This article was written by Stew Thornley
This article was published in Fall 2021 Baseball Research Journal
Umpire Ed Montague, pictured here with Seattle Mariners manager Lou Piniella, had to send a member of his crew to check the rules in an April 2007 game in which Baltimore faced Cleveland. (Photo: Reuters)
Your team clings to a lead in the late innings and is trying to get out of a first-and-third, one-out jam. Your pitcher gives up a long fly to right-center, and both runners take off. But your fleet center fielder seemingly saves the day. She sprints, leaps, extends, dives, and snags the drive inches off the ground. The runner from third has already crossed the plate, and the other one, beyond second base, stops and watches helplessly as the center fielder heaves the ball in. The relay goes to first, and the runner is doubled off for the third out.
You see the plate umpire point to home and hear the call, “The run scores!” What do you do?
You may respond as many — maybe even most — managers would: charge the umpire and scream, “How the fudge1 does that run count? The runner from third didn’t tag up!” As the umpire explains that the runner crossed the plate before the third out occurred, it finally dawns on you that you need to make an appeal play on the runner on third. You tell the umpire you want to appeal, but get the reply, “It’s too late. Your infielders have already left the field.” All that’s left is to kick dirt on the umpire, expel a few more naughty words, get ejected, and possibly draw a suspension. After all, it’s the umpire’s fault that you don’t know the rules, right?
What should you have done? Yell, but not at the umpire. Yell at your infielders to stay on the field. Next, tell the umpire you want to appeal. When all is reset and an appeal at third is properly performed, the runner will be called out and the run nullified.
This is the fourth-out play, as cited in what is now Rule 5.09(c): “Appeal plays may require an umpire to recognize an apparent ‘fourth out.’ If the third out is made during a play in which an appeal play is sustained on another runner, the appeal play decision takes precedence in determining the out.”
Most appeals occur in non-inning-ending situations, when the appeal must be made before the next play or pitch. In the situation described here, however, a team loses the right to appeal once its infielders, including the pitcher, have left fair territory.
How often has the fourth-out occurred in the white/integrated major leagues? According to rules expert Rich Marazzi, never.2
FORCE PLAY OR NOT?
Beyond general ignorance of the rules by people who are paid to know them, many believe that a runner doubled off a base is a force out. It is not.3 If a perceived force out ends an inning, a manager may think an appeal on another runner isn’t necessary since a run cannot score when the third out is on a force.
This misperception can be costly even in situations in which a runner on third has correctly tagged up.
In a game on June 10, 2010, with Kansas City at Minnesota, the Twins had Nick Punto on third and Denard Span on second with one out in the third when Joe Mauer hit a long fly to center. The wind kept the ball in the park, and Mitch Maier caught it in front of the fence. Punto tagged and, as he started for home, saw that Span had taken off from second and was nearly at third. Punto turned and yelled at Span to retreat while he jogged toward the plate. Maier threw the ball to shortstop Yuniesky Betancourt to double off Span and end the inning. Punto, running at only a trot, was still a few steps short of the plate; thus, his run didn’t count.
Two reporters, a television play-by-play announcer, and a Twins team official asked the official scorer if Punto’s run would have counted had he crossed the plate before the third out. (It definitely would have.) After the game, Punto admitted that he didn’t know the rule, that he thought his run wouldn’t count regardless of whether he crossed the plate ahead of the third out. “I figured a double play is a double play, but it’s not,” Punto said. “You can go ahead and touch home plate there and get the run.” The Twins lost this game, 9–8.4
A year later the Twins may have lost a run in a similar way. In a May 27, 2011, game against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Michael Cuddyer hit a long fly to right-center that was caught. Alexi Casilla tagged at third and only jogged toward home as he gestured to teammate Jason Kubel to get back to second. Kubel was doubled off for the third out before Casilla crossed the plate. The Twins lost this game, 6–5.
UNCERTAINTY AMONG UMPIRES
Even the umpires have required prompting on the rule. In a game at Arizona on April 12, 2009, the Los Angeles Dodgers had Andre Ethier on third and Juan Pierre on second with one out when Randy Wolf lined out to pitcher Dan Haren, who threw to shortstop Felipe Lopez. Rather than step on the base, Lopez chased Pierre down. By the time he tagged him for the third out, Ethier — who had been running on contact and hadn’t tagged up — crossed the plate.
