This article was written by Mark Pankin
This article was published in the Spring 2013 Baseball Research Journal
The batting out-of-turn (BOOT) rule has been a continuing source of confusion to players, managers, and umpires. Even a league president had trouble with it on one occasion after the May 24, 1945, Tigers at Athletics game, which was notable in other respects.[fn]The primary sources used were stories in The Sporting News and from the two cities’ newspapers: Philadelphia Evening Bulletin, Philadelphia Record, Detroit Free Press, and Detroit News.[/fn]
The current BOOT rule (6.07), which has been in place since 1957, clearly specifies what should happen when such a play occurs. The rule covers all of the various possibilities. Even so, there have been times when the current rule, like its predecessor, was not properly understood or enforced. (A page on Retrosheet.org has many examples.[fn]The Retrosheet web site (www.retrosheet.org/outturn.htm) has an extensive—although almost certainly incomplete—list of batting out-of-turn incidents . Quite a few others also featured misunderstandings or incorrect applications of the rules.[/fn] ) However, in 1945, the applicable rule was Rule 44, which had been specified in the late 19th century. The wording allowed for some confusion and possibly conflicting interpretations. although the general understanding was the same as the current rule.
Rule 44 lists the circumstances when a “batsman” is out. From the 1945 Official Baseball Guide, the parts that apply to a BOOT are as follows:
If he fail[s] to take his position at the bat in the turn in which his name appears in the batting order.
Only the proper batsman shall be declared out, and no runs shall be scored or bases run because of any act of the improper batsman.
This rule shall not be enforced unless the error be discovered and the out be declared before the ball be delivered to the batman next facing the pitcher.
Should the batsman declared out under this section be the third out and his team thereby put out, the proper batsman in the next inning shall be the player who would have come to bat had the players been put out by ordinary play in the preceding inning.
An explanatory paragraph further points out that a BOOT is an appeal play, and no action is taken if no appeal is made. Unlike the current rule, Rule 44 does not specify who the proper batter is if there is no appeal. However, the general interpretation at the time was what the current rule specifies: if no appeal is made, the proper next batter is the one in the official lineup who follows the player who batted out of turn. In the 1945 example, the confusion came from a change in the usual batting order for the Athletics. It was common for Irv Hall, the A’s second baseman, to be followed in the lineup by future Hall-of-Fame third baseman George Kell. In the May 23 game against the Tigers, Connie Mack reversed the two, hitting Kell fifth and Hall sixth.
Apparently, the players thought such would be the case again for the May 24 game. The early edition of the May 24 Philadelphia Evening Bulletin showed the probable lineups for the game with Kell fifth and Hall sixth. The scoreboard at Shibe Park also showed that batting order. However, Mack’s lineup card given to the home plate umpire, Ed Rommel, reverted back to the more usual with Hall fifth and Kell sixth.
Bobby Wilkins led off the A’s first with a single and was caught stealing later in the inning. Joe Burns, the number four hitter, started the second inning by striking out. Then Kell came up, batting out of turn. He also fanned, so naturally the Tigers did not point out the BOOT to Rommel. (Had they appealed, the rule says Hall, who had been skipped, should have been called out and Kell would have batted again with his strikeout not counting.)
Correct application of the BOOT rule should be quite simple. Only two batters matter: the previous one and the current one. If a batter hits out of turn and the play is not appealed, the proper next batter is the one following that improper batter in the line-up. In this case, the number-seven hitter, A’s first baseman Dick Siebert, would have been next to bat. While this was the understanding under Rule 44, that version of the rule did not explicitly say so.
Following the batting order shown on the scoreboard, Hall came up next and singled. This time the Tigers appealed, and Rommel ruled that three outs had been made and the inning was over. At that point, he did not say which batter he called out, but from subsequent events it is likely it was Hall. Which batter he meant was not apparent at the time because it was the third out. Rule 44 is clear that the “proper batsman,” namely Siebert, should have been called out.
When the Athletics came to bat in the third, there was a great deal of confusion as to who should bat first. After conferences among the umpires and the two managers, Rommel decided that Kell should lead off the third, presumably because he had (incorrectly) ruled Hall out to end the second and Kell followed Hall in the official batting order. Had the BOOT rule been applied correctly, the number eight hitter, catcher Frankie Hayes, would have led off the third.
Both managers, Connie Mack and the Tigers’ Steve O’Neill, entered protests saying that Kell was not the proper batter. Although Kell made an out to start the third, the A’s scored a run in the inning and went on to win the game, 7–2, so Mack withdrew his protest.
O’Neill (incorrectly) claimed that Siebert should have batted first in the third, and that was the basis of his protest. He quoted a part of Rule 44 that said “should the batsman declared out under this section [for batting out of order] be the third out and his team thereby be put out, the proper batsman in the next inning shall be the player who would have come to bat had the players been put out by ordinary play in the preceding inning.” (That language is not in the current rule.) If “ordinary play” means the batters hit in the proper order and made three outs, then Siebert would have started the third. In other words, if hitters in the 4, 5, and 6 lineup positions batted in the inning and made three outs, the number-seven hitter would be due up next. However, another interpretation of that phrase is that if Hall had made an out, the Tigers would not have appealed, so the lineup would have once again been reset, making Kell the proper lead off hitter in the third.
