Rulebook 101: The Hit Batsman

Baseball is a unique sport filled with situations that you may only see once every few years if at all. Umpires must be prepared to rule on these situations in real time, but we have our own expert to rely upon. Brandon Magee explains why the hit batsman rule isn’t as straightforward as it is often portrayed.

Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. And yet, it still provides long-time fans events that they have never seen before – or will again. As baseball fans, we are well aware of the written – and unwritten – rules that govern the game. For example, almost every fan knows when a pitcher throws a pitch that hits the batter, the batter takes first base. Simple.

Except, that is not the actual rule. The specifics written in the Major League Rule Book  – section 5.05(b)(2) to be exact – state:

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:

(2) He is touched by a pitched ball which he is not attempting to hit unless (A) The ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, or (B) The batter makes no attempt to avoid being touched by the ball;

If the ball is in the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a strike, whether or not the batter tries to avoid the ball. If the ball is outside the strike zone when it touches the batter, it shall be called a ball if he makes no attempt to avoid being touched.

APPROVED RULING:

When the batter is touched by a pitched ball which does not entitle him to first base, the ball is dead and no runner may advance.

As we can see in the following example, Boston’s Steven Wright throws a knuckleball that hits Anaheim’s Ji-Man Choi in the forearm.

Hit Batsman

As shown in the slow-motion replay, Choi not only makes no attempt to avoid the flutterball, he actively moves his arm into the path of the ball. Home plate umpire Gabe Morales quickly rules the ball dead and, instead of awarding Choi first base, the umpire points to his elbow, indicating that Ji-Man did not attempt to avoid the pitch – as the rules require.

Perhaps the most famous application of this rule occurred in 1968 during Los Angeles Dodger Don Drysdale’s then-record setting 58 2/3 inning scoreless streak. Working on his fifth consecutive shutout versus the rival San Francisco Giants, Drysdale loaded the bases with no outs in the ninth inning. Facing Dick Dietz, with an a 2-2 count, Drysdale threw a pitch that hit the batter in the arm – and apparently ended the streak at 44 innings. However, umpire Harry Wendelstedt disabused that notion, quickly informing Dietz of his failure to avoid the pitch. After a lengthy delay for an argument, Dietz eventually flied out to short left field, unable to deliver a run. Drysdale would then induce a ground ball to first that forced a runner at home, and coaxed an infield pop out out of the final hitter to continue his historic streak.

The rule specifically mentions being plunked when not attempting to hit. What happens if you swing and get hit? Humiliation. And a strike, as seen by this Mark Trumbo swing against Chris Sale:

Hit Batsman


Follow Brandon on Twitter @cuzittt.

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