained in Ed's question.   One of the alternatives Ed proposes is "b) she runs around the catcher, she's out of the basepath."   I know we've discussed this before but, in case you missed it, running in the basepaths is not a golden rule - all runners do not need to always be in the basepaths.   The only time one should be called out for failing to remain in the basepaths occurs when a runner leaves the paths in order to avoid a tag.

In practice, this rule can cause you trouble, particularly in pickles (run downs).   I have never seen an instance in which a pickled runner leaves the basepath and in which she was not called out specifically for that reason.   I've never seen an instance in which the ump called her safe after she left the basepaths and then, when the defensive team argued the call, the ump told them she left the basepaths in order to avoid contact.   So, I do not believe this is an effective alternative.   Still, what else are we left with?   If she slides, she will never reach home and definitely be out.   So let's look at what did happen and how the rules should be applied.

The ISA rulebook is available online here: ISA rulebook, pdf file.

To begin with, as a general softball matter, fielders are not allowed to stand in baselines, blocking oncoming runners, unless they are in actual possession of the ball in most kinds of play including Pony, NSA, ASA, etc.   That constitutes obstruction.   However, ISA seems to be a little different than other bodies in regards to this issue.

ISA rules state:

"RULE 7 - BATTER-RUNNER AND RUNNER

Section 6 - Runners Are Entitled To Advance Without Liability To Be Put Out.

B. When a fielder, not in possession of the ball, not in the act of fielding a batted ball impedes the progress of a runner or batter-runner who is legally running the bases."

There is no precise discussion of fielders and runners involved in a pickle or a fielder in the act of catching a thrown ball being allowed to block a base here.   Essentially, if a fielder impedes a baserunner while not in possession of the ball, it looks like she committed obstruction.

However, Rule 7-6, B(4) states:

"If a defensive player is fielding a thrown ball and the flight carries or draws them into the path of the base runner, then it would not be constituted as obstruction."

So, while a fielder apparently has no right to stand in the path of the baserunner while not in actual possession of the ball, should the throw cause her to get into the baserunner's path and cause her to impede the baserunner while trying to catch the ball, that is an exception to the general rule.   In this case, it would seem that the catcher is in the runner's basepath, impeding her, while trying to catch a throw.   The throw didn't draw her into the baseline.   She was there anyway.   But, it can be argued, the throw drew her into the basepath.   That's the way the umpire would probably see it.   But in this case, it turns out that doesn't matter either with respect to the call the ump did make.

A further examination of obstruction rules reveals something else.   There used to be a provision in almost every rulebook which stated that a fielder "in the act of catching a throw" could not be obstructing a baserunner.   Many, if not most, rulebooks did away with this a while ago.   These rules were changed to require the fielder to be in possession of the ball or risk being called for obstruction.

I remember sitting in a Pony Nationals manager's meeting maybe a year or two ago and being told to go back to our hotels and discuss obstruction with our players.   The UIC told us that a fielder must have actual possession of the ball or would be called for obstruction.   He noted that the rule no longer contained anything about "in the act of catching a throw."   He insisted this change would be rigidly enforced.   Of course, the next day, that precise situation occurred and our runner was called out!

But ISA rules regarding obstruction contain the following:

"Rule 8 Base Running

Section 5 Base runners are entitled to advance without liability to be put
out:

B. When a fielder obstructs a base runner from making a base, unless the fielder is trying to field a batted ball, has the ball ready for a tag or is about to receive a thrown ball."

This provision is obviously inconsistent with what I just said and permits the catcher to be exactly where she was.

(Let me give proper credit here.   When I first wrote the piece, I missed this aspect.   I thought ISA had adopted the rule change to remove the "in the act of catching a throw" exception to the obstruction rule.   My error was pointed out by Jeff who often writes to discuss points with me.   Thanks Jeff.)

So, if the catcher was allowed to be in the baseline, if she couldn't be called for obstruction, because she was "about to receive a thrown ball," then I suppose we would have to look further and then ascertain whether the runner should maybe be called out.

In this case, the umpire claimed that the runner was out because "she didn't slide."   It is fair to say that most of us have seen this call many times.   I get confused by it however when I look to the rules.   The general concept is what is known as the "collision rule."   ISA rules on the issue are:

"Rule 8, Section 8 - The base runner is out:

T. When a defensive player has the ball and is waiting for the runner and the runner remains on their feet and deliberately, with great force, crashes into the defensive player; the runner is declared out.   EFFECT: The ball is dead and all other runners must return to the last base touched at the time of the collision ..."

In the case we are examining, the umpire called the runner out because she didn't slide.   The "runner remains on their feet" clause is the only place you are going to see any implied or other reference to a requirement to slide.

I get annoyed when umps invoke a "requirement to slide."   It is always applied against me and never invoked in my team's favor!

I have heard the requirement to slide expressed many times.   I have asked a number of umps about it and never received an adequate reply.   Off the field, after games, what many of them will tell me is that sliding creates a presumption that the baserunner has done everything in her power to avoid contact - the collision rule does not operate then.   They may refer to the rule noted above or another like it, depending on the type of play, and claim that it is their judgment whether the runner would have been out but for the collision.   When you point out that the "on her feet" rule only applies when she is obviously out, you usually get shrugs and/or a desire to end the conversation.   I have rarely seen a consistent application of this particular aspect of the collision rule.   And, as I said, it semes like it is always applied against me, never for me.

A few years back, we had an argument with ASA umps on a force play at home.   Bases were loaded, a grounder was dribbled back to the pitcher who fielded it, bobbled the ball slightly and then made a shuffle-pass to the catcher standing on the plate.   The runner collided with the catcher who dropped the ball, possibly as long as half a second, maybe a little less, after she had caught and held it.   The umpire called the girl safe at home.   Somebody yelled, "she has to slide."   That raised the hair on my arms and the back of my neck but not as much as the response from the baserunner who yelled to the crowd, "I don't slide!"   This was a 16 or 17 year old girl who was a decent high school player and had at least 5 years of ASA tournament experience under her belt.   The umpire had actually been a guy who had previously told me that runners have to slide always!   Presumably they don't have to slide on force plays?   Contact is permitted on those?   Even when the runner is obviously out?

