Rules Area


Have you ever wondered how a rule came about?  Have you wondered how it evolved and what caused the changes?  I am going to take you on a journey through the history of baseball by using 3 different rules that concern the batter.  I believe by taking this journey with me you will have a greater understanding of the game of baseball and of how to enforce these three rules properly.

The rules that I am going to try to inform you about are the following:  1) The dropped third strike rule (OBR 6.05c, FED 7-4-1b);  2) The infield fly rule (OBR 6.05e, FED 2-19, FED 8-4-1j); 3) The intentionally dropped line drive or fly ball rule (OBR 6.05L, FED 8-4-1c). 

All three of these rules were put in place for the purpose of preventing the defense from gaining the unfair advantage of earning a “cheap” double play.  These rules protect the offense.I will first state the rule and then spend some time on how it has evolved over the years. 

First, let’s look at the DROPPED THIRD STRIKE RULE (OBR 6.05c, FED 8-4-1b).  The rule itself is stated in OBR this way, “A batter is out when a third strike is not caught by the catcher when first base is occupied before two are out.”  I want you to imagine what would happen on the following play if we did not have this rule:  The bases are loaded with no outs and a 0-2 count on the batter.  The batter swings and misses as the catcher drops the pitch intentionally.  Now he picks it up quickly steps on the plate and throws to third base for the force out there and the third baseman throws to second base for the force out there and thus completing a triple play.

As you can see, this would be a very “cheap” triple play.  That is what catchers were doing prior to 1887 when this rule was first put into use.  There were 4 strikes for the batter at that time.  In 1888, the rule went to three strikes for an out.  In 1942 it stated this rule was adopted to prevent the catcher from dropping the ball purposely to ensure a double play.  As an umpire, you will need to really sell this call by shouting and signaling, “The batter is out!  The batter is out!”  Thus alerting everyone that the runners are not forced to run and the catcher is not obligated to tag or throw the batter-runner out at first as he is already out. 

Below is a play that could occur today and would be called as it is described below:  Runner on first base, one out and two strikes on the batter.  The batter swings and misses, the catcher cannot hold onto the ball.  The batter takes off for first as the runner from first takes off for second.  The catcher throws to the second baseman who tags the runner.  The batter-runner ends up on first.  How many outs?  RULING:  There are 3 outs.  The batter was automatically out because first base was occupied with less than two outs.  The runner from first was out when tagged for the third out.  

Remember, as the umpire, you needed to use correct mechanics by signaling and shouting, “The batter is out!  The batter is out!”  However, if you did not, he is still out.  It makes you look ill-prepared if you do not use the correct mechanics.  Also, the runner is not forced to advance on this play so if the fielder merely steps on 2nd base, the runner is not out.

Now let’s look at the INFIELD FLY RULE (Rule 2 – Infield Fly Rule Definition, OBR 6.05e; FED 2-19, FED 8-4-1j). This rule is stated in OBR this way, “A batter is out when an Infield Fly is declared.” 

That is not enough to understand what is meant by this statement so we need to look at Rule 2.  “An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive or an attempted bunt), which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out.  The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule. 

When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an INFIELD FLY, the umpire shall immediately declare ‘Infield Fly’ for the benefit of the runners.  If the ball is near the base lines, the umpire shall declare ‘Infield Fly, if fair.’  The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball.  If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.  If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball.  If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the base line and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly. 

Rule 2.00 Comment: on the INFIELD FLY RULE, the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder – not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass or the base lines.  The umpire must rule also that a ball is an Infield Fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder.  The Infield Fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play.  The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately. 

When an Infield Fly Rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk.  If, on an Infield Fly Rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05L.  The Infield Fly Rule takes precedence.”

Before 1895 there was no need for the Infield Fly Rule because very few fielders were using gloves.  So, to call the Infield Fly Rule would have been ludicrous since there was very little guarantee that the ball would be easily handled anyway.  With the onset of gloves, it became apparent that if the ball was allowed to drop the runners would become in jeopardy for double plays.  So, the rule came into effect. 