“That’s the four-out play,” said Dodgers coach Bob Schaefer to manager Joe Torre, referring to what the Diamondbacks should have then executed, but didn’t. As Arizona left the field, Torre came out to confer with the umpires and remind them that Ethier’s run counted. Torre knew that Ethier’s failure to tag up was irrelevant unless and until the Diamondbacks appealed, and he credited Schaefer for that knowledge. “I remembered because he had put some of the rules on my desk this spring and we read them to the players a number of times last year.”
What Torre and the Dodgers knew was something the Diamondbacks didn’t. “I still don’t really understand the rule,” said Haren. Wrote Dylan Hernandez in the Los Angeles Times, “By reminding the officiating crew of an obscure rule unknown to most of the players at Chase Field, Torre essentially argued in the tying run in the Dodgers’ 3–1 victory over the Arizona Diamondbacks.”5
Confusion has reigned even in situations in which the runner on third did tag up, a scenario that would not have had the potential for a fourth out.
In a Baltimore at Cleveland game April 28, 2007, the Orioles had a 2–1 lead in the top of the third. With Nick Markakis on third and Miguel Tejada on first and one down, Ramon Hernandez flied out to Grady Sizemore in center field. Markakis tagged and came home as Sizemore threw to Ryan Garko at first base to double off Tejada.
Plate umpire Marvin Hudson signaled that Markakis’s run did not count, even though Markakis had clearly crossed the plate before the third out. Hudson waved it off because he did not think a run could score on such a play. Orioles bench coach Tom Trebelhorn knew the run should count but didn’t say anything until after the fourth inning, when he had a short conference with the umpires. Crew chief Ed Montague sent Bill Miller, one of the umpires, to check the rules.
By the time Baltimore manager Sam Perlozzo came out at the end of the fifth inning, Miller had confirmed that the run should have counted. Montague called the press box and told Chad Broski, the official scorer, to add the run to Baltimore’s total. Broski was aware of the situation but had to wait for word from the field to count the run.
“When it happened, I thought the run should have counted but, of course, I have to go off the umpire’s ruling,” said Broski. “Most people in the press box were commenting on the baserunning error by Tejada and didn’t know the rule. Not much happened in the box until the umpire called up and then changed it and I had to announce it. At that point I explained to them why the run counted.”
Cleveland lodged a protest as the score changed from 2–2 to 3–2 in favor of the Orioles. Cleveland scored twice in the last of the sixth for a 4–3 lead, but the Orioles rallied in the eighth and ninth to win, 7–4, a result that stuck when Cleveland’s protest was denied three days later.6
In a game on June 26, 1935, St. Louis at Brooklyn, home plate umpire Charlie Moran misapplied the rules by denying a run to the Dodgers after Jim Bucher had tagged on a fly ball and scored before Jimmy Jordan was doubled off first for the third out. Manager Casey Stengel lodged a protest. However, Brooklyn won the game in extra innings, and league president Ford Frick did not have to rule on the matter. Ray J. Gillespie of the St. Louis Star-Times reported that Moran said the rule governing this type of play had changed, although the rules of the time do not back up Moran’s decision. The Brooklyn Times Union referred to Moran’s decision as “weird.”7
The umpires were on top of the rules when the Yankees visited the Mets on June 28, 1998, but there was still turmoil over the usual conundrum of what a force is and what it isn’t. With the score 1–1 in the last of the ninth, the Mets had Carlos Baerga on third and Brian McRae on first with one out. Luis Lopez flied out to Paul O’Neill. Baerga tagged and was running home when he saw McRae going to second.
“I wanted to start yelling, but I was running too hard,” said Baerga, avoiding the errors of Nick Punto and Alexei Casilla noted in earlier examples.
The Yankees got the ball to Tino Martinez at first as McRae tried to get back. Baerga, after crossing the plate and starting to celebrate, saw first-base umpire Bruce Dreckman signal out. The Mets erupted, and coach Cookie Rojas had to restrain Baerga. Part of the protest may have been over whether or not Martinez had made a clean catch of Derek Jeter’s relay, although it didn’t matter since Baerga scoring ahead of what happened at first base ended the game.
