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Baseball Is a Game Full of Strange Rules
Most people know the most basic rules of baseball. Or at least they think they do. Three strikes and the batter is out? This article will explain why sometimes that's not even true. Do you have to catch a ball that's hit into the air for the batter to be out? Nope, not always!
There are plenty of whacky rules in the great sport of baseball. And just when you thought you had it all figured out.
Here are five of the strangest rules in the game, enjoy!
1. A Pitcher Can't Spit on the Ball
In the early days of baseball, pitchers found very unusual ways to gain an advantage. One of the more popular ways was to add spit to the ball! This would result in a more slippery ball and unpredictable movement for both the hitter and the pitcher.
In the 1920s, baseball introduced a rule that made it illegal for pitchers to spit on the ball. They also made it illegal to wipe sweat or any other substance onto the ball while they're pitching.
In fact, today, it is considered illegal for a pitcher to wipe his face with his hand and then directly grab the ball. He first must wipe his hand off on the outside of his uniform, and then grip the baseball.
Pitchers today are still getting in trouble for adding substance to the ball, though modern pitchers are after a bit of a different advantage. They often put pine tar (a sticky substance used to add grip to the bat) on the ball, so they can grip the ball and make it move better.
Pitchers will do anything it seems to get the upper hand, as if hitting isn't hard enough!
2. The Infield Fly Rule Means You're Out Before They Catch It
Okay, so even a casual fan knows that if the batter pops the ball up into the air, the fielder has to catch it in the air to get the batter out. Not so fast.
There is a rule in baseball called the infield fly rule. Here is how the rule works in bullet form because it's a bit complicated:
- A batter is up with less than two outs in the inning.
- There are runners on first and second base, or the bases are loaded.
- Batter pops a ball up that an infielder can make an easy play on.
- The batter is automatically out while the ball is still in the air!
The key is that the popped up ball has to be catchable by an infielder. So that's right, even if the ball comes down and nobody catches it, the batter is still out.
The rule is in place because, in this situation, infielders could intentionally drop the pop up to gain an advantage. The runners on base can't go when the ball is popped up because it will probably be caught, so if the infielder dropped it they would be stuck.
I've seen actual baseball coaches not be too good with the infield fly rule, which makes sense because it's certainly a crazy one.
3. Using Your Hat to Catch the Ball Is a Big Penalty
If you've ever watched kids play baseball, you have most certainly seen a player or two throw their glove at a ball or try to catch it in their hat. In an organized game, however, this would cost them!
There's a strange rule in baseball that makes it illegal to manipulate the ball in any way with any part of your uniform. This includes those two most often used pieces, the hat, and the glove.
The rule was put into place to keep fielders from being able to throw their glove or hat at a ball that was flying over them or rolling passed them. This seemed to be (and is) unfair, and players were trying it all the time!
The penalty for affecting the ball with your uniform? The hitter and all runners on base get three free bases! So if the hitter hits a ball that's flying over an infielder's head and the infielder throws his glove at it and hits it, the hitter gets a triple.
The glove or hat actually has to hit the ball for the penalty to count, I've seen many players throw the glove out of reaction and miss the ball. The only penalty for that is a bit of embarrassment.
4. A Pitcher Must Hold Perfectly Still With Runners on Base
In baseball, there are lots of rules for the pitcher. That makes sense since he's the only defender with the ball, and he controls a lot of the game.
This brings up an interesting point that in baseball, the defense has possession of the ball! Okay, back to the rules.
When the pitcher has the ball on the mound, and there are runners on base, there are even more rules about what he can and can't do. Before he pitches, he must first come into a "set position." This means he has to bring the ball into his glove and come to a complete stop before he pitches.
If he doesn't come to a complete stop before he pitches, it's called a "balk," and the runners get to advance a base. If he does come to a complete stop and then flinches or twitches before he pitches, that is also a balk.
The only exception is if he spins and throws to the base that the runner is on, and there are a whole bunch of other rules about that.
All of the "balk" rules in baseball are designed to make it harder for the pitcher to "deceive" the runners. It's even considered a balk if the pitcher accidentally drops the ball on the ground while he's on the pitching rubber!
5. If It Sticks In the Catchers Mask, the Runners Celebrate
A catcher has a very hard job behind the plate. He wears a lot of heavy and hot equipment, he has to block fastballs that the pitcher throws in the dirt, and he gets hit in the face a lot by foul balls.
There is one rule that just seems to add insult to injury for the catcher. If a ball gets stuck in his facemask, the runners get to advance a free base!
It isn't just the facemask either: If the ball gets stuck in any part of the catcher's gear, it is considered a dead ball and all of the baserunners move up.
I've actually seen a tie game end on this rule. The last inning of the game, there was a runner on third, and the catcher blocked the ball, but it went inside his chest protector. The ball was called dead, and the winning run was awarded home. How's that for strange!
Let's Hear Other Strange Rules!
Use the comment section to let us know all of the strange rules you've seen over the years in baseball. You can also ask about the other rules of the game; there are plenty of them to be curious about!
Baseball is a game of rules, and some of them are downright strange. Thanks for reading!
