Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet it still provides long-time spectators with events that they have never seen before – or will again. And sometimes, the ball finds you.
In the fourth inning of the June 14 New York Yankees – Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim tilt, the Yankees were down 5-4 entering the fourth inning. Gary Sanchez and Didi Gregorius started the inning with back-to-back singles off of Matt Shoemaker, bringing Chase Headley to the plate to face off against reliever Parker Bridwell. On the third pitch of the encounter, Headley smacked a ground ball toward right field… when all play was halted as the ball struck Gregorius’s foot.
The play is covered by multiple rules in the 2017 Major League Rule Book, each affecting the three different Yankees in the play. Rule 5.09(b)(7) addresses Gregorius:
Any runner is out when he is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder. The ball is dead and no runner may score, nor runners advance, except runners forced to advance.
Rule 5.06(c)(6) addresses Sanchez at second:
The ball becomes dead and runners advance one base, or return to their bases, without liability to be put out, when a fair ball touches a runner or an umpire on fair territory before it touches an infielder including the pitcher, or touches an umpire before it has passed an infielder other than the pitcher; runners advance, if forced.
Rule 5.05(b)(4) is the rule which affects Headley:
The batter becomes a runner and is entitled to first base without liability to be put out (provided he advances to and touches first base) when a fair ball touches an umpire or a runner on fair territory before touching a fielder.
The first rule is clear: the ball hit Gregorius, so he is out. The final rule is also hard to misinterpret: once the ball hit Didi, Headley is entitled to first base. Only the second ruling has some nuance. In this case, Sanchez is not forced to move to third base as the runner who was pushing him away from second base was Gregorius, who is out due to being hit.
However, imagine the same exact scenario – except the ball hits Sanchez as he runs from second to third base. Sanchez is out and Headley is on first. What happens to Gregorius? In this thought experiment, the default position is that the runners stay at the base that they had occupied prior to the ball being hit. In this case, Gregorius would go back to first. However, Headley is also at first. Which forces Gregorius to move to second.
But there is one further question. Why is Chase Headley credited with a single? For this oddity, we go to Section 9.05(a)(4) which states:
The official scorer shall credit the batter with a base hit when a fair ball that has not been touched by a fielder touches a runner or an umpire, unless a runner is called out for having been touched by an Infield Fly, in which case the official scorer shall not score a hit
While a runner getting hit by a batted ball does not happen every day, it is far from a rare occurrence. Yet, due to all the moving parts in the scenario, it takes four different rules to cover this one play. No one ever said the Rule Book was the most concise manuscript.