Plate umpire Frank Pulli conferred with Dreckman and, making the judgment that Baerga had crossed the plate before the final out, ruled that the run counted. “I don’t know what he was waiting for,” Mets manager Bobby Valentine said after the game, referring to Pulli’s delayed ruling. “Maybe he just didn’t want us to celebrate.”8
Jeter and Martinez admitted not being familiar with the rule and even manager Joe Torre had to ask about it. Martinez was quoted by Ohm Youngmisuk in the New York Daily News: “I thought that if it’s a forceout at first, I figured the game may go on, but I don’t know the rule.”9
WHAT’S THE SCORE?
A 2016 game in Detroit didn’t have the final score correct until a day later. On June 24, Cleveland held a 7–4 lead over the Tigers, who had Ian Kinsler on second and Cameron Maybin on first with one out in the bottom of the ninth. Miguel Cabrera hit a long fly to center, where Rajai Davis juggled the ball and hung on for the catch. Kinsler and Maybin had taken off without tagging, and Cleveland relayed a throw home too late to get Kinsler at the plate. Chris Gimenez then threw to Mike Napoli at first to double off Maybin and end the game.
Although Kinsler’s run had no bearing on the game outcome, Cleveland could have saved reliever Cody Allen a run by then throwing to second for a fourth out on Kinsler. Not only did Cleveland not realize that — without the additional appeal, Kinsler’s run counted — no one else did, and the final score reported in newspapers the next day was 7–4. A day later, Major League Baseball clarified that Kinsler, having crossed the plate before the third out, did score and the final was changed to 7–5.
If shortstop Alexi Casilla had hurried to cross the plate in a May 2011 game, might the Twins have avoided a 6–5 loss? (Photo: UPI)
Another game that had fans leaving without knowing the score also resulted in Lee Guetterman thinking he had a save. It happened when the Milwaukee Brewers failed to get the fourth out, resulting in a run for the New York Yankees, on July 1, 1989.
In the last of the eighth, the Yankees had a 4–1 lead with Mike Pagliarulo on third and Bob Geren on first. The runners were off on a squeeze play as Wayne Tolleson popped up a bunt. Pitcher Jay Aldrich caught it and threw to first to double off Geren. Pagliarulo had crossed the plate, and plate umpire Larry Barnett signaled that the run counted. Milwaukee didn’t appeal for a fourth out to nullify Pagliarulo’s run.
In addition to the Brewers not being aware of the situation, the same was true with the scoreboard operator, who did not put the run on the board. Everyone thought the Yankees had won, 4–1 only to learn later that the final was 5–1. Guetterman pitched the ninth and was originally credited with a save, since he had entered with what was thought to be a three-run lead. When the score was corrected, Guetterman’s save was removed.
DID THE ASTROS MISS THE PENNANT?
Here’s one that might have been…or maybe was. The best-of-five National League playoff series between Houston and Philadelphia in 1980 was wild, the final four games going into extra innings. Houston was on the verge of earning a trip to the World Series in game four — one that had everything, including protests lodged by both teams after a fourth-inning play with disagreements if there should have been one, two, or three outs called. Houston’s Gary Woods had two baserunning mishaps, one when he was called out on appeal for leaving third base too early on a fly ball.
Less was said about a potential appeal later in the game. As with the fourth-inning play, this one centered on uncertainty about whether a batted ball had been trapped or cleanly caught.
The score was 2–2 in the top of the eighth. With one out, the Phillies had Pete Rose on third and Mike Schmidt on first when Manny Trillo hit a sinking fly to right. As Jeffrey Leonard rushed in to attempt a shoestring catch, Schmidt danced between the bases and finally took off for second when it appeared that Leonard had only trapped the ball. However, right-field umpire Bruce Froemming signaled out. Leonard heaved the ball to the plate, far too short and late to get Rose, racing home from third. Catcher Bruce Bochy then threw to Art Howe at first to double off a now-enraged Schmidt, who claimed Leonard had not made the catch. Froemming’s call stood, the inning was over, but Rose’s run counted, and Philadelphia had a 3–2 lead. Speculation emerged over whether Rose had properly tagged before coming home, but the Astros did nothing about it at the time.