In 1895 it only was used with one out.  In 1901, it added with no outs too.  Modifications have taken place with the rule as time has passed.  For instance, in 1904, line drives were specifically excluded from the rule.  In 1920, the bunt was excluded from the rule.  In 1940, the runner was excluded from being hit by the infield fly while on his base.  In 1950, the pitcher and catcher were specifically included as infielders for the purpose of the rule.  The outfielder was also added in 1950 to be included in the rule if he was stationed close enough where a double play seemed likely.  In 1950, the ball that hit foul and then settled fair was added to the rule.

Again, the purpose of this rule is to protect the offensive base runners from having a “cheap” double play from occurring.  So, let’s look at a play here to clarify the rule.  This is a play that I used once when I was playing in an amateur state tournament in Alexandria.  Bases loaded with one out.  A pop-up was hit toward the 3rd base side of the mound and I called for it as the catcher.  I knew that it was infield fly because I heard the umpire call it.  I figured that if I would drop it or let it drop and keep it fair, I might be able to entice the runner from third to try to advance.  I ended up being correct and I corralled the ball before it could go foul and the runner from third walked right into my tag to end the inning.  So, the moral of the story is that players need to know the rule just as well as the umpires do. 

Remember, when the Infield Fly Rule is called, it removes all forces and the ball remains alive.

Lastly, we are going to look at the INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL RULE (OBR 6.05L; FED 8-4-1c). 

This rule as stated in OBR (Official Baseball Rules – professional rules) says, “A batter is out when an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out.  The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases.  APPROVED RULING:  in this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.

Historically, the original INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL rule (1939) applied to outfielders only and went into effect in the same situations as the “infield fly rule.”  As of 1942, the rule was changed to include first base only and first and third along with first and second and the bases loaded situations as in the “infield fly rule.”  Also in 1942, the rule added any player (not just the outfielders) who intentionally dropped a fly ball or a line drive.  Interestingly, base runners were obliged to “tag-up” after the out had been declared before they could advance at their own risk. 

Later in the 1940’s the requirement to “tag-up” was dropped.  The ball remained alive and in play in all of these situations. 

The major change came about in 1975 because too many runners thought they were forced to advance and much confusion reigned for the runners.  So, the rules makers amended the rule to read that the ball is dead in these situations and therefore protecting the runner(s) from the trick double play. 

Unlike the Infield fly rule, the INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL RULE applies to bunts and line drives.  Because the umpire does not have as much time to rule on this type of play as he does in the infield fly rule, the ball must become dead on this play in fairness to the base runners. 

Below are three plays that might help us to better understand this rule: 

Play 1:  The fastest runner on the team is on first base.  The batter hits a lazy pop-up to the second baseman who lets the ball fall untouched in front of him.  The runner holds.  The second baseman picks up the ball and fires to the shortstop covering second, thus retiring their fast runner.  Is this legal?  RULING:  Since this was not the infield fly situation and the ball fell untouched, this is a legal play. 

Play 2:  Runners on first and third, one out.  The second baseman fields a lazy pop-up near second and then intentionally drops the ball.  He retrieves it, steps on second and fires to first to complete the double play.  Is the inning over?  RULING:  No, the batter is out on the intentionally dropped ball, the ball is “dead”, and the runners remain at first and third with two outs.

Play 3:  Runners on second and third, one out.  The second baseman intentionally drops a pop-up near the bag and recovers the ball quickly and tags out the surprised runner off second.  The umpire declares the runner out.  The offensive manager argues that the batter, not the runner should be out because of the intentional drop.  Who is correct?  RULING:  Without a runner on first base, the intentionally dropped ball rule does not apply.  The umpire ruled correctly.

