Guest post by Ken Krause, Life in the Fastpitch Lane blog
The Rulebook Makes Good Reading on a Cold Winter’s Night
Maybe I’m just too much of a fanatic, but every year I look forward to receiving the new ASA rulebook. When I get it, the first thing I do is sit down and read it cover to cover.
This is not just an intellectual exercise, however. I read it because I find the better you know the rules, the better chance you have of winning a dispute with an umpire – and knowing which things to dispute.
Understand that I rarely argue judgment calls. Something would have to be pretty blatant to get me out of the dugout or third base coach’s box and in the umpire’s face.
And even then, I know I won’t win, but I will go there to make sure the umpire knows he/she blew the call, and knows I know, so maybe we’ll get the next close one. It shouldn’t work that way but it often does. That’s human nature.
A rules question, though, is a completely different matter. I have a pretty darned good track record when it comes to arguing rules calls, and most of the ones I lose are because an umpire doesn’t know the rule, refuses to check, and there’s no umpire in chief around to overrule him/her.
For example, a couple of years ago at ASA Northern Nationals, with the game tied and runners on second and third, I elected to intentionally walk the next hitter to load the bases. My catcher stood behind the left hand batter’s box (as I’d taught her) waiting for the pitch, and when it came in the umpire called illegal pitch and advanced both runners.
When I went out to check on the reason for the IP, the umpire said it was because my catcher didn’t start in the catcher’s box. I told him yes she did, the catcher’s box extends from the outside of one batter’s box to the outside of the other. I was convincing enough that he asked his partner, who agreed with him.
At that point I asked for the UIC. We didn’t see him, but someone did grab a rulebook and check the dimensions. Sure enough, I was right the runners were sent back to their bases, and play continued. Incidentally, the opposing coach never came out of the dugout when I came out there, and never questioned the runners going back, so I’m sure he knew the rule just as well as I did.
There are a lot of quirky rules in fastpitch softball. Many are the same as baseball, but some differ, such as the lookback rule. On that one, it’s important to note if you’re on defense that it doesn’t apply if your pitcher is holding the ball as if she’s going to throw it. But if she just stands there, or is oblivious to the runner standing off the base, you can get a free out.
Another one that throws people is what happens when a batted ball hits a baserunner moving between bases. Everyone assumes the runner is out. But that’s not always the case. If she is running behind the infielder making the play, and no other fielder has a chance to make a play, there is no call. It may hurt like heck, but she is not out.
If you know your rulebook thoroughly, you can probably get two to three calls a year reversed in your favor. That may not sound like much, and in some games it isn’t. But in others, it could make the difference between moving on in a tournament or going home, or winning a conference championship and coming in second.
Of course, coaches aren’t the only ones who need to know the rules inside and out. It helps if players know them as well – not so they can argue a call, but so they know what to do in game situations.
Take a ball that hits the dirt for a third strike and third out. The ball is still live until the hitter goes inside the dugout. If the other team doesn’t tag her or throw to first, she could run to first at any point.
Where that becomes important is if the opposing team runs off the field as she walks dejectedly back to the dugout. I had that happen once and almost coughed up a lung yelling for my batter to run to first. She did, finally, without being sure why and the inning continued. There was all kinds of talk about being out of the baseline, yadda yadda yadda, but the bottom line is the rule says as long as she doesn’t enter the dugout she can run.
The rulebook is full of all kinds of little nuggets like that. The more you know, the better-prepared you’ll be to coach. The more your players know, the better-prepared they’ll be to play.
So while it may not have the intrigue of a Tom Clancy novel or the escapism of a Harlequin Romance, the rulebook is definitely worth a good read. You just never know what you’ll find in the winter that will pay off in the spring or summer.
Anyway, that’s the way I see it.