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Then And Now

Then And Now by Larry Gallagher


In the original baseball rules of 1845 by Alexander Cartwright, the winner of a game was the first team to score 21 aces (runs) in an equal number of hands (innings). There was no provision at that time for a minimum number of innings. Therefore, if either team scored 21 aces in the first inning, the game would be over once the entire inning was completed. In 1857, new rules changed the winner as the team to score the most runs in nine innings of play. This became the standard for the first major league rules in 1876 and has been the rule ever since. Also of note is that three outs constituted an inning (by today's definition that would be a half-inning). The 1857 rule ordered "nine innings for each side." High school and college rules do not have this history as they followed professional rules until they came up with their own rule committees.

Protective gear for catchers was introduced in the early 1900s. This type of gear for batters did not come into play until the 1930s. Helmet liners were introduced and were being used in the late '30s. Another form of innovative headgear featured a topless, wrap-around style device that fit over the conventional cap. It looked more like today's boxing or wrestling headgear. The bill of the regular cap stuck out in front and the two sides did not quite meet in the back. Through 1970, there was no rule that mandated the use of helmets by members of the offensive team. Rule 1.16 was added in 1971 and introduced the idea of mandatory helmets with the following provisions:
  • All players shall use some type of protective helmet while at bat.
  • Starting in 1971, all players in the class A and rookie leagues shall wear ear-flap helmets while batting.
In 1972, the ear-flap helmet was mandatory for all batters in class AA. All National Association leagues were required to use the ear-flap helmets in 1973 while all major leaguers could use any type of protective helmet. A transition rule was implemented in 1974 and stayed in effect through 1982. It mandated that major league players who had played the previous year in the minors had to wear the ear-flap helmets while batting.

Rule changes in 1983 stated that all players entering the major leagues that year and all succeeding years must wear the ear-flap helmet while at bat, except those players who were in the majors during the 1982 season and who officially (in writing) objected to that particular helmet. In other words, the helmet liner and regular cap-style helmet were "grandfathered in." Double ear-flap helmets became mandatory for all National Association players in 1983. This is the rule today, but there are no players that are still playing from the time period prior to 1983 so there are no longer any active grandfathered players.

Helmets for bat boys/bat girls and ball boys/ball girls were added to the required list in 1988. Even though Rule 1.16 does not state it, all professional leagues require base runners to wear helmets.
High school and college rules require batters and runners to wear double ear-flap helmets.

From the beginning of the game of baseball until 1886, it was normal for the home team to bat first. However, in 1887 the "captain of the home club" was given his choice of innings. This remained the rule until 1950 when the rule book was re-codified and mandated the present day procedure of the home team taking their defensive positions first. In my opinion, it would be great to have football and soccer rule books get rid of the coin toss to determine first possession. It would also be a way to do away with the jump ball in basketball or the beginning face-off and after goals scored in hockey. The home team would start with the puck or the team scored upon would start with the puck at center ice. Anyway, it would change the games a bit and get rid of gambling on coin tosses or the luck of the draw on face-offs and jump balls. High school and college rules do not have this history because they followed the professional rules and did not start having rules committees until after this rule changed in 1950.

Bat color was not mentioned in professional rules prior to 1964. The present day rule was incorporated into the rule book that year. Traditionally, baseball bats were lacquered in their natural state or stained in a darker, natural wood color. To maintain the integrity of the game, rules committee members opposed the experimental introduction of various colored bats. Not only did colored bats create problems by frequently discoloring the ball, but they promoted a circus-type novelty alien to the traditional values of the game. In the earliest days of baseball, colored bats had been the gimmick of the day. Rules makers soon outlawed them.

Bats that have been authorized by the Rules Committee are the following: 1) natural finish; 2) brown wood stain; 3) black and 4) half stain (Walker finish). Umpires should constantly be aware of the type of bat a hitter brings to the plate. Should he enter the box with an unapproved bat, the umpire should order him to replace it. If he refuses, he is subject to ejection. In the event that an unapproved bat is not detected until after it has been used, all actions by the batter using such bat shall be legal provided this bat does not violate Rule 6.06(d). See Rule 1.10(c) regarding similar enforcement. Umpires in professional baseball have been fined for failing to notice and enforce the prohibition against colored bats. Charley Finley once wanted to use a green bat while playing for the Oakland A's and they would not allow him to do it. In amateur baseball, colored bats have been allowed but if we followed the strict letter of the rule book, they should not be allowed.

High school and college baseball have allowed colored bats as well as metal and composite bats, so there is a large disparity in this one piece of equipment in any league that umpires work in Minnesota. The key is to know what type of league you are umpiring in before you keep a bat out of play. For example, District #4 in the St. Paul American Legion League is a strict wood or composite bat league - no metal bats are allowed. However, once outside that league players can use metal bats because American Legion baseball in Minnesota and nationally allows metal bats. If you watch the scores in American Legion state tournaments, you can see that scores are very high for both winning and losing teams. For the past few years the Minnesota Baseball Association has adopted the rule allowing wood and composite bats and disallowing metal bats and it has brought the high scoring down quite a bit, and it looks like this rule will stay in effect for a long time.