Because of all the other strange events in the game, this play was glossed over in many news accounts. However, Jayson Stark of the Philadelphia Inquirer wrote, “Manny Trillo lined a 1–2 pitch to right that Jeff Leonard may or may not have shoestringed. Ump Bruce Froemming ruled he caught it, and Schmidt was doubled off first for the second sacrifice fly-double play of the day. But Rose had made sure. He waited until the ball came down, then tagged and scored.” Stark quoted third-base coach Lee Elia: “I yelled to him [Rose], ‘Tag up.’ But he already was gonna do that. Only Pete Rose has the instincts to do that. A lot of people would overlook that. Pete was gonna make sure this was a 3–2 ball game.”
On the other hand, the Inquirer’s Allen Lewis wrote,
After Rose scored, the Astros decided that maybe Rose had left third base too soon and they could nullify the run by making the appeal, even though it would have been a fourth out. Rules allow for a fourth out in such cases, but no appeal was made.
As [plate umpire Doug] Harvey explained, “I didn’t immediately signal Rose’s run scored before the third out, because I knew that an appeal could be made on Rose, although I didn’t know if he tagged up. There is a possible appeal on the fourth out. They can do that, but they must do it correctly. If all the infielders leave the field, the appeal can no longer be made. … I walked toward [first base umpire Ed] Vargo and said, “The run counts if there’s no appeal.”
The oversight may have been costly. The Astros tied the score in the last of the ninth, only to lose in the 10th. The Phillies won again in 10 innings the next night to win the pennant, en route to the team’s first-ever World Series championship. It took another 25 years for Houston to get to the World Series.10
THE 1957 GAME THAT BROKE THE RULE BOOK
In all of the situations so far cited, the rules are clear about a team forfeiting its right to appeal after the infielders have left the field. Through 1957, though, no such provision was in the rule book, only a reference to an “appeal before the next legal pitch.”
Hank Soar had to determine how to handle a situation in an August 22, 1957, game in Cleveland. The Red Sox were up, 10–0, with one out in the top of the ninth and had Gene Mauch on second and Pete Daley on first. Mike Fornieles hit a soft fly to short center. The runners took off, confident that the ball would drop safely, but shortstop Chico Carrasquel made a spectacular running catch. Carrasquel didn’t see Mauch racing for the plate and, rather than step on second, threw to first to double off Daley.
Soar, working the plate, made no indication of Mauch scoring ahead of the third out. Between innings the Red Sox asked if Mauch’s run counted. Soar told them, “We’ll handle this. Just go away.” After the first pitch of the bottom of the ninth, Soar turned toward the official scorer in the press box and yelled, “The run counts.”
Asked after the game if he shouldn’t have indicated in some way that Mauch’s run counted, even if only tentatively, Soar said, “We couldn’t without tipping off that he left his base too soon. On an appeal, it’s up to the teams to call our attention to the play, not for us to call their attention to it.” Cal Hubbard, the American League supervisor of umpires, said Soar handled the situation perfectly and did so even though the rules did not outline the proper method for dealing with such a situation. Hubbard said he would bring the question to the Rules Committee; the following year the rules were amended to acknowledge a potential fourth-out situation and clarify when a team forfeited the opportunity to appeal.11
Columnist Hal Lebovitz posed this hypothetical to Hubbard: same situation, only a 3–3 game with the Red Sox as the home team, batting in the last of the ninth.
Again Mauch scores and again the Indians ignore it. Vic Wertz comes to bat in the top of the tenth. He hits the first pitch into the seats for a home run.
But wait! The umpire is shouting, “The home run doesn’t count,” he yells. “The Red Sox win, 4 to 3, because Mauch’s run became legal with that first pitch.”
“Yes,” says Cal Hubbard. “That’s what the umpire would have to do, all right. But I’d hate to be the umpire in that situation. All Hell would probably break loose.”
Regardless of the lack of clarity in the 1957 rules, Hubbard emphasized that the burden was on the teams. “If they know the rules, they’ll know what to do,” he said. “If not, tough luck.”
As many players and teams have demonstrated in the half-century that followed, they don’t know the rules and it’s often tough luck.
STEW THORNLEY has been an official scorer for Major League Baseball since 2007 and a member of the MLB Official Scoring Advisory Committee since 2013.
