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Ask the Umpire

Major League crew chief Ed Montague and his crew, Jerry Layne, Mike DiMuro and Lance Barksdale, recently took time to answer umpiring questions sent in by users.

I miss the old-style balloon chest protectors that home-plate umpires used to wear. It was one way to distinguish AL from NL games. It seemed to offer better protection too. Who was the last umpire to use this protection and is their use banned by rules?
-- Neil

Jerry Layne: Jerry Neudecker in the mid-80s, somewhere in there. I don't know if it's banned by rules, but it's been common that you don't get to see the ball as good looking up over the head like that. It's better to work with the chest protector inside your shirt and have the pitch come toward you. You can tell more about low pitches and in and out, stuff like that.

I know that if a batter swings and misses a pitch and it hits him, it is a dead ball strike. However, what happens if he swings at the pitch and it hits his hand? Is his hand considered an extension of the bat and the ball is live, or is it a dead ball strike because it hit the body?
-- T. Albertina

Layne: Well, let me ask you a question. If he puts a bat in his hand, and he drops it, is his hand going to drop with the bat or his hand going to stick to his body? So is his hand part of the bat? So, it's kind of common sense. If he gets hit in the hands, that's his body, if he gets hit in his bat, that's his bat. And if he swings, he doesn't go to first base when he gets hit.

Sirs: My question pertains to rule 7.08 (f). This rule says any runner is out when he is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder. If a player is standing on base and is hit while in fair territory before an infielder touches the ball, is he out? If so, how does the 'passed an infielder' situation come into effect? This rule has been the topic of much discussion at my workplace. Please help us to understand this rule.
Thanks in advance,
-- Mike Suter

Lance Barksdale: The only time that the base protects him is on the infield fly rule.

Layne: That rule is in the rulebook for a reason, that when a ball is in an area where a fielder could field it, and it hits a runner and a fielder is behind it to field it, then he's out. But if a fielder has had an opportunity to field the ball, and it hits the runner and there's no other fielder behind him, then it's nothing. So, the only time a [runner] in the infield is ever protected from being hit by a ball is if there's been an opportunity for somebody to field it and nobody's behind him, or if it's an infield fly, which is a pop-up, and it hits him while he's standing on the bag.

I have a rules question for you. It pertains to a balk call. Rule 8.05 (a): "... swings his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher's rubber ..." The question pertains to whether he must swing his entire foot past the back edge of the rubber or just break the plane of the back of the rubber with his foot or any part thereof. It would seem to me that if one follows the "spirit of the balk rule" (that is, was the pitcher trying to deceive the runner?) then if he breaks the back plane of the rubber with any part of his free foot and doesn't go home, then he did that with the obvious intent of deceiving the runner. Your input on this would be greatly appreciated.
Thank you.
-- Don

Ed Montague: As soon as he breaks the back plane of the rubber, that's a balk, if he throws to first (base).

Sirs: I have been umping minor ball for many years and there is one aspect of major league umping that has puzzled me for most of that time: Does the first base ump make his calls by watching the runner's foot hit the bag and "listening" for the sound of the ball hitting the first baseman's glove? It seems to me that the ump is often placed very far away from the bag. How does this help with the "sound" call? Why isn't he closer?
Thank You.
-- Don

Montague: The older you get, the closer you get because you can't hear as well. So a lot of the young guys stand really far away. You'll see me, I stand real close. But no, that's true, you watch the runner hit the bag with his foot then you listen for the sound. The tough part is, when it's a soft throw, like if it's an underhand toss, that makes it a little bit tougher call for us. But we do listen for the pop of the glove and watch the foot tag.

I am 16 years old from New York. I love umpiring, I am very involved, have my own equipment, all the rule books, and visit all the web pages. I would love to get involved with pro umping when I am older. I would love some advice from a pro. I would really appreciate it.
-- Mike

Montague: Well, I guess the best way is to just keep doing what you're doing -- umping the Little League or high school games and then if you're still very interested in it, there's a school in Florida, The Harry Wendelstedt School for Umpires. Actually you can send down now and get an application for later on and get some information about the school itself. (Here is additional information on becoming an umpire).

Hi. I've noticed in the past couple of weeks a few balks being called on the first baseman. It appears that the pitcher is attempting pick-off throws to first, and the first baseman is around, but not on the bag holding the runner on. Has this become a "point-of-emphasis" at the Major League level this year? I've noticed it in Dodgers and Angels games (in fact, the June 12 Angels game against Pittsburgh) recently, and wondered about it.
-- Dave Garell

Montague: The first baseman has to be in the vicinity, in an area where he can make a play when the pitcher throws over. If he's not in that vicinity where he can make a tag, then it's a balk. A lot of times you'll see the first baseman laying back on the bag, if they throw over there and he can't make a play on (the runner), that's a balk. If he's way in front of the bag where he can't make a play on (the runner), that's a balk. He has to be able to try to make a tag.

Yesterday in the Braves game, after the Twins pitcher struck a Braves batter, the home-plate umpire went out in front of home plate and pointed to each bench. Is this the signal for a warning to each bench? Then a few batters later, the same Twins pitcher hit another Braves batter. I believe the Twins pitcher and manager should have been ejected from the game based on the warning that was given. Shouldn't the home-plate umpire have done that? Even the announcers were confused and the replay clearly showed the home-plate umpire giving the warning to each bench. Once that type of warning has been given, can an umpire take it back?
-- Dennis

Montague: Once the warning is issued, you want to stop the beanball situation. But it's up to the umpire's discretion whether that batter was hit intentionally. He may have thrown at him, and there's certain situations where you know they're not going to throw at him intentionally. Say like if the bases are loaded and he gets hit, that's one situation. If there's a tie game, he doesn't want to put the winning run in scoring position in a case like that. So it has to be the umpire's discretion whether it was intentional. Just because there's a warning doesn't mean that if a guy gets hit, he automatically gets thrown out.

This happened at an American Legion ballgame (they use the Official Major League rules) and I want to know the correct ruling. With a runner on second (base), the pitcher balks, and it was called by the umpire. The pitcher continues to throw the pitch and hits the batter. What is the correct awarding of bases?
-- Rick

Mike DiMuro: When you call a balk, if all runners including the the batter/runner advance one base, then you would disregard the balk. So in that situation, because the runner from second (base) didn't go to third (base) on the hit batsman, so now you'd force the balk. So, the batter would have to stay in the box and hit again even though he was hit. That's a really strange one.

My brother and I have an argument, he says that pitchers in the Major Leagues are not allowed to throw underhand. But I have seen pitchers throw underhand. Is there a rule stating whether or not a pitcher can throw underhand?
-- Carrie

Barksdale: I would think they can if they want to. No, there's no rule.

I'm a high school umpire, and I was at the Dodgers/Angels game. Please give me some details on Paul Emmel's mask. I want one. Where did he obtain it? What is the approximate price? Thank you.
-- Marty

Barksdale: Mike (DiMuro) uses the same one. The one these guys wear is a better shell, they are very expensive. But the amateur guys can buy a less expensive model for $150 or so. That particular one (DiMuro's and Emmel's) is probably around $300. The guys that don't wear that type (the hockey mask) wear a regular standard mask. You can get those from $50 and up, just depends on if you get a good one, but you can get those for like $50 to $60 up.

DiMuro: It's just All-Star (brand). It's a hockey mask, they make it for baseball.