So, let’s review what we have learned.  There are three rules that have evolved with the game because of the same reason.  That reason is to protect the offense.  The main purpose of the three rules is to prevent “cheap” double plays.  One of the rules causes the ball to become dead.  That rule is the INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL RULE. 

Two of the rules keep the ball alive but they both remove force plays because the batter is declared out early in the play. 


All three of the rules require at least one runner to be on first base and there must be some type of force play that will be prevented.  A quick reminder, the INFIELD FLY RULE must have at least runners on first and second to be invoked.  All three rules must start with zero or one out.  They are never needed when there are two outs.

My hope for all of you umpires is that you handle these three rules better this season than you ever have before.  I hope that you understand more fully the intent of the rules and how and why they came into being.  I always have found once I know the intent and spirit of a rule, I will be able to better enforce it when it appears in my games. 

So study hard, learn as much as you can about this great game and how to umpire it so that it is fun for you and the players and the coaches that are competing. 

Sources used in this study are as follows:

  1. Jim Evans Annotated Baseball Rules, published in 1994.
  2. David Nemec’s The Official Baseball Rules, An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of Baseball, Lyons Press 1994
  3. 2007 Official Baseball Rules (OBR) published by Triumph Books
  4. 2007 National Federation Baseball Rules published by NFHS


The Federation and the NCAA have put together a very good rule called the Batter’s Box Rule that I would like to try to help Northwest

Umpires to get some consistency on so that we can help speed up our games to some degree.  I am then sending this idea to each mentor

to distribute to the umpire’s in your group.  However, if you wish to modify this some, feel free to do so.  However, you must remember

 not to stray away with the idea of speeding up the game.  I don’t expect any umpire to really to have to enforce this rule except in extreme

cases but I do expect to see that we are acknowledging that we know the rule by encouraging the batter to keep one foot in the batter’s

box when it is between pitches and the exceptions do not apply.  I dare say, you could even try to do some of this in the summer during

legion and adult games.  In fact, in the 2006 OBR book or the professional rulebook, it is listed in there as an experimental rule.      First,

let’s look at the rule in both the NCAA and then the Federation.  There are some minor differences to the 2 different codes but in reality

they really are the same.  I will put the Federation in the same order that the NCAA is so that you will more readily see the slight difference

in the rule and you will see how they really mean the same thing.      Both rules start off with the statement as follows:  This rule is designed

to speed up play by controlling the actions of the batter between pitches.  That statement comes directly from the NCAA rulebook.  It goes

 on further as the Federation rulebook does by stating, “The batter must keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout the time at bat

 with the following exceptions: 

                NCAA Exceptions                                                      FEDERATION Exceptions

 1.   The batter swings at a pitch.                                                1.   The batter swings at a pitch.

2.   The batter is forced out of the box by the pitch.                          2.   The batter is forced out of the box by the pitch.


3.   A member of either team requests and is granted time.            3.   A member of either team requests and is granted,                                                                                                    “Time.”

4.   A defensive player attempts a play on a runner at                  4.   The pitcher or catcher feints or attempts a play at any base.   

        any base.

5.   The batter attempts a “drag” bunt.                                                  5.   A batter feints a bunt.

6.   A wild pitch or passed ball occurs.                                          6.   The catcher does not catch the pitched ball.

7.   The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound              7.   The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching               

      after  receiving the ball.                                                             mound or takes a position more than 5 feet from                                                                                                       the pitcher’s plate after receiving the ball.

8.   The catcher leaves the position to give defensive                8.   The catcher leaves the catcher’s box to adjust his                                  signals.                                                                                                                  equipment or give defensive signals.      


 OBR Exceptions 


6.02 (d) in the OFFICIAL BASEBALL RULES states, “The following experimental rule shall be in effect for all National Association Leagues in 2006:


(1)   The batter shall keep at least one foot in the batter’s box throughout the batter’s time at bat, unless one of the following exceptions applies, in which case the batter may leave the batter’s box but not the dirt area surrounding home plate:

      (i)      The batter swings at a pitch.