Thanks to Chad Broski and Rich Marazzi and to Society for American Baseball Research members Wayne McElreavy, Karen Brown, David McDonald, John Hernandez, Howard Elson, Lyle Spatz, Dwight Oxley, Dan Cichalski, Charlie Bevis, Bruce Slutsky, and Steve Gietschier along with Dave Smith and all the great folks at Retrosheet (https://www.retrosheet.org). [Note: The author of this article was the official scorer for both of the Twins games noted in 2010 and 2011; the description of those plays is based on his notes and recollection.]
1. Possibly not the exact word a manager would use here.
2. Marazzi is an author of books on baseball rules and a rules consultant to numerous major-league teams and sports networks. In email correspondence on January 25, 2021, Marazzi said he is not aware of such an event ever happening. He said Sam McDowell once told him a fourth out was executed in a Cleveland game although he hasn’t been able to document it.
3. From the “Definition of Terms” section of the rule book regarding a force play: “Example: Not a force out. One out. Runner on first and third. Batter flies out. Two out. Runner on third tags up and scores. Runner on first tries to retouch before throw from fielder reaches first baseman, but does not get back in time and is out. Three outs. If, in umpire’s judgment, the runner from third touched home before the ball was held at first base, the run counts.”
4. John Shipley, “Sloppy Play Costs Twins,” St. Paul Pioneer Press, June 11, 2010: 6D.
5. Dylan Hernandez, “Play It Out Strictly by the Rules: Torre’s Appeal Leads to, Yes, Four Outs, Tying Run in Second Inning,” Los Angeles Times, April 13, 2009, C1, C11.
6. Jeff Zrebiec, “Orioles Strike Last in Victory,” Baltimore Sun, April 29, 2007: 1, 13D. Zrebiec, Jeff, “Indians’ Protest Denied,” Baltimore Sun, May 3, 2007: 7E; Email correspondence with Chad Broski, January 22, 2021.
7. Gillespie, Ray J., “Cards End Eastern Tour with Nine Victories and Eight Defeats: Mediocre Relief Pitching Permits Brooklyn to Win,” St. Louis Star-Times, June 27, 1935: 23; McCullough, “Dodger Victory Averts Protest: Stengel Put Out of Game for Interpreting Rule Correctly,” Brooklyn Times Union, June 27, 1935: 11. Rule 52 of the 1934 and 1935 Official Base Ball Rules notes that no run can score if the third out is forced. The definition of a force play in the rule book states, “A force-out can be made only when a base-runner legally loses the right to the base he occupies by reason of the batsman becoming a base-runner, and he is thereby forced to advance.”
8. Barry Stanton, “A Funky Finish, But It’s Finally All Over,” Home News Tribune (New Brunswick, New Jersey), June 29, 1998: D2; Tom Withers, Associated Press, June 29, 1998.
9. Ohm Youngmisuk, “Tino Won’t Concede,” New York Daily News, June 29, 1998: 54; Jason Dumias, “Mets Find Consolation in a Strange Series Finish: Mound Gems Set Up a Confusing Ninth,” and Claire Smith “Welcome to the Flushing Zoo,” The New York Times, June 29, 1998: C1.
10. Jayson Stark, “Phils Come Up with a Surprise Ending in Wild and Crazy 5-3 Win over Astros,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 12, 1980: 1, 6F; Allen Lewis, “Triple Play? Ain’t No Way,” Philadelphia Inquirer, October 12, 1980: 1, 6F. Frank Mercogliano, in an April 11, 2015 post on the SID [Sports Information Directors] Scoring Assistance Facebook group, wrote of the play, “Leonard caught it and threw home to get Rose, who left way early and scored easily (he was sprinting home when the ball was caught).” However, television coverage (Game 4 of the 1980 playoffs is on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-2kkfWU0zz4) does not show if Rose took off early.
11. In Rules 7.08(d), Rule 7.10, and Rule 7.10 in the Notes and Case Book Comments section in the 1957 rule book, appeals and a “fourth out” are covered but with no clarification on dealing with a situation when a halfinning has apparently ended. Beginning in 1958, Rule 7.10(d) specifies that “during a play which ends a half-inning, the appeal must be made before the defensive team leaves the field.”
12. Hal Lebovitz, “Bosox Score on 4th-Out Puzzler When Indians Nip Wrong Runner: Mauch Leaves Base too Soon, But Tribe Fails to Appeal,” The Sporting News, September 4, 1957: 29; Marazzi, Rich, The Rules and Lore of Baseball, New York: Stein and Day Publishers, 1980: 170–71.