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, humorous antics that fail to impress.
In the bottom of the eighth inning of a lopsided game against the Miami Marlins on July 26, Texas Rangers future Hall of Fame third baseman Adrian Beltre was asked by the umpire at second base Gerry Davis to move into the designated on-deck circle. Instead, Beltre moved the on-deck circle to where he had been warming up:
Davis was unimpressed and quickly gave Beltre the old heave-ho. Rangers manager Jeff Banister was also ejected for defending his player’s redecorating.
So, what rule was Davis enforcing when asking the most recent player to join the 3000-hit-club to relocate to the on deck circle? Unfortunately, the rule book has sparse instructions when it comes to the on-deck circle – or as it is officially called, the next batter’s box. In Rule 2.01 of the 2017 Major League Baseball Rule Book, the next batter’s box is defined:
The catcher’s box, the batters’ boxes, the coaches’ boxes, the three-foot first base lines, and the next batter’s boxes shall be laid out as shown in the diagrams in Appendices 1 and 2.
And, until one reaches the diagrams in the appendices, the term is never mentioned again.
The diagrams do, however, provide some guidance on the next batter’s box. The boxes are to be 37’ away from the back edge of the 26’ catcher’s circle, and placed on a straight line which intersects the back edge of the circle. The next batter’s box itself is described as a 5’ circle:
And, that is all the rule book says about the on-deck circle.
However, we can infer quite a bit. For example, the term “shall” is a definitive term. While there is no mention of needing an actual rubber circle to designate the next batter’s box – Fenway, for example, has had no rubber mats since Jason Varitek broke his elbow in 2001 – where the box is to be set up is constant.
We can also glean some more insight by looking at how the term shall is utilized throughout Rule 2.01. For example:
The infield shall be a 90-foot square; The distance from home plate to the nearest fence, stand or other obstruction on fair territory shall be 250 feet or more; The pitcher’s plate shall be 10 inches above the level of home plate.
If there were any wiggle room as to where the on-deck circle could be placed, the rule book would have used different wording. For example, within Rule 2.01 is this passage:
It is recommended that the distance from home base to the backstop, and from the baselines to the nearest fence, stand, or other obstruction on foul territory shall be 60 feet or more.
and this passage:
It is desirable that the line from home base through the pitcher’s plate to second base shall run East-Northeast.
So, with that said, does the on-deck batter actually have to stay within the next batter’s box? The rule book makes no definitive mention of the particulars regarding a player’s whereabouts vis-a-vis the on-deck circle. However, that the rule book defines an area as “the next batter’s box” leads one to an obvious conclusion that the next batter would be expected to occupy that space.
While the rule book is underwhelming in defining the role and purpose of the next batter’s box, it does prescribe an arbiter for situations that are not in the rule book: the umpires. Rule 8.01(c) states:
Each umpire has authority to rule on any point not specifically covered in these rules.
Since there is no specific mention of whether a batter needs to be in the next batter’s box while on-deck, an umpire has the discretion to require the batter, in fact, stay within the confines of the circle. Furthermore, Rule 8.01(d) says:
Each umpire has authority to disqualify any player, coach, manager, or substitute for objecting to decisions or for unsportsmanlike conduct or language, and to eject such disqualified person from the playing field.
Adrian Beltre may very well have stood multiple feet away from the prescribed on-deck circle for his entire playing career. However, the rule book is clear: umpire Gerry Davis had every right to order him to stand on-deck in the next batter’s box area, as defined by the rules. And when Beltre disobeyed Davis by moving the rubber mat to where he wanted to be, Davis had every right to eject him.