      (ii)    The batter is forced out of the batter’s box by a pitch.

      (iii)   A member of either team requests and is granted, “Time”.

      (iv)  A defensive player attempts a play on a runner at any base.

      (v)    The batter feints a bunt.

      (vi)  A wild pitch or passed ball occurs.

      (vii) The pitcher leaves the dirt area of the pitching mound after receiving the ball.

      (viii)The catcher leaves the catcher’s box to give defensive signals.      

Notwithstanding Rule 6.02©, if the batter intentionally leaves the batter’s box and delays play, and none of the exceptions listed in Rule 6.02(d)(1)(i) through (viii) applies, the umpire shall award a strike without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch.  The ball shall remain alive.  The umpire shall award additional strikes, without the pitcher having to deliver the pitch, if the batter remains outside the batter’s box and further delays play. I caution you that the Major Leagues have not adopted this rule as of yet.  It is a rule in the Minor Leagues.  I have not really done much with it this year as so many of the amateur players have not been a problem anyway and they really don’t know that it has been changed.  I am going to suggest to all of our leagues next year that they need to learn the changes that took place this year and make sure they understand we will be using the 2007 rulebook and all the changes that took place this year and even those that are added for next year.  There were 30 different notations of rule changes for 2006 in the OBR book.  Many that are umpire friendly and that is a good thing for all of us.  However, we need to educate ourselves.  You can go to and read the changes on their website.  The 2006 is in a pdf file on a link at the bottom of the web page for those of you that have not purchased the 2006 OBR book from Sporting News. 


        The batter may leave the batter’s box and the dirt area when time is granted for the purpose of:

1)      Making a substitution.  2) An offensive conference.  3) A defensive timeout or conference.


        This is an NCAA and OBR ruling but it would apply in Federation also because it is not written in their rulebook at all.


      As you can see they all are really the same but there could be a little difference in meaning to a few of them.  I would consider that they should be used interchangeably in either contest.


      Now that we know the rule, what do we do with this information to help us help the game move more smoothly?  Here is my plan and it has worked very well for me.


      When the batter’s are doing what they are supposed to do – keep one foot in the box between pitches, I basically just step back and wait and say and do nothing.  When I notice the 1st batter step out to get his sign or even to leave when one of the 8 exceptions does not apply, I say to him, “Don’t forget to keep one foot in the box.”  Usually I get a response of “Oh, sorry!” and then he does what he is supposed to do.  Sometimes, you just made a call of a strike that the batter did not like and he is stepping out to disapprove or just collect himself for the next pitch.  I don’t say too much until he is getting more than 2 steps away and then I say, “Don’t forget when you take a pitch, you need to keep one foot in the box.”  All I do is keep encouraging them to do the right thing.  After awhile, everyone is doing it all the time and in the last few innings of the game there is no problem at all.  Also, I have helped train them to get used to doing the right thing when you come to do their next game.  Now, it is your turn to encourage batter’s to do the correct thing.  If we all did our part, then they would all be trained by today’s date and there would not be any issues when it comes time for the playoffs.


        Remember, the penalty for noncompliance is to call a strike for the batter’s delay.  I would probably never let it get to the point that I would need to enforce the rule.  Remember, they are allowed to step out and then get back in before the pitcher is on the rubber and ready to take his sign.  He can leave the box every pitch as long as he does not delay the game.  However, don’t let them do this either.  Keep them with one foot in the box as much as you can.  Now, another thing could happen if you don’t control it.  Some pitchers or catchers might try to quick pitch that hitter when he isn’t ready to bat but has a foot in the box.  It is your job to control the catcher.  Let him know if you think the pitcher is trying to gain an unfair advantage by quick pitching.  I warn the catcher not to give a sign until the batter’s feet and hands are ready.  I have been able to prevent quick pitching in this manner and not have to put up a hand every time for the batter.  Remember, when you put your hand up, you have just called time even if you have not said the word “Time!”  This takes away an opportunity for a pickoff at any base by the defense.  So, don’t let the catcher or pitcher quick pitch and don’t use the stop sign either.  Control the game by letting the catcher know that he is not to give the sign until the batter is ready.


