Friday, January 13, 2006

Baseball conundrum

Consider the contradictions in the forced runner rule: Rule 7.01 A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out. He is then entitled to it until he is put out, or forced to vacate it for another runner legally entitled to that base. This seems pretty clear to anyone who has ever watched a baseball game and seen a runner on first base forced out at second base following a ground ball.

But read Rule 7.03: Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged. The preceding runner is entitled to the base.

So, according to 7.01, a runner must vacate a base for a runner behind him who is entitled to that base. But, according to rule 7.03, if the runner on first base obstinately insists on staying there after the batter hits a ground ball, and they both end up on first base, then the batter is out if a fielder comes up and tags them both. Turns out, the runner is not actually forced to run at all!

Of course, I hear you saying, “But Ken, what kind of nitwit infielder would attempt to tag out the runner on first instead of just throwing the ball to second base to force him out.” Answer: it is hard to imagine this circumstance, except for the fact that I saw it happen. In a game I was playing, we had a runner on first, and a bouncing ground ball was hit to the second baseman who was playing in. He ran up on the ball and fielded it directly in front of the runner and tried to tag him. The runner, to avoid being tagged, turned and ran back to first base. The second baseman, realizing he would not be able to make the tag and get a double play, tossed the ball to the first baseman to force out the batter. The batter foiled this attempt by beating out the throw with a slide into first base. Meanwhile, the runner also slid into first base from the baseline. So, for an instant, both batter and runner were standing on first base. It was the perfect instance to show the inherent contradiction between 7.01 and 7.03!

Alas, the runner, not appreciating the deliciousness of the moment, bolted from the base and was tagged out by the first baseman. If he had stayed, and if the first baseman had tagged both runners, he could have forced the umpire to determine whether the batter is “entitled” to first base according to 7.01 or whether the preceding runner is “entitled” to the base according to 7.03. An opportunity to interpret and clarify the rule was lost.

Personally, I think that given how the game is played, a forced runner is not permitted to the preceding base since the act of touching the following base before he arrived means he is out. The preceding/following runner rule only applies to runners not forced. However, since the rule book is poorly written, this conundrum is open to interpretation. The rule should be rewritten for clarity.

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