Clearly when the ball arrives to the base before the runner, is held, however briefly, by the fielder, and is dislodged as a result of the contact, the runner must be called out.   That is precisely what the rules envision.   Runners are not allowed to purposely dislodge balls.   She would have (obvious to anyone besides the ump) been out but for the collision.

But I digress.   The bottom line is the typical major league play in which the big guy rounds third, heads for home, the catcher awaits his arrival with ball in hands, and teeth gritted, is something we try to avoid in softball, something prohibited by the rules of the game.   It may be great theatre in baseball but there are so many injuries caused by it, sometimes career threatening, that we should leave this sort of thing to other sports like roller derby.   In fastpitch softball, you can't run down a catcher who is holding onto the ball long before you arrive.

However, more to the circumstances in the initial question, ISA rules also contain the following provision:

"Rule 7-6, B(5) If the ball, runner and the defensive player all arrive at the same time and contact is made, the umpire should not make the collision rule [interference or obstruction].   This is merely incidental contact."

Based on that, it seems pretty clear the umpire's ruling was erroneous.   The phrase, when a runner is obviously going to be out and makes contact "while remaining on their feet," implies that a slide is necessary (though only when she is obviously going to be out).   And in a pickle situation, it is hard for me to see that she would "obviously" have been out.   "Obvious out" is in the eye of the beholder.   Most umps fail to apply this conjunctive part of the rule.   They want runners to slide, period.

Still, pickles should be different especially when fielders block the basepaths and umps are going to call runners out the moment they step outside the basepath.   It is one thing if the throw arrives and the runner drives into her in an apparent attempt to knock the ball out.   But when there is incidental contact, the collision rule should not apply.

In retrospect, not being at the particular game, I would guess the umpire in his or her judgment made the ruling based upon the runner staying on her feet reagrdless of the ball arriving at about the same time.   He or she applied the rule different than it is expressed in the actual rulebook.   But, I suppose that arguing the call, with rulebook in hand ,would not change the outcome except, perhaps, by making you observe the remainder of the game from the parking lot.   I doubt if any dispassionate further analysis would have persuaded him or her to Ed's way of seeing things.   Many umpires, regardless of the rules under which a contest is played, insist that there is always a requirement to slide.

When an ump invokes the rule where the runner is too far from home (or another base) to be expected to reasonably slide and still make it to that base, this really bothers me.   And when such a ruling is made in a kind of play which specifically makes the collision rule inapplicable due to everybody coming together simultaneously, that really gets me juiced.

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Permanent Link:  Rule In A Pickle!


Rule Clarification - Running Lane Violation

by Dave
Saturday, May 31, 2008

I'm posting this for the benefit of John Kruk and the others calling the UCLA vs Florida elimination game being broadcast right now.   I've been over this territory before in a post called "You Make The Call" so I don't want to waste anyone's time rehashing the rules verbatim.   Basically, a batter-baserunner running to first is required to be within the "3 foot lane" from a point 30 feet from first.   Halfway to the bag, you have to be in the little lane created by the foul line and the other unexplained white line running parallel to it.

(Remainder of the original posting has been removed.)

Correction:

Originally I had posted here that because the chalk foul line is actually located in fair territory, if you run to first while landing your feet on the foul line, you might be considered to be running outside the 30 foot running lane between home and first.   As one reader pointed out, that's not quite correct.

The NCAA is actually a bit more specific on the subject.   The rulebook states: "The batter-runner is considered outside the runner's lane if either foot is in contact with the ground and is completely outside either line."

My understanding of a batter-baserunner being out of the base path to first has now been corrected.   And I, like Kruk and the other announcers of that game, am completely confused by the ump's call.

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Permanent Link:  Rule Clarification - Running Lane Violation


You Make The Call

by Dave
Sunday, May 04, 2008

One of my favorite "shorts" on televised NFL football games is the one where they show you a play and "you make the call."   I wish I had softball video for the following but I don't.   Let's see if my words do it justice.

Batter hits a pop-up along the first baseline and runs towards first.   First baseman calls "I got it" and attempts to make a play.   Batter-baserunner continues towards first running hard right on the baseline, contacting the chalk with each foot in sequence.   Batter-baserunner approaches fielder still stepping on the chalk with each foot.   First baseman, standing completely in fair territory, reaches up to catch the pop-up but as the two players come together, there is a moment during which the batter-baserunner appears to make some slight contact with the fielder who, about a quarter to a half second later drops it into fair territory.   Immediately following the play, there are tons of catcalls from fans along both sidelines.   On the defensive team's side, folks yell "interference!"   On the offensive team's sideline, they yell "she was in the baseline!"

Just to properly set the stage - this is a pretty big high school game, under the lights, on a Saturday night.   Emotions are very high.   Both teams have filled their respective benches with JV players to support the varsity girls.   Both benches are very loud.   Additionally, there are 200-300 fans in attendance.   Every major player in the county is here watching.   There has been yelling on every pitch beginning with the first one.   Every call has been questioned by someone.   Every "out" has raised screams of pain from one side or another.   To this point of the season, you have not officiated a game which is anywhere near as intense as this one.

Both teams are relatively young.   There aren't a half dozen seniors starting.   Yet almost every girl starting on both teams has played this game at the highest levels.   At least half these girls have played ASA Gold or showcase ball before college coaches.   The other half will probably do so within the year.

There will not be many runs scored here.   Baserunners will come at a premium.   There may be as few as a half dozen baserunners for the entire game for both teams combined and this very well could go into ITB.   That's not to say these girls can't hit.   Several in this game are hitting at, near or above .500 against other teams.

The pitcher for one team has allowed no earned runs this year.   The pitcher for the other team sports a sub-1.00 ERA and hasn't given up a run in recent memory.   Both girls are throwing in the 60s with good movement and location on their pitches.

Small ball is coming into play as the two teams try desperately to get a runner on and move her along.   Whichever team gets a runner past first, over to third and across the plate first, is going to win.