I hope I have given you one more way to manage the game and how fast it can move by using the tools that the rules give us.  I dare say that you can cut 10 minutes off your game some days by using this rule to your advantage.  However, I don’t believe you will ever need to penalize anyone and really enforce this rule if you handle it in a diplomatic and as in the old movie “Friendly Persuasion” with Gary Cooper.  I know most of you never heard of the movie and maybe you never even heard of Gary Cooper.  Cooper played Lou Gehrig in “Pride of the Yankees” and won the Academy Award as the sheriff in “High Noon.”  He was a great actor of the 40’s, 50’s and 60’s.  He also played Sgt. York in the movie of the same name.  This was a movie about World War I and one of the Congressional Medal of Honor recipients of that war.  Who said you can’t learn anything new each day?  Anyway, I try to inform and educate even if you don’t want to know about old movies and movie stars.

Defining the Strike Zone     

From the beginning of the game, the rules makers have been trying to define the strike zone.  There are many people that have their own opinion about the strike zone and that appears to be the problem.  Too many people, umpires included, have been trying to call the strike zone as they think it should be called and it really has always been intended to be called as it is written.  So, I am prefacing this entire article with this statement,


        This is the only way we can become consistent as an umpiring fraternity.  It is the players and coaches responsibility to play within the rules but they will at least try to bend them.  Many of them will try to break them.  It is our responsibility to umpire the rule.  So, to become consistent, all of us must buy into the premise that we are going to enforce the rule.  Especially, we must enforce the strike zone rule.

       Now, let’s look at what the strike zone is written like today and how it has been written at other times in the history of the game.  First, the strike zone is defined today in the year 2008 as follows:  

Professional Baseball & American Legion: “OBR 2.00 – Strike Zone is the area over home plate, the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the knee cap.  The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”   

NCAA & NAIA: “NCAA Rule 2 – Strike Zone – The area over home plate from the bottom of the kneecaps to the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants.  The strike zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.”   

High School Baseball: “Federation 2-35 – The strike zone is that space over home plate, the top of which is halfway between the batters shoulders and the waistline, and the bottom being the knees when he assumes his natural batting stance.  The height of the strike zone is determined by the batter’s normal batting stance.  If he crouches or leans over to make the shoulder line lower, the umpire determines height by what would be the batter’s normal stance.”        

All umpires should be calling it as it is written.  Basically all 3 codes of baseball are identical in practicality if not almost word for word.   The only real difference appears to be in the Federation where the normal stance determines the strike zone and not as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball as in OBR and NCAA.  SO, CALL IT AS IT IS WRITTEN              

Why is the strike zone as it is today?  To answer that question accurately we need to look back on its past.  So, here goes my attempt to do so.       In baseball’s beginning, there appears to be no mention of a strike zone prior to 1858.  A “called strike” was proposed by Daniel “Doc” Adams at the First baseball Convention in 1858.  We still have it in existence today.  There really was no written strike zone in the rules but it was generally accepted that the strike zone was 12 inches above the ground to the batter’s shoulders and within fair reach of the Batsman’s bat.       In 1871, the batter was able to ask for the pitcher to deliver the ball in one of three areas.  A “low ball” could be asked for and that would have to pass between the knee and the waist.  A “high ball” could be asked for and that would have to pass between the shoulders and the waist.  A “fair ball” could be asked for and that would have to pass between the knees and the shoulders.  In the next few years only the definition of the “low ball” was changed to 1 foot from the ground instead of the knees.       After the 1886, the strike zone had nothing to do with the batter’s request.  It was simply over the plate between the batter’s knees and shoulders.  The batter could no longer call for a “high” or “low” ball.  In 1879, all pitched balls must be called strikes, balls or foul.  The number of strikes was finally set at 3 but moved to 4 in 1887 for one year and moved back to 3 in 1888 and remains there today.  Nine balls were necessary for a walk in 1879.  This became 7 in 1881, 6 in 1884, 5 in 1886, and in 1889 it became 4 and it remains there today.         In 1894 a strike was to be called when the batter makes a foul hit, other than a foul tip, while attempting to bunt that is hit and falls or rolls upon foul ground between home base and first or third bases.  In 1899, a foul tip by the batter, caught by the catcher while standing within the lines of his position is a strike.  In 1901 a foul hit ball that is not caught on the fly is a strike unless 2 strikes have already been called.  The National League adopted it in 1901 and the American League added it in 1903.      