It is doubtful Rommel used that reasoning. After the game, Rommel said, “now it looks like I may have been wrong” about having Kell lead off the third. Interestingly, no newspaper story reported on which player he thought would be the correct hitter. None of the stories said that Rommel realized his real mistake was not calling Siebert out.
Because of O’Neill’s protest, it was then up to American League president Will Harridge to decide if the protest should be upheld and the game replayed, or if the Athletics’ win should stand. That decision was expected to take a couple of weeks. The newspaper stories pretty much agreed that the protest would be sustained and the A’s would lose their victory.
The Sporting News had an article about the BOOT and the protest prior to Harridge’s ruling. Several “experts” were asked who the proper leadoff hitter should have been in the third. About half of them gave the correct answer of Hayes. The other half said Siebert, agreeing with O’Neill’s thinking that the number-six hitter, Kell, should have been the last out of the second inning and the number seven hitter would start the third.
Harridge apparently was even more confused than anyone else, despite the fact he had plenty of time to evaluate the situation and interpret the BOOT rule. He denied the protest, although his letter to O’Neill acknowledged that Rommel’s ruling was incorrect. The letter then said, “your protest must be denied, because you failed, as the rules provide, to call the umpire’s attention to the batting out of order until Hall had been pitched to and singled. Umpire Rommel called Hall out, which retired the side. In this he was in error, because the rule plainly states that only the proper batsman should be declared out. Play should have been continued until the third man had been legally retired.”
Harridge’s interpretation implies that only the first BOOT can be appealed even if it is not in the team’s interest to do so. There is nothing in Rule 44 that says that. It makes no sense to deny the protest because what Harridge says should have happened—that the inning continue until a third out is made on the field—did not happen. It appears that he denied the protest because he did not think O’Neill protested it for the right reason.
Connie Mack started the confusion by not paying attention to which hitters were supposed to be up when. He claimed it was the first time in his long career he had ever had a BOOT. Then Rommel, with the aid of the other two umpires in the crew, made a mistake by ruling Hall out and having Kell bat first in the third inning. Tigers manager Steve O’Neill and about half of the “experts” polled by The Sporting News incorrectly thought the number-seven hitter in the Philadelphia lineup was the proper batter to start the third. On top of all that, American League president Harridge found a new and incorrect interpretation of the rule, and even used it improperly to deny the Tigers protest. This may have been the most confusing aftermath of a BOOT ever.
BOOT and Benton
Some additional confusion is that Kell’s strikeout never made it into the official records of the game. However, Tigers starting pitcher Al Benton, who left the game in the fourth is correctly credited with three Ks. The Tigers second reliever, Art Houtteman, struck out one batter, but is not credited with any. Kell has an extra at bat in the official records of the game because he batted in both the second and third innings. Since Kell batted to start the third, in effect only five batters made six outs in the first two innings. After a BOOT, such inconsistencies are possible although not in this case had the rule been properly followed.
Moreover, the Tigers starting pitcher Al Benton faced 14 batters, although the last batter he pitched to was the Athletics number-four hitter the second time through the lineup. Since 9+4 = 13, that is another oddity that resulted from this BOOT. Had the rule been properly applied, a different inconsistency would have resulted in Hall having one fewer plate appearance than the surrounding players in the lineup since he would not have officially hit in the second inning. Also Siebert would have been charged with an at bat, making the last out of the second, although his first time actually hitting would have been the next time through the lineup.
Benton had his leg broken in the fourth inning by a line drive hit by Bobby Estalella. He tried to stay in the game and pitched to Joe Burns. He collapsed trying to field a weak grounder, which may have been a bunt, a nasty play by the cleanup hitter. He was carried off the field. Since he had been Detroit’s best pitcher at that point in the season, the stories in the Detroit papers speculated about what his injury would do to the Tigers’ chances for the rest of the season. The Tigers won the AL pennant in 1945, so the denied protest and the loss of Benton until July 1 were not critical. Benton was 5–1 (no decision in the BOOT game) with an ERA under 0.50 at the time of his injury. He finished the year 13–5 with a 2.02 ERA.
MARK PANKIN is an investment advisor who lives in Arlington, Virginia. In high school he was awarded a letter in baseball as the team’s equipment manager and unofficial statistician. Later he earned a Ph.D. in mathematics from the University of Illinois, Chicago. Combining the two interests, he has developed mathematical models for analysis of baseball strategies and batting order optimization. He joined SABR in 1975 and has made presentations at many national and regional meetings. Mark is the webmaster of Retrosheet.org, and in that capacity he found out about the batting out-of-turn incident that led to the research presented in this issue. He is proud of his Virginia license plate: “NO DH.”