These conditions should not impact your call, but let's face it, stress is stress and human beings are human.   Whatever you decide to call, somebody is going to be unhappy.   If you make a bad call, people will be talking about it for years and asking you about it for just as long.   The next time you make a questionable call in any game, somebody there will have seen or heard about the call you made here.   They will inevitably remind you of tonight's call.   Now:

You make the call!

We'll make this just a little easier (if that's possible) by providing some possible considerations.   You could call:

1) Obstruction by the fielder who was blocking the baseline without having possession of the ball.

2) No call - the batter-baserunner stayed completely in the baseline and, therefore, had a right to be where she was.   She couldn't have interfered because she was making an ordinary effort to just get to base while not leaving the baseline.

3) Interference by the runner who did not allow the fielder to make a play.

4) No call because the runner either did not make contact or made such light contact that it couldn't have impacted the fielder's attempt to make a play.   Alternatively, you might think contact did occur but that the fielder either had no chance to make the play or the runner was so far beyond the fielder when the ball came down that no call should be made.

I won't go straight to the call the ump actually made.   That would be too easy, totally unsatisfying, and provides no instruction.   Instead, let's analyze what happened on the play and how that might be viewed within the context of the rules of the game.

First of all, the notion that a fielder can obstruct a runner while in the act of fielding a ball is wrong.   A fielder can obstruct a runner while not in possession of the ball or while awaiting a throw but not while she is attempting to make an initial play on a batted ball.   The first baseman has a right to make the play whether she is in fair or foul ground.

Secondly, a baserunner has almost no more right to be in the baseline than the batter has to be in the batter's box.   Having said that, I realize perhaps some of you do not realize that the batter does not have a right to the batter's box.   The rules read something like the "batter's box is not a sanctuary."   In other words, if there is a wild pitch or passed ball while there is a runner on third, the batter must get out of the way and permit the defensive team to attempt to make a play.   She cannot simply stand in the box and then, when she is called for interference, claim "but I was in the box."   Well, I guess she could but the ump won't agree.

A few years ago, I observed a play on which a runner from second stole third, the catcher threw towards the base, but the ball hit the batter, standing like a statue in the box, in the helmet and bounded out of play, thereby allowing the runner, now at third, to advance to home.   I didn't understand the rules when I observed that play and thought the umps had made the right call.   In the newspapers, the batter noted that long ago she had learned when there is a play going on while she is at bat, she should stay in the batter's box and that way she can't be said to have caused any interference.   I assure you she is wrong.   The batter's box is some sort of absolute sanctuary.

The batter has a duty to get or stay out of the way of fielders making a play.   The only benefit of staying in the batter's box is that the umpire more or less has to read the batter's mind and determine if she is intentionally interfering.   Intention has bearing in this case and no other.   In most other types of interference including our case today, it can be "intentional or unintentional."   So our runner to first's intentions don't bear any weight at all.

Runners are not really "entitled" to the baseline.   The baseline is an area a baserunner cannot leave while attempting to avoid a tag but it is not the exclusive domain of the offensive team.   For instance, let's say there is a runner on first and the batter hits a groundball at the second baseman.   The runner from first, advancing towards second as she must on the play, is not entitled to the baseline.   If the fielder is standing in the baseline awaiting the ball, the runner must allow her to make the play.   If she contacts the fielder before the ball gets there, she will be called for interference.   If, on the other hand, she goes around the second baseman and gets past her before the ball gets there, you will never see her called out for "leaving the baseline."

Let's think about this for a second.   When have you ever seen a baserunner called out for leaving the baseline.   My guess is the only time you have ever witnessed that occurred where there was a tag play on the runner.   For example, let's say you are at a field where there is no outfield fence and the batter hits one hard in the gap.   She ends up legging out a homerun.   As she approaches first, she will most likely balloon out her running path well beyond the "running lane" (we'll get to that in a minute), turn and head for second.   As she approaches second and then third, she will again balloon out, usually well outside the baseline, round the bag and head for the next base.   When have you ever seen an umpire hold up his or her hands and announce that the batter-baserunner is out for leaving the baseline?   It doesn't happen and it shouldn't happen.

The only time the runner should be called out for leaving the baseline occurs when she does so to avoid a tag or to interfere with a play.   Most rulebooks I have consulted only refer to the baserunner being out for leaving the baseline "to avoid being tagged out by the fielder."   Conversely, most rulebooks also provide, the baserunner is not out when she "runs behind or in front of the fielder and outside the base line in order to avoid interfering with a fielder attempting to field the ball."

So, had the batter-baserunner ballooned out on this pop-up, she should not have been called out for running outside the baseline.   Any ump who would call a runner out for leaving the baseline when she did so to avoid contact would be ... um ... wrong.   Runners are obligated to go above and beyond to avoid contact.   That's within the letter of the rulebook for all competitive softball.   It is also the virtual embodiment of the spirit of the rules of the game.

There is a related play which I think we should discuss, however briefly.   Last year, in a MLB game, the New York Yankee's Alex Rodríguez was running towards third on an infield pop-up.   As he approached the third baseman, he supposedly said something, exactly what has been questioned extensively.   Some said he yelled "I got it" whereupon the third baseman backed away from the play and the ball fell to Earth.   A-rod denies he said "I got it" and instead said something else which, while not overtly intended to confuse the defensive player, was kind of, sort of intended to confuse him.   I believe A-rod also added something like "hey it's a part of the game, I can't tell you how many times I have gone for a pop-up and somebody yelled something like that."

I don't know MLB rules on the subject but I do know absolutely that you can't do something similar in a fastpitch softball game.   The offensive team is not allowed to do or say anything which is intended to confuse the defensive team.   For example, a base coach, baserunner, or player in the dugout cannot yell "I got it," "ball, ball, ball," or "miss it" in an attempt to get the fielder to make an error.   In fact, fans cannot do that either.   It is interference and such a play should not stand.   That's because the way the rules are currently worded, interference is defined as "the act of an offensive player or team member which impedes or confuses a defensive player attempting to execute a play."   For more on what fans cannot do, see rules under "fan interference."

