2009 NFHS Baseball Rule Changes



By virtually any criteria, the 2008 high school baseball season was an outstanding success.  More players participated in the game of high school baseball than had played in previous seasons.  There were more high schools offering the sport than in the 2007 season.   The rule changes that had been made for the 2008 season were well received with very few issues across the nation.  And lastly, there were not many rule change proposals facing the committee for possible inclusion in the 2009 season.  Sports that are in good shape need very little adjusting.

Accordingly, there were a relative small number of rule changes for the 2009 high school season, and none of them will change the sport in a major way.  So, let’s wade into and discuss the few rule changes that we do have.

The first rule change is with the lines on the baseball field.  The new rule requires that all non-permanent lines on the playing field shall be marked white with a material not injurious to the eyes or skin.  Previously there was no rule definition of what color the line should be.  The change was made as one state was having some sportsmanship issues with schools using lines marked in their school colors.  There are a couple of important considerations with this rule. 

First, it only applies to fields that do not have a permanent line.  Fields having permanent lines, such as turf fields with lines stitched into the field and of a color other than white, are legal.  The committee recognized that more and more schools are employing these multi-purpose fields for use by multiple sports.  It would not be cost feasible to require a change with those lines. 

Second, if a team has its non-permanent lines marked in a color other than white, and do not have white available, the game will still be played.  As an official for the game, verify it is not possible to remark the lines white and then let the respective State Association know of the situation.  The state sports/activities Association will take it from there.

The next rule change does not really change the intent of the rule, but was made to better describe what was wanted in the rule. In high school, for very many reasons, it is not acceptable for a pitcher to intentionally hit or go after a batter for any real or perceived purpose or transgression. The old wording stated that it was illegal for a pitcher to intentionally throw close to a batter. The new wording changes the word “throw” to “pitch.” It is illegal for a pitcher to intentionally pitch close to a batter.

While I believe the intent of the rule was well understood across the nation, the old wording could create a situation where a pitcher, after legally stepping off the pitcher’s plate, who did intentionally throw close to a batter, not to hit him but to make a play on a runner stealing home, to be in violation of the rule. So, for that possibility and to better describe the true intent of the rule, the change was made.

As before, there are also a couple of important discussion points. First, intentionally trying to hit or pitch close to a batter is not the behavior that serves the educational purposes for which high school plays the sport. Other levels of the sport recognize all the issues and problems this behavior can bring. The high school rule does have some important differences with other rule codes that can cause some confusion. But first a similarity. High school, like the NCAA and the Official Baseball Rules, does not mandate that a warning first be given. If the infraction occurs, and it was intentional, then the rule provides for an ejection on the first occurrence.

Here are the differences: in high school it is not mandated that a coach be warned along with the pitcher. If a subsequent infraction to occur (unless the coach was obviously involved) only the pitcher would be ejected; the coach does not automatically go with his pitcher. Additionally, when one team is warned, high school does not automatically warn the other team. High school does not presuppose an infraction. If a team were to intentionally “retaliate,” an ejection most likely should follow even without a previous warning.

The third rule change came as a result of an actual play in a play-off game during last season. As we know, high school batting rules does not allow for a batter to permit a pitch to hit him. If he were to allow a pitch to hit him, he is to stay at bat unless the pitch that did hit him was strike three and then he would be out. In the playoff game, the situation occurred when on a 3-2 pitch, the batter truly permitted a pitch that was a ball to hit him. The umpire at the point did not allow the batter to take first base. This was correct for the infraction of permitting the pitch to hit him, but since the pitch was still ball four, the batter should have first base due to the base on balls. So, accordingly, the rule was amended to allow the penalty for a batter permitting a pitch to hit him, to include the exception for ball four. The new wording for the penalty now states that if a batter permits a pitch to hit him that the batter is to remain at bat (pitch is a ball or strike) unless the pitch was a third strike (then the batter would be out) or the pitch was ball four, in which case the batter would be awarded first base for the base on balls.

The last rule change concerns the uniform for the umpires. The old rule specified that the slacks worn by an umpire be heather gray. The new rule now simply states the umpires shall wear gray slacks. Many states had some concern that “heather” gray slacks were becoming difficult to find. With this change, though, umpires should check to understand what the respective State Association requires with regard to this rule change. Some states still require heather gray slacks only. Some states are okay with either the heather gray or the charcoal gray, just as long as all officials are dressed alike. Some states have no concern if one official wears heather gray and another official wears the charcoal gray. It will be best to understand your state’s expectations.

That is the rule changes for this, the 2009 season. Not many changes, but again the state of the high school game does not require a lot of revisions. Hopefully, this season will be the best yet and meet all your hopes and expectations. We will discuss in another piece the points of emphasis for this season and an important Approve Ruling with regard to pitcher’s and their uniforms. Until then, have a good one.

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