In 1907 the strike zone was defined as follows:  “A fairly delivered ball is a ball pitched or thrown to the bat by the pitcher while standing in his position facing the batsman that passes over any portion of the home base, before touching the ground, not lower than the batsman’s knee, nor higher than his shoulder.  For every such fairly delivered ball, the umpire shall call one strike.”  If you would reword this statement so that it would be negative in all regards, the pitch would be called a ball.        

In 1950, the strike zone was changed as follows:  “The Strike Zone is that space over home plate, which is between the batter’s armpits and the top of his knees when he assumes his natural stance.”      

In 1957, the definition of a strike was placed in the rulebook and it became to be understood as follows:                 A strike is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire which:a)     is struck at by the batter and missed;b)    enters the Strike Zone in flight and is not struck at;c)     is fouled by the batter when he has less than 2 strikes at it;d)    is bunted foul;e)     touches the batter as he strikes at it;f)touches the batter in flight in the Strike Zone; org)     becomes a foul tip.  Note:f)was added to the former rule and definition.        

In 1963, the Strike Zone was changed somewhat again by bringing the upper level up to the top of the shoulders again and the bottom was just his knees.  This lasted until 1969 because the owners saw that the game was not having as much offense as it once had and they felt they needed to have more offense to get fans to come to the games.  By the way, Bob Gibson had an ERA of 1.02 in 1968 and looked almost unhittable with the strike zone that was in place during this part of his career.  I think this had a lot to do with making the change again.        

In 1969, the Strike Zone reverted back to the armpits and to the top of the knees and probably for the reason I sighted above. 

      Because there appeared to be a number of umpires adhering to there own idea of what the strike zone should be the rules makers again changed the strike zone to close to what we have today.


          In 1988, the new Strike Zone became “that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the top of the knees.  The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.  I

n 1996, the Strike Zone was expanded on the lower end, moving the top of the knees to the bottom of the knees.  Or, to be more precise, the hollow beneath the kneecap is the bottom of the strike zone.  Remember, that is the OBR definition precisely but in essence it is true for NCAA and High School games too.         

Along about that time, the new technique in many stadiums allowed each game to be digitally placed on a DVD and each umpire was somewhat judged by how the Questec machine rated the umpire.  This technique has allowed us to become more critical in our understanding of the Strike Zone of each umpire and is supposed to be a learning tool for the Major League Umpires for improvement.  Only time will tell in this regard.      

As far as amateur umpires go, let’s read the rule and try to understand that our role is to umpire that rule and not make up a new strike zone based on our idea of what should be called.  Use the rule and try to get as consistent with it as you can.  Yes, call a large strike zone if you can but be consistent and don’t stray from what the rule states.  Look for strikes and have the pitch itself prove that it is not a strike. 

From several Internet Sources but written mostly by Larry Gallagher, Baseball AlmanacSpitters, Beanballs and The Incredible Shrinking Strike Zone by Glenn Waggoner, Kathleen Maloney & Hugh Howard

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