So the baserunner is not "entitled" to the baseline and there are strict limitations on what an offensive player, coach or even fan can do when a batted ball is in the act of being fielded.   What we're left with is either interference or no call.

Before I go on, let me say that generally any contact, no matter how light, is usually considered cause for an interference call and well it should be.   The fact is light contact is easily as distracting to a fielder as a runner knocking her down.   The reason is the fielder, anticipating contact and then feeling what seems like the first touch of what is going to be a collision, necessarily believes she should go into personal protection mode.

There really is no such thing as slight contact.   There is such a thing as incidental contact but that says nothing about the intensity of the contact, rather it refers to contact that couldn't really be avoided.   In this case, I told you the batter-baserunner "appears to make some slight contact."   Degree doesn't really matter so the question is whether there was any contact at all or she otherwise interfered with the fielder.

Also, I told you the batter-baserunner's feet were stepping on the chalk baseline as she headed for first.   I don't see it discussed very much but there is something we should at least mention.   Many people see the lines on the field and wonder what some of them are about.   There is the coaches box which usually does not contain a coach.   The rules say they should stay there but seldom are these rules followed by base coaches.   Then there is that funny, seemingly out of place line which goes from first to about halfway to home in foul ground.   Nobody seems to fully understand what that is for.

I'm not being snotty or self-righteous here.   It's just my experience that most people I have discussed this with don't seem to understand what that line is supposed to be for.   That line is referred to as "the three foot line."   In baseball, I think it is called the "restraining line."   The line is drawn exactly three feet from the first baseline, beginning exactly half the way from home to first.   Normally the legal baseline for a baserunner or batter-baserunner is the area extending out three feet on either side of a direct line between bases.   the one exception to this rule is the area thirty feet from home along the first baseline.   There the batter base-runner must stay in foul ground on her way to first - she must stay between the lines drawn, the foul line and the "three foot line."   if she leaves that and is hit by a throw, say from catcher to first, she can and should be called out for interference.

As a minor point, I cannot exactly find this next small aspect exactly discussed anywhere but I arrive at my opinion via deduction and, in the end, I believe it won't matter anyway.   I told you that the batter-baserunner was running down to first with her feet landing on the chalked baseline.   The question is, was she within the "three foot line" or not.   I haven't seen this precise topic discussed but let's start out by saying the foul line is not really the "foul" line.   It is clearly the "fair line."   That is, the chalk or whatever material which makes up the so-called "foul line" ir in fair territory.   My understanding is the running lane to first is supposed to be exclusively in foul territory.   So technically, the runner was out of the baseline!   But I don't think this matters because whether she is in or out of the baseline, whether she is where she is allowed to be or not, has no bearing on whether the call should be interference.

It is also irrelevant whether the batted ball dropped into fair or foul territory.   The fielder has just as much right to field a foul pop-up without interference by the batter-baserunner as she does a fair ball.   Had the first baseman been standing on the bag or straddling it while trying to make a catch, the baserunner could not step onto or slide into the bag and then complain that she didn't interfere because she just has to get to first if the ball is dropped.   The fielder has right of way, if you will.

I need to tell you what the ump called in this case and then see if I can bring this to a conclusion.   First of all, the ump made no call and the play was allowed to stand.   the defensive coach screamed his lungs out at both umps and then left the field.   The field ump who was the only one who could make the call, said, "I did not see any contact."   At the time, everyone, including yours truly, pretty much shut up and accepted this explanation.   But in hindsight, this isn't right.   There is no place I can find where contact is a necessary element of interference.   Contact would require a call of interference but I do not believe the absence of contact dictates no call of interference.

As we said, the batter-baserunner was possibly not running within her lane since she was in fair territory.   And she did not make any attempt to avoid interference.   She could have run 5 or 10 feet to the side of the first baseman and completely avoided any chance of being called for interference.   She didn't and I believe based on these facts alone, interference should have been called.

Just to conclude this discussion, let me tell you that I was in a better position than the field ump.   I was standing about 15-20 feet away from the first baseman, obviously I was off the field and out of play.   There was contact made between the batter-baserunner and the fielder.   In fact, there is no question that this constituted interference, none whatsoever.   I was a little shocked that the ump did not see the contact.   It wasn't all that slight.   But be that as it may, no runs scored in that half inning so the play made no difference.   Still, I would advise coaches to teach their runners about this pretty arcane aspect of the game and tell them not to worry about running outside the baselines when avoiding contact with a player making a play on the batted ball, at least within reason!

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Permanent Link:  You Make The Call


Distractions

by Dave
Monday, April 21, 2008

I'd like to talk about a subject today which is somewhat uncomfortable and about which there is likely to be some disagreement.   It involves player conduct during a game and a more or less infrequently invoked point about the rules of the game.   The issue is about the borderline between good old fashioned cheering and good old fashioned heckling, particularly of the batter.

I was watching a Friday night baseball game between two rival schools when I witnessed something I'd never seen nor heard before.   The schools definitely don't like each other.   They're located in the same town.   They play in the same division of a larger conference and have about the same records within that conference.   Neither team has a realistic shot to vie for the title of their division, the overall conference, the county, or respective state divisions.

Still, emotions were extremely high.   It was Friday night, after all.   Several hundred people stood along the sidelines.   The game was important to both teams from an emotional point of view.   And from the very first pitch, the cheering was spirited to say the least.

The element of the game which I had never witnessed before came from the dugout of one of the teams.   This was, of course, a varsity game but neither the freshmen nor JV teams had games at the same time.   So both benches were populated with many more players than usual.   The one team was extremely loud about their cheering and that's to be expected.   But what I saw, what I didn't like, one reason for this writing, is one team was riding the pitcher in a manner which was blatant, rude, and uncalled for.   They did the same thing to batters when their defense was in the field.

