The Over-running Rule

Just when I think there is nothing left to blog about, something happens in a baseball game that requires a bit more explanation than the 140 character limit on Twitter allows.   Such was the case early in the Cardinals – Reds contest on August 27, 2013.   Fortunately, this play did not factor in to the final score, so we can break it apart without any additional bias that comes with some game determining controversies (i.e. the Atlanta/St. Louis Infield Fly Rule)

Shin-Soo Choo of the Reds leads off the game with what first appeared to be a routine infield single, but it turned into anything but when he took a causal stroll back to the base.  The Cardinals tagged Choo on the way back to the base which led to a short umpires meeting.  Choo was called safe which led to some confusion on the field, among fans and even in the broadcast booth.  Let’s take a look at the exact wording of the rule that governs this situation.  It is 7.08.

MLB Rule 7.08 - A runner is out when

(c) He is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off his base. 
    EXCEPTION: A batter-runner cannot be tagged out after 
    overrunning or oversliding first base if he returns
    immediately to the base

Although we are taught since the time we hit the first ball off a tee to turn to the right and into foul territory after running past first base, there is no such requirement to do so.  We are taught that practice to avoid any possible misinterpretation of our intent once passing the base, but the rules allow the runner to return to the base in fair territory, they just have to do so “immediately”.

To understand what is meant by “immediately”, we  need to look a bit farther down Rule 7.08.

7.08(j) He fails to return at once to first base after overrunning
        or oversliding that base. If he attempts to run to second
        he is out when tagged. If, after overrunning or oversliding
        first base he starts toward the dugout, or toward his 
        position, and fails to return to first base at once, he 
        is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged;

This is where “immediately” is defined and it is pretty clear.    If you are still unsure, read the rule guidance comment.

Let’s apply this test to the Choo play and see what happens.

If he attempts to run to second he is out when tagged.

Choo did not start running towards second base, so the first part of this rule does not apply.  Let’s continue.

If, after overrunning or oversliding first base he starts toward
the dugout, or toward his position, and fails to return to first
base at once, he is out, on appeal, when he or the base is tagged

We saw this in a game earlier in Los Angeles.  Although that play was at third base and covered by a different rule, the intent is the same.  In this case, the runner believes he is out and heads back to the dugout or to his defensive position.  By rule, the player is voluntarily abandoning his base and can then be tagged out on appeal.   Neither of those happened in the Choo play.

Fans can object to the slow pace in which Choo returned to first base all they want, and it was most unusual, but he did not cause a delay of game, abandon his base or make any obvious attempt to advance to the next base.   The umpires should be given credit for a swift conference where the crew chief got consensus about Choo’s “intent” and ruled properly – Choo was safe.

Lost in all of this confusion was the Fox Sports Midwest broadcasting team trying to explain this unusal play to the the listening audience.   Dan McLaughin did a good job by actually reading  the governing rule instead of relying on what he believed the rule said.  I give Dan a lot of credit for doing that while not losing the context of the game being playing out in front of him.  I also appreciate the way in which he did it, almost asking listeners to check out the rules for themselves and learn a bit more about this game that we all love.

At the same time, I have to apologize to Al Hrabosky for “yelling” at him on Twitter.   At times, we do need to step back and realize that these broadcasters are professionals and most of us are just fans with a computer.   It is easy to pick apart some mistake without appreciating all that they do in preparation and delivery of a broadcast.  We may not like their approach, and Al’s curmudgeon routine drives me crazy, but we should respect that they are professionals and treat them with some degree of respect.

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