Rules committees for high schools (in 2012) and NCAA baseball (in 2011) will require that the Coefficient of Restitution in metal bats equal the COR in wood bats in order for metal bats to be legal. We should then be able to see if a change in the bat rule will result in a significantly better game down the road.

What changes in the game of baseball do you think should take place, regardless of whether you're an umpire, coach or player? If you have a rule change in mind, e-mail me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
" title="mailto:This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. and let's discuss your ideas.

Sources for this article are Annotated Official Baseball Rules (1994) by Jim Evans; Baseball By the Rules (1990) by Glen Waggoner, Kathleen Maloney and Hugh Howard; The Official Rules of Baseball: An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of the Game and How They Came to Be (1994) by David Nemec.

Tackling Obstruction


The concept of obstruction in baseball has been part of the game since near its inception. For umpires to truly understand obstruction, we need to first define it and then look at how obstruction has been viewed over the history of the game of baseball. Remember that there is more than one rule source we need to look at - high school, college and professional. They all have a little different take on what obstruction is and how to enforce the rule.

As early as 1857, the Knickerbocker Rules recognized and penalized the act of obstruction. Rule 23 stated, "If the player is prevented from making a base by intentional obstruction of an adversary, he shall be entitled to that base and not be put out." This rule was adopted for the 1st Official Rules of 1876. No significant change in wording occurred until 1897 when "obstruction" was clarified by explaining that if the fielder had the ball in his hand ready to meet the base runner, no obstruction should be called. That criterion for defining obstruction is also part of the definition found in today's rules.

Through the first half of the 20th century, these original guidelines prevailed. The runner had the right of way unless the fielder was in the act of fielding the ball or had possession of the ball and was ready to touch the base runner. In 1950, a new obstruction rule was written and established two types of obstruction: (1) The batter becomes a runner and is impeded as he advances around the base; and (2) A runner who is caught in a rundown is impeded as he attempts to reach a base.

In the first type of obstruction, the ball remained live and the umpire awarded bases as he saw fit after all play had stopped. In the rundown situation, the umpire stopped play and awarded the runner the base he was attempting to reach. If the base he was attempting to reach was occupied by a succeeding runner, that runner was permitted to return to the base he last legally held.

The obstruction rule was completely revamped in 1962. This revision produced the exact wording of today's professional baseball rule. That same year, the Casebook Note was added which established that the catcher had no right to block the pathway of the runner attempting to score unless he had the ball in his possession or was in the act of fielding it. Clarification Notes were added in 1976 and helped explain three situations: (1) the proper procedure for calling obstruction when a play is being made on the obstructed runner; (2) the proper enforcement and award when the ball is thrown into dead territory; and (3) the liability an obstructed runner assumes as he advances around the bases after the obstruction. These notes were incorporated in 1978 and remain to this day.

Defining Obstruction

In high school (National Federation of High School or NFHS) rules, obstruction is defined as any act, physical or verbal (8-3-2) that hinders a runner (2-22-1; 2.22.1c).

In college (NCAA) rules, obstruction is defined as the act of any fielder who, clearly without possession of the ball, blocks the base (plate) or baseline and impedes the progress of any runner (2 - Obstruction AR; 8-7b).

In professional baseball (Official Baseball Rules or OBR), obstruction is the act of any fielder who, not in possession of the ball nor in the act of fielding the ball, impedes the progress of any runner.

Let's look at the following play to determine how to rule on obstruction in all three of the above definitions and rule codes.

With a runner on second base and a single to right field, the runner tries to score. The catcher sets up in the base path a full step toward third from home, readying himself for the throw. The runner (not maliciously) slides into the catcher and is tagged out. At the time of the contact, the throw from the outfield has reached the cutout in front of the plate.

Ruling: In high school and college play, since the catcher was not in possession of the ball, the ruling is obstruction. In professional baseball, there is no obstruction and the runner is out because the catcher was in the process of fielding the ball.

How do you umpire this play?

In high school, you would put out the left arm to the left side of your body with a closed fist (delayed-dead ball signal) and announce, "That's obstruction!" and let the action come to a close. Then call "Time!" and award the runner home and allow the batter-runner to keep what he has earned. He could have been thrown out trying to advance to second or trying to get back to first base. All of what happens after the obstruction would be allowed to take place. You would point at the runner and say, "You, home!"

In college, you would point at the play with your right hand and say, "That's obstruction!" and let all action come to a close and then call "Time!" and award the runner home and allow the batter-runner to do as above.