The razzing involved a series of cheers which were quite obviously intended to throw the pitcher's rhythm off rather than pump up their team's batters, and vice versa.   I don't know how to describe it in words but it was organized, loud, constant, and clearly not about "cheering."   There were a number of words from the foul language dictionary which were used in this razzing.   The words were yelled in two syllables with one or two consenants changed so that the words would not be spoken (yelled) precisely but they were clearly audible.   It was obnoxious, uncalled for, rude, profane, very much bush league, and probably illegal.

I spoke with the father of one kid from the opposing team and he said, "our kids would never engage in such a thing.   They don't do that ... ever.   They wouldn't, they couldn't.   If they started to, the seniors would put a stop to it immediately."

But enough about baseball - by the way, the team which did not engage in profane razzing won the game.

I mention this story really as a peripheral way of bringing up a related topic in fastpitch softball.   I was at a "friendly" the very next day when the subject came up.   I was talking to another parent from our team during a lull in our game.   She looked out at an adjacent field and noticed something the team in the field was doing.   She claimed the fielders were all moving before the pitch was released in order to distract the batters.   I never saw that happen.   I think she was mistaken.

She went on to tell me about a team her daughter had been involved with which engaged in such a deliberate practice.   The girls would all assume a ready position well before the pitch, stand still and then right before the pitcher released the ball, they would all take a synchronized step to the left or right (as predetermined) in order to "cause the field to move" and, thereby, distract the batter.

I replied to the parent, "that sounds like an interestintg strategy but it also happens to be illegal."   She became upset with my attitude of superiority and demanded that I show her that in the rulebook.   I don't walk around to my kids games with rulebooks at the ready unless I am coaching.   At this "friendly" I was not a coach.   So I told her I would have to get back to her.   I think she gained comfort from the fact that I could not produce the rule right there and then, on the spot.   But I did provide that rule for her as soon as I returned home at the end of the day.   It was easy to find.

We play a lot of Pony (Protect Our Nation's Youth) so the easiest thing for me to do was find it in the Pony rulebook.   (My several rulebooks are over there someplace underneath that pile of piles of material!)   Pony Rule 7, Sec. 7 reads:
"Note: It is an illegal pitch if a fielder takes up a position in the batter's line of vision or, with deliberate unsportsmanlike intent, act(s) in a manner to distract the batter.   A pitch does not have to be released.   The offending player shall be ejected from the game and an illegal pitch shall be declared."


Anticipating her objection of my use of the Pony rulebook, I decided to check and see what other rulebooks say.   As an aside, the next day I was involved with a discussion with someone regarding another arcane rule.   I was able to quote the correct rule on the subject from the Pony rulebook and this fellow reacted the way many do when a debate doesn't work out their way.   He claimed that the rule was different in ASA and that was what he was talking about.   He was wrong.   The identical rule from Pony appears verbatim in the ASA rulebook.   I'll have to show him the next time I see him.   I get uncomfortable when people make things up just to win a debate when the issue is important enough to debate in the first place.

The rule quoted above regarding fielders not permitted to distract a batter with deliberate unsportsmanlike intent is a general one.   I expected something along the same lines in several rulebooks but not necessarily the precise wording.   Still I decided to Google "act in a manner to distract the batter" and see what popped out.

The first hit I received involved the official rules of this summer's Olympic games.   Those rules state:
"No manager, player, substitute, coach, trainer or batboy shall at any time, whether from the bench, the coach's box or on the playing field.   No fielder shall take a position in the batter's line of vision, and with deliberate unsportsmanlike intent, act in a manner to distract the batter."


The English doesn't seem to make sense.   I think there are some difficulties with the translation.   I think there should be a comma after "playing field" and before "No fielder" but it doesn't really matter.   Clearly the same issue is addressed.

I was also able to locate the rule in the NCAA rulebook.   NCAA softball Rule 9.4.2.6 reads:
"A fielder shall not position herself in the batter's line of vision or act in a manner to distract the batter.

EFFECT - Delayed dead ball is signaled.   If the batter contacts the ball and reaches first base safely and each other runner has advanced at least one base on the batted ball, all action as a result of the batted ball stands.   Once a runner has passed a base, she is considered to have reached that base, even if she missed it.

If the batter does not reach first base safely or if one of the other runners does not advance at least one base, the coach of the offensive team has the option of taking the result of the play or awarding a ball to the batter and advancing each other runner one base.   If the pitch is 'Ball four' or hits the batter, the batter is awarded first base, and each runner is awarded one base.

The pitch does not have to be released.

The umpire shall issue a warning to the offending individual and notify her coach.   Subsequent violation by the same individual shall result in ejection."


I think it is fair to assume, without going through the drudgery, that this rule exists in about every softball rulebook there is without checking them all.   The rule also exist in MLB and there is an interesting story to go with that!

In 1960, Jim Piersall, an outfielder qith the Cleveland Indians whose sanity has sometimes been called into question was in the field when Ted Williams stepped into the batter's box.   Piersall ran with flailing arms from left to center as the pitch was thrown to Williams.   As the second pitch was thrown, he sprinted to center again.   An ump named Jim Hurley warned him to stop it.   Piersall used sign language to reply to the warning.   Hurley ejected Piersall.   After the game Hurley read from the MLB rulebook, rule 406-B, on page 25: "No fielder shall take a position in the batter's line of vision and with deliberate, unsportsmanlike intent act in a manner to distract the batter.   Penalty - the offender shall be removed."

So now, as Paul Harvey says, you know the rest of the story.   The bottom line is you are not allowed to distract hitters.   You're also not allowed to distract fielders.   "You" means players, coaches, and fans on the sideline.

I won't bore you with the details from the various rulebooks - this writing is long enough already.   Suffice it to say that rules regarding interference typically cover "players not currently in the game, catchers, umpires, and spectators" equally.   The same is true of heckling players in the game whether done by opposing players, coaches or fans.   You just cannot try to participate and change the outcome of a play by doing something intended to throw a player off.

When I was a kid, it was fairly common for people at games to interact with players in the field.   Some of that involved deliberate attempts to distract players so the favored team could win the game.   I was sometimes the object of the attempted distraction.   My father would get furious if the efforts of fans ever caused me to so much as smirk or look away from the field.   I've told you that he would call me "rabbit ears" when that happened.   He told me that this was all "just a part of the game" and I had better get used to it or I should quit the game.   That's not true.   It isn't a part of the game.   It isn't allowed.

