The Runner’s Rights

This article was written by Richard Marazzi

This article was published in 1977 Baseball Research Journal

    Baseball is not only a “game of inches”, a thesis propounded by some mathematical phrase-maker, but it is also a game governed by inflexible rules. Throughout the history of the game, baseball’s lengthy code has caused or at least contributed to some of the most bizarre situations imaginable. Baseball has produced such oddities as a dead man scoring a run, two baseballs in play at the same time, runners circling the bases in reverse, plus many more.

    The rule book is covered in ten segments. Chronologically the statutes of the game begin with figure 1.00, “Objectives of the Game,” and terminate with the “Official Scorer” contained in the 10.00 section.

    In the next few anecdotes I will illustrate some of the rules involving the rights and restrictions of the runner contained in the 7.00section of the baseball rule book.

    Rule 7.05(c) gives a runner, “Three bases if a fielder deliberately throws his glove at and touches a fair ball. The ball is in play and the batter may advance to home base at his peril.”

    Notice the rule specifically states that the ball must be fair. However it wasn’t until 1954 that the word “fair” was included into the rule book.

    On July 27, 1947, Jake Jones of the Red Sox hit a 60 foot triple in the first game of a double header at Fenway Park in Boston because of the rule under study in a game against the Browns. With two out and the bases empty in the sixth inning, Jones hit a roller outside the third base line. The ball traveled about 60 feet when Fred Sanford, the Browns’ pitcher, tossed his glove and struck the ball to keep it from possibly going into fair territory. Hall of Fame Umpire Cal Hubbard awarded Jones a triple on the basis of the rule. Jones probably hit the shortest triple in baseball history.

    According to rule 7.05(i), “Each runner including the batter-runner may, without liability to be put out, advance one base, if the batter becomes a runner on Ball Four or Strike Three, when the pitch passes the catcher and lodges in the umpire’s mask or paraphernalia.”

    The year was 1948 and Kansas City was playing Milwaukee in a minor league game. The main characters of this episode are Milwaukee catcher Frank Kerr and plate umpire Harry King.

    Kerr called for a pitchout because he sensed the Kansas City runner on first, Leon Culberson, would be breaking for second. The ball struck the edge of Kerr’s mitt and lodged in umpire King’s mask.  Culberson made it to second and was allowed to stay there, but could advance no farther since the ball was dead. However, if the ball had lodged in the catcher’s mask or paraphernalia, it would have been live and in play.

    A violation of rule 7.08(h) cost Lou Gehrig the home run title in 1931. The rule declares a runner out for “passing a preceding runner before such runner is out.”

    The Yankees met the Senators in a game at Washington on April 26, 1931. Gehrig hit a shot so long and hard that the ball bounced out of the center field bleachers and was caught by Washington’s centerfielder. Lyn Lary was on first base with two out. Rounding second he saw the ball caught, and jogged over third base and into the Yankee dugout. Third base coach Joe McCarthy was “gathering wool” as Gehrig passed Lary en route home. Umpire Bill McGowan who umpired in 2,541 consecutive games during his American League career, ruled Gehrig out for the running violation.

    As a result of the running miscue, Gehrig ended the season with 46 home runs, tied with Babe Ruth. It’s ironic that an “Iron Man” umpire should make the call against the “Iron Man” himself.

    Losing credit for a home run is not a thing of the past. On July 9, 1970, Dalton Jones of the Tigers hit a grand slam homer against the Red Sox, but was only credited with a single because he passed Don Wert between first and second base.

    The Phillies’ Tim McCarver also lost a grand slam on July 4, 1976, the 200th Anniversary of our country, when he passed Garry Maddox who was holding at first base, thinking the ball might be caught.  The incident occurred in the second inning in a game at Pittsburgh.  McCarver was credited with a 3-run single. It was proper that a team representing the City of Brotherly Love should do something extraordinary on that memorable day.

    Gene Mauch, who is considered one of the brightest managers in the business, was nailed for breaking rule 7.09(h), involving deliberate interference by a runner, when he played for the Red Sox in a game against the Orioles on April 22, 1957. He was batting with Dick Gernert on third base in the seventh inning with one out. Mauch grounded to first baseman George Kell, who stepped on the bag and then threw to the plate in an effort to retire Gernert. Mauch, however, deflected Kell’s throw to the plate as he threw up his hands. Umpire Ed Rommel also declared Gernert out for Mauch’s interference. Kell and catcher Joe Ginsberg were credited with a freak double play.

    This rule was enforced as far back as 1883 in a little more bizarre episode. The situation took place in a game between Detroit and Boston in the early days of the National League. Boston had Ezra Sutton at third with Jack Burdock at the plate. Burdock hit a grounder to firstsacker Martin Powell. As Powell tried to throw to the plate to head off Sutton, Burdock took the unusual action of pinning Powell’s arms to his body. Umpire George Burnham called Sutton out and fined Burdock $20. Gene Mauch didn’t get fined for his interference-at least I don’t think he did.

    The final rule-related oddity that I will explain results from the stipulation “It is interference by a batter or a runner when in judgment of the umpire, the base coach at third base or first base, by touching or holding the runner, physically assists him in returning to or leaving third base or first base.” Rule 7.09(i).

    This rule came alive during the 1967 season in a Pacific Coast League game between Spokane and Hawaii. Spokane outfielder Jim Fairey was knocked unconscious by a throw from the Hawaii catcher after he stole third base. The ball rolled into left field after hitting Fairey on the skull.

    Fairey rolled past the bag after he was struck by the ball. When third base coach Gordy Coleman lifted the injured runner back onto the bag, Fairey was immediately called out for getting assistance from the third base coach.

    According to the rule, it is interference by a base coach if he assists a runner if a play is being made on him, but if a runner assists another runner it is perfectly legal.

    Because of the rule interpretation, a dead man once scored a run in a game played in New Jersey many years ago between the University of St. Joseph and the Chatham Stars.

    As reported by Baseball Magazine, “Chatham was leading 2-0 and there were two outs in the bottom of the ninth when O’Hara, a weak hitter, doubled to left. He was followed by Robidoux, “a scrappy young Arcadian,” who hit a long ball over the center fielder’s head. As O’Hara reached third base, he collapsed and died. Robidoux rounding third, picked O’Hara up and carried him down the base line, touching home plate first with O’Hara and then stepping on the plate himself. The game was tied 2-2.”

    Although the situations I have described are quite remote, they can and sometimes do occur. Keep some of these rules in mind during your next trip to the ball park.