In pro ball, you would call the runner out if the catcher made the tag properly and again allow all play to come to a halt. There would be no need to call time because there was no obstruction.

In summary, the obstruction rule is not a difficult concept to understand but is not an easy task as an umpire to manage because there are a number of facets to keep in mind. You must recognize obstruction when you see it. There doesn't always have to be physical contact - obstruction can occur when a player forces a runner to go around them (don't forget that a runner can be called out for going too far out of the way when a fielder is attempting to tag him with the ball). In NFHS rules there is malicious contact to consider while in the NCAA there is flagrant contact to consider. In professional baseball there are no worries about malicious or flagrant contact, but most amateur umpires must deal with both.

This is just a beginning look at obstruction. There are more differences than highlighted in the simple play above and understanding them is key to learning the more complex nature of this rule.

I hope this gives you an idea that you need to learn the rules of obstruction and understand them before you can umpire. I always say that not everyone can umpire - it isn't for everyone. Hopefully you'll get interested in this rule and really learn how to umpire it. If I can ever be of help to any of you as you pursue your baseball or umpiring knowledge, you may contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Why Officiate

This article can be found in a monthly column in the MYAS update.

From the desk of Larry Gallagher...


From the time I was seven years old, I was in love with sports. Why? I have come to the conclusion that matching my skills, strength, agility and knowledge against others was very enjoyable. Not only was it fun but it proved to me I could excel at some part of the game and it also showed my weaknesses that needed to improve for me to get even better at the game. I have found that these early game experiences carried over to my officiating. 

I have analyzed my own officiating experiences and many of my colleagues' experiences and have come to the conclusion that most officials love to compete and when they compete at a high level, they gain a great deal of personal satisfaction. 

How does one get interested in officiating? I am not exactly sure but by observing and listening to my colleagues and using personal experience, I have concluded there are as many varied reasons as there are officials. One reason is that a friend shows you that you could become an official. Jim McMurchie showed me the need for umpires in the fast pitch softball league I was playing in, and I found it fun umpiring guys I played against. 

I remember a really good former Northwest umpire named Jimmy Lee. Jimmy was always enjoying himself as an umpire and that made a very good impression on me as a player. He just bubbled with enthusiasm. Later, I had the pleasure of umpiring with Jimmy before he retired from the game. There is a recreation center in St. Paul named after Jimmy Lee. He was a great person and a wonderful official. 

Joe Vancisin, my summer baseball coach when I was 11 to 16 years old, taught us a lot of baseball and also allowed me to be an umpire from behind the mound in our morning league (in-house) in the Columbia Heights Recreation Program. It was fun and I learned a lot about how to deal with kids, both as a coach and as an umpire. Joe gave me the chance to develop leadership as a player, coach and umpire. He became the Yale University basketball coach when he left Minnesota. He also became the NCAA Executive Secretary for the Basketball Coaches Association and held that position for 17 years. His last duty was the 1992 NCAA Basketball Tournament at the HHH Metrodome in Minneapolis. He is now in his 90s and lives in New Haven. 

Another reason some umpires get into the game is because they had an unpleasant situation caused by an umpire's apparent incorrect decision that spurred the player to say, "I can do better than that!"  

I have found there are many stages of officiating: 

Stage One is saying and believing, "I can do better than the other guy." So this might be the competitive stage. 

Stage Two is messing up a call or play so badly that you realize you still have more to learn. 

Stage Three is when you are learning more and thinking you have finally arrived. 

Stage Four is when you know you have arrived and realize you are still looking for that perfect game, striving to always be professional, and acknowledging that you have made mistakes along the way and keep working hard to get better at what you do. 

The Final Stage is recognizing that you didn't get to where you are without help and you thank all the people who have made it possible for you to get to your level of talent. This includes your family, friends and umpire colleagues who have always supported you. 

Yes, I know you were expecting to hear about giving something back to the game, the extra money, staying in shape and serving the sporting community, etc. That stuff is important too but we really do it because we are competitive and want to become the best we can be. 

However, I am more of a pragmatist than that. I feel the best officials are those who are more selfish. We love a challenge. Therefore, we officiate because we get our kicks from doing well and being leaders where many others would fear to even try. The greater the challenge, the greater our personal satisfaction.  

When we compete as officials, we compete together as a team and when that really works, we win. This is not a scoreboard victory but it is still a victory in every other sense of the word. Let's all vow to strive for perfection each time we go out on the court, field, ice or wherever our competition occurs. 

Enjoy the rest of your officiating career. None of us know when it will be over. So enjoy it while you can and do your best each time you have the opportunity. Since it is getting near the end of my own officiating career, each game or competition becomes that much more important for me. 

I have had the luxury of being a player, coach, manager, league officer and official and the games I have played, coached, managed and umpired have been so important to my development as a human being. I cherish all the friendships and challenges I have met because they give me the strength to be the best person I can be.


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