A few weeks ago, I was watching a high school softball game in which there was a routine pop-up to short.   Several fans and parents of the offensive team were standing in a position near the defensive team's bench by third base in order to watch multiple games going on at this and adjacent fields.   One of the spectators, seeing the pop-up, yelled "DROP" at the last moment before the fielder caught the ball.   It wasn't clear to me who exactly had yelled but I could see by the folks in that general area that it was probably a parent of a player.   I understand the emotion of the moment but there really is no room for this in the game.   Let the players play and skip the fan theatrics.

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Permanent Link:  Distractions


Obstruction!

by Dave
Thursday, October 25, 2007

I apologize for rehashing the subject I wrote about not 3 weeks ago regarding obstruction and interference but it happened again this weekend.   This has become my cause celebre for the simple reason that I have yet to see an ump apply the rules properly despite a lot of discussion from umpires in charge (UICs), regulating bodies, and others.   We, in the softball community, need to decide what the rules are and then make absolutely certain they are applied correctly by those PAID to officiate our games.   UICs need to not only make sure they understand the rules but also that the umps they assign to games fully understand them as well.   Short of that, we should scrap the rules and play just like the big boys in MLB do - run down anyone who gets in our way!

Here's the situation:

A runner from third is racing towards home.   The catcher stands awaiting a throw from an infielder.   The catcher straddles homeplate.   The runner arrives what appears to be a split second before ball and, without sliding or making any effort to avoid contact, collides with catcher who fallsdown while holding onto ball but having made the tag too late.   The umpire calls the runner safe.   The catcher is shaken up.   After the play becomes apparently dead, coaches call time out and attend to their catcher while also arguing with the umpire that interference should have been called because "the runner didn't slide."

Later, between games, the umpire approaches fans sitting on sidelines and announces that he knows "you are not happy with my call."   He explains that "the catcher obstructed the runner and that's why I called her safe."   I replied directly to him, "but you didn't call obstruction, did you?"   He replied, "Uh, yes, no, but I didn't have to.   I called the runner safe."

That's not exactly correct.

This was a game which, while not sanctioned specifically by ASA, was expressly played under ASA rules and officiated by an umpire wearing ASA insignia.   Neither the play nor the call, or lack thereof, altered the outcome of the game.   The issue is safety and proper application of the interference/obstruction rules.

There is absolutely no question that a fielder may not block a base when not IN POSSESSION OF THE BALL.   A fielder cannot be in the act of catching a thrown ball and blocking a runner from touching a base.   A fielder must be in possession of the ball before she can be in the runners path.   However, runners are obligated to avoid contact to the extent they can reasonably do so.   Runners are not allowed to run into players deliberately in an effort to cause the fielder to drop the ball or otherwise prevent them from making a play - that's unquestionably interference.   Accidentally running into a fielder and thereby preventing her from making a play can be called interference.   Running deliberately and with great force into a fielder while staying on one's feet must be called interference.

In its May, 2006 clarification for umpires, the ASA has a discussion entitled "Obstruction Mechanics" which reads:

"PLAY: B1 hits a line drive into the gap between center field and right field.   B1 is obstructed by F3 as they round 1B.   The umpire signals delayed dead ball and verbally declares "obstruction" loud enough for everyone around the play to hear.   The umpire determines that B1 should be protected to 3B.   When does the umpire drop the arm that signaled the delayed dead ball for obstruction?

MECHANIC: The umpire signaled the delayed dead ball and verbally declared the obstruction correctly.   The delayed dead ball signal should be maintained only long enough to ensure the players and coaches near the play are aware of the obstruction.   If the obstructed runner is put out while still protected, dead ball is declared and the runner awarded 3B.   (Umpire Manual – pages 229, 230 and 258 (Umpire Signal Chart))."

"Delayed dead ball" is signaled in every rulebook I have access to by extending the left arm horizontal to the ground.   In some rulebooks a fist is made.   Obstruction, again in every rulebook I have, is called orally by stating "obstruction" loud enough to be heard by the obstructed runner and anyone else, especially players and coaches effected by the call.

The ASA has a download on its site for umpires entitled Interference and Obstruction.   In every instance in which obstruction is ruled to have occurred, the publication says that the umpire should "call 'obstruction' and signal a delayed dead ball."   There is no discussion where an obstruction is judged to have occurred in which the umpire needn't make any call (delayed dead ball) because the runner reached base safely anyway.

In the events I described above, one could argue that the catcher did not have possession of the ball so she could be guilty of obstruction.   However, she was not blocking the plate either.   She was straddling it.   There was plenty of room for a sliding runner to reach home.   It is also difficult to call her for obstruction when you consider that there was significant contact - significant enough that she went down and then was shaken up afterwards - and yet she held onto the ball.   The ball had to arrive before the runner, if but momentarily, since she caught it before going down.   The fact that she was not blocking the plate has to be the deciding factor on whether there is an obstruction.   Clearly there could not be one.

But I'll go along with the notion that she may have been obstructing the runner for the sake of argument.   As an aside, when the ball and runner arrive simultaneously and the runner and fielder collide, the ASA calls this a "train wreck," which is a collision occurring when both players are doing what they can normally be expected to do, and holds that no call should be made.   I can go along with that too.   But in this case, no call was made beyond the safe call and the runner did not take any steps to avoid a collision as she is required to do.   Every rulebook is clear that when a runner collides with a fielder purposely, with great force, and while remaining on her feet - not sliding - she is guilty of interference and should be called out.   When obstruction and interference occur simultaneously (if that is actually possible!), interference must take precedence - there is no obstruction - and the runner is called out.

I want to make a couple points as a result of this experience.   These are:

1) It is never appropriate for an umpire to explain his or her calls to fans on the sidelines.   Umpires should restrict any explanation regarding specific calls to those involved in the game, including coaches who make proper inquiries.   Fans should stay out of it as well, but in this case, it was the umpire who approached them.

2) There is in fact a way in which to call obstruction.   That requires an extended arm to signal "delayed dead ball" and the utterance of the word "obstruction" loud enough so that players and coaches nearby can hear it.   In this instance, there was no obstruction called.   The umpire merely wanted to cover his butt by telling fans that he knew what he was doing and had really made the proper call.

3) I submit that in the case in which the ball and runner arrive simultaneously, no obstruction call can be made unless the fielder was blocking the base prior to the ball's arrival and this altered the runner's action.   Similarly, no interference should be called if a runner collides with a catcher not in possession of the ball at the time of the collision who is blocking the path to homeplate.   Also, runners are obligated to avoid collisions with fielders when they can by taking such actions as sliding (though sliding is not specifically required).   These particulars involve the umpires judgment which cannot be questioned nor appealed.   Yet umpires need to be fully versed in the rules regarding interference and obstruction, judge the facts as they perceive them, and make the right call based on their judgment and a proper understanding of the rules.

4) When an umpire makes a call such as the one I observed and then explains it to fans by claiming that there was an obstruction on the play when no proper signal was made at the time, this indicates to me that he knows deep down that he may have made the wrong call.   He is more concerned with maintaining his stature as a revered official than he is with understanding the actual rules and making the correct call.   He has lost credibility.

5) There is no particular advanced knowledge required to call balls and strikes, safe and out, etc.   The infield fly rule (often referred to as the most complicated rule in sports) actually requires a minimal level of real understanding by anyone who otherwise knows the game.   Fair and foul similarly require a minimal degree of higher intellection.   Umpires are paid a fair rate (usually $25-50 per hour and a half game).   They should at least make an attempt to understand the rules they are charged with enforcing.   Umpires in charge (UICs) must take their "in charge" responsibilities seriously and make sure the folks they hire understand the important rules.

Otherwise, one of these days, somebody is going to be seriously hurt in a play like this.   When that happens, somebody is going to make a federal case out of it.   And the whole umpiring profession is going to pay the price (psychic or otherwise) for some child's serious injury or death.

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Permanent Link:  Obstruction!


Run Her Over!!!!!!!

by Dave
Monday, October 08, 2007

I'm writing today's post for the benefit of the fan/parent who yelled "run her over" yesterday at a game we attended.   I'm also writing this for the benefit of the ASA umpires who demonstrated zero understanding of the rules with respect to this issue on another play in another game.   Finally, I'm writing for the benefit of the entire softball community because I feel we have almost completely lost our understanding of these critical rules.

There were two plays, as I said, in different games, which brought this to my attention.   The first one occurred in an extremely tight game, 2-1, on a play with bases loaded when the ball was hit back to the pitcher who threw to her catcher at homeplate.   The catcher made the catch, the play was a force out, and for unknown reasons the out-of-position umpire called the runner safe even though she never made any attempt to avoid contact at the plate and ran into the catcher.   It was somewhat close because the runner from third was charging fast but the ump, still standing in his pitch calling position, couldn't see that the catcher cleanly caught the ball.   Still, even out of position, he couldn't miss the fact that the runner never made any attempt to avoid contact.   Also, the catcher had the ball at the time of contact and was standing with just one foot on homeplate to affect the force out.   She was not blocking the plate from the runner from third.

After the play was dead and time had been called, team coaches came out to attend to their hurt catcher and, then, to complain to the ump that runner interference should be called.   The ump first suggested that the girl was safe because he called obstruction.   He had never made any signal nor verbalized any utterance regarding obstruction.   He simply called the runner at home safe.

When coaches asked if they could protest, he replied affirmatively.   Then, when the other coach pointed out that a $100 fee had to be paid to lodge a protest, he informed the coaches and the matter was dropped.   The coaches made sure their catcher was alright and, because of the nature of the girl, they started joking with her and made her laugh.   Unbelievably, the plate ump was overheard making a comment after the game about "how hurt could she have been when she laughed moments after the contact.   That comment was not just unprofessional, it is completely irrelevant.   There is no requirement that a defensive player be injured before a call of interference is made!

I was so completely incensed at the call that I screamed to the ump that he should read his rulebook every now and again.   After he told the coaches that they could protest the call I began offering him money so he could buy a rulebook since he "obviously didn't own one!"   My actions were completely inappropriate but I hope the umpire went home and read the rule with an unbiased eye.   He doesn't know the rule and he should.

As a sidebar, the field umpire warned me "that's enough, sir" and proceeded to engage me in a stare-down-fight.   That's completely unprofessional and in no way called for as I shut up immediately upon being warned.   The stare-down should not have occurred.   It demonstrated completely unnecessary and uncalled for machismo by a man who was being paid to supervise a game.   And, it should be noted, the field umpire also did not understand the rule.

To examine the issue of obstruction and interference, I am turning to the NCAA rulebook although the contest in question was under "college showcase" and ASA rules.   I do not possess an ASA rulebook and it is not published online.   For the most part, the rules are very similar.   One publication on the ASA web site says the two rules are substantially similar.   There is another document, an ASA umpires primer on obstruction and interference which I'll use after I go into the general rules.

NCAA rules define:

A) Interference - "Equipment or the act of an offensive player, coach, umpire or spectator that denies a reasonable opportunity to play the ball.   The act may be intentional or unintentional and the ball must have been playable   ... Note: If both players' actions are appropriate to the situation and contact could not be avoided, it is inadvertent contact and neither interference nor obstruction."

B) Obstruction - "The act of a defensive team member that hinders or impedes a batter's attempt to make contact with a pitched ball or that impedes the progress of a runner or batter-runner who is legally running the bases, unless the fielder is in possession of the ball, is fielding a batted ball or is about to receive a thrown ball.   The act may be intentional or unintentional."   For clarification purposes, "1.   The defensive player must be in the process of catching the ball and not merely positioning, waiting for a throw to arrive.   2.   The act may be intentional or unintentional."

NCAA rules also state "A base runner may not remain on her feet and deliberately, with great force, crash into a defensive player (holding the ball and waiting to apply a tag)."   To explain a bit further, "The rules committee is concerned about unnecessary and violent collisions with the catcher at home plate ... The intent of this rule is to encourage ... to avoid such collisions, whenever possible ... A defensive player shall not block the base, plate or baseline without possession of the ball or not in the immediate act of catching the ball.

"Should an act of interference (offensive) occur after any obstruction (defensive), enforcement of the interference penalty would take precedence provided both violations involve the same base runner.   For example, if an obstructed runner deliberately crashes into a fielder holding the ball, the obstruction call will be ignored, and the runner will be called out for interference."

When an umpire calls obstruction, "delayed dead ball is signaled.   Obstruction is called and the runner is declared safe.   Each runner must return to the last base legally touched ..."

Lastly, among the specific items which cannot be protested, interference and obstruction fall into this category.

The ASA umpires primer on obstruction and interference clearly states that a defensive player in possession of the ball cannot be called for obstruction.

There is certainly some element of umpires judgment involved in the play at home I described above.   But no umpire should ever imply that he did, might have or would have called interference or obstruction after the fact.   He either did or did not.   In this case, he did not - he never signaled a dead ball of any sort, delayed or otherwise and he never uttered the word obstruction.   He simply called the runner safe.   I disagree with the call - I was sitting fifteen feet from home but that isn't the issue I'm describing.   What I am describing is a base runner not making any attempt to avoid a collision with a catcher.   What I'm describing is a situation in which it is simply NOT POSSIBLE for a call of obstruction.

Finally, it is clear to me that neither obstruction nor interference as judges by the umpire is a question which can form the basis of a protest.   The umpires at this game seemed completely ignorant of that fact.   Obstruction and interference are almost always questions of judgment as much as balls and strikes are.   The only issues which are ever appropriate subjects for protests are the existence of a particular rule or the "non-judgmental" interpretation of a rule.   If the rules are clearly and correctly understood, an umpire's judgment dictates the call.   For example, if an umpire judged a play to involve obstruction but agreed that the fielder had possession of the ball - something that did not transpire in the incident I described - a team could protest with those particular stipulations and most likely win since the umpires interpretation of the rules was clearly erroneous.   If the only issue was whether the umpire judged interference or obstruction to have occured, there is no basis for an appeal.

As an additional aside, the plate umpire must have recognized the possibility he made a mistake because his subsequent calls of balls and strikes were egregious.   The next batter suffered the brunt.   He called a second strike on a pitch that was a good foot outside and above her eyes!

I should also tell you that the call did not change the outcome of the game.   My daughter drove in the winning run in the 9th!

A far more troubling incident, in my opinion, occured later that same day.   We are a 14U team playing in what is billed as an 18U high school / travel team league.   No standings are kept in the league because it is seen as developmental - it exists to give high school and travel players someplace to work on skills in the fall.   Yesterday was the league's mid-season tournament.   Winners in three divisions get $15 t-shirts!   The tournament is a tremendous amount of fun and allows winning teams to play as much as 4 or 5 games in a single day.

As it happens, we were playing against the 18U team from our very same organization.   There was a potential play at the plate which didn't evolve properly for a variety of reasons and the girl was easily safe at home.   One of the parents from our 18U team yelled to, presumably, his daughter to "run her over," meaning plow over the catcher.   I don't know the age of the runner but she plays 18U travel and high school ball, and our catcher is in middle school.   That's irrelevant to any call on the field but I want to set the stage properly as it did very much color my feelings on the incident.

I have often heard a comment arise in youth sports and that is "you watch too much major league baseball."   In this case the comment is entirely appropriate.   In MLB, collisions occur with some regularity.   MLB is an entertainment industry.   Plate collisions are great theatre.   But in youth sports, we're after something else.

Girls fastpitch softball does not in any way seek to have collisions between players at any time.   They are to be avoided whenever possible.   That is why we have the "avoid collision at all costs" rules which are contained in numerous expansions of rules via examples and explicitly discussed almost anywhere the subject arises.

I have often heard parents, players, coaches, and umpires claim that runners have to slide whenever there is a play, particularly at homeplate.   In my understanding, there is no rule which ever expressly requires sliding per se.   If an umpire wants to tell teams that he will call runners out for not sliding into home, I suppose you could argue that's his or her prerogative.   And the ump is being fair if that is told to the teams before a game or tournament.

There are words to the effect that sliding is required on close plays at home and those read like this: "A base runner may not remain on her feet and deliberately, with great force, crash onto a defensive player (holding the ball and waiting to apply a tag)."   This is close to a required sliding rule but it is not exactly that.   It is a collision avoidance rule on close plays.   Collision avoidance is expressly within the rules governing softball.   A base runner's slide is presumed to be an attempt to avoid contact.

All softball goiverning bodies recognize that some contact is going to occur in the sport and they make allowances for "incidental contact" which cannot otherwise be avoided by two players who are acting appropriately.   But, there is no room in this sport for "run her over" in any form whatsoever.   Catcalls regarding this are decidedly bush league.   The fact that this particular game was played in a no-standings, developmental league between two teams of the same organization, one theoretically 4 years older than the other, is particularly troubling.   It demonstrates not only that we don't seem to know the rules of our game but that we have lost touch with our better selves.

I have witnessed a number of incidents at a huge volume of games over the years which can call into question the line between tough, gritty play, and deliberate, overly aggressive, rule infractions.   I have watched base runners strike players with elbows on balls hit well beyond outfielders.   I have seen infielders try to intimidate obviously younger base runners through various means including intentionally standing in base lines on steals and/or balls hit into the gaps.   These incidents point to circumstances in which there has been a little too much baseball watching.   They also point to something else.   That is, we need to clean up our sport some, particularly in the youth version.   Before that can happen, we need to have our on the field officials fully understand the rules they are charged with applying and enforcing.   Then they need to agressively enforce those rules.   Then the rest of us need to take a step back and realize why it is that we are involved in this sport.

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Permanent Link:  Run Her Over!!!!!!!


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