© 2016 baseballbrains
David Oznot on June 12, 2020:
@Tra C Davis
“They start the 6th inning of the game with the visiting team down 7 to 4. The visiting team grinds out some hits loads the bases their big hitter steps up knocks a grand slam. When the ending is finally over Score is 8 to 7 visiting team. Home team steps up to bat it starts to rain. After 2 outs are made it starts to really pour and lightning strikes umpire calls the game.. Box score the next day home team wins 7 to 4 In 5 innings game called on account of rain. Player hit 1st career grand slam and they take it away from him like it never happened. Rule is no inning counts unless it's a complete inning.”
This used to be the rule, but it isn’t anymore. If the visiting team takes the lead in the top of the inning and the game is halted in the bottom half with the visitors still in the lead, the score does *not* revert to the last completed inning. Instead, the game is *suspended*, to be completed from the point of suspension at a later date. (Official Baseball Rules, 2016 recodification, [7.02(a)(5)]).
N on May 12, 2020:
Tra C Davis on June 16, 2019:
They start the 6th inning of the game with the visiting team down 7 to 4. The visiting team grinds out some hits loads the bases their big hitter steps up knocks a grand slam. When the ending is finally over Score is 8 to 7 visiting team. Home team steps up to bat it starts to rain. After 2 outs are made it starts to really pour and lightning strikes umpire calls the game.. Box score the next day home team wins 7 to 4 In 5 innings game called on account of rain. Player hit 1st career grand slam and they take it away from him like it never happened. Rule is no inning counts unless it's a complete inning.
Eric smallmeyer on June 10, 2019:
I heard runners cant rub the spot they got hit by the pitch.
baseballbrains (author) on May 25, 2019:
Hi Kristopher, that is something I would LOVE to see, illegal or not!
baseballbrains (author) on May 25, 2019:
Hey Marty, yeah I think the runners are free to advance on that! It's up to the defense to know the count, so if they throw it away with two strikes, that's a live ball! Thanks for reading.
Kristopher on May 25, 2019:
It is illegal if a runner from 3rd base tries to steal home and the 1st baseman runs in front of the pitch catches it before it crosses the plate and tags the stealing player out
Marty Hayes on May 10, 2019:
Runners on 2nd & 3rd with two outs. Batter runner runs to first after a dropped second strike. Catcher throws to first and throws the ball over first base and rests out of play! Can runners advance? or not?
Dan W Miller from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000 on January 02, 2019:
Brains & Clem -
Tough to keep it brief when talkin' baseball. But I must. No infield fly on a bunt? I would say no time. Too quick. Runners don't have enough time to make the wrong decision too.
Think of it. A popped bunt is 1 to 2 secs. An infield pop is about 3 secs.
Now Vic Wertz fly ball to Willie Mays' "The Catch" was a full 5 secs btw
Oh! What do ya know! Look!
Len Clements on December 25, 2018:
Even after 18 years of umpiring (Little League to Semi-pro) and finishing 3rd in my professional umpire's school class in rule knowledge (Bill Kinnamon's, class of 1980 – same as Gary Darling and NBA ref Bill Spooner), I still don't understand why a bunted pop up, no matter where it's hit, or how high, is not eligible to be called an infield fly (see "Definition of Terms: Infield Fly": http://goo.gl/TbPmiS).
In fact, I had the opportunity to ask both John McSherry and Ed Brinkman this question when I attended Kinnamon's school (they were the head instructors). I recall John's response vividly. He replied, "When I went to umpires school I didn't question the rules, I just learned them". After receiving his message loud and clear, he then did something rather remarkable. He suggested I write the head offices of both leagues and ask them, then candidly asked me to let him know how they respond because, "I'd like to know the reasoning behind that myself". He then stated something to the effect that he was no longer a student but rather "Professor McSherry" at one of the most "prestigious umpiring institutions of higher learning" thus it was now okay to question the rules, but he said it in a much more hilarious way (as he often did – John could have easily been a successful stand up comic had he not been an umpire). Anyway, the NL office never replied, but the AL office's letter simply reiterated the rule with a few extra words, and described a little of it's history. In other words, they didn't know either. When I asked Ed Brinkman he said I should "Ask John".
I actually called (didn't call) this once during a men's fast-pitch softball game after a bunted pop up was dropped for a double play with the bases loaded and one out. Emphasis on the "once".
baseballbrains (author) on August 10, 2018:
Hey Dan Miller! Must have missed your comment when you left it, always great hearing from an umpire!
I love all the ways 'old timers' bent the rules. Baseball is one of those games with a lot of 'unwritten' rules as well, so much bending still goes on. I see a lot of pitchers on the mound with a lot of movement that is probably a balk by rule, but they 'do it everytime' so it's allowed.
As for the spit ball, it certainly is more about release than the substance. In fact, I've heard most hitters say they don't mind if a pitcher has pine tar on his hand, because if somebody is throwing the ball 90 while you're up there, you don't mind if they have a good grip on it!
They have used vaseline and all kinds of stuff (razor blades and emory boards to scuff the ball or raise a seem) on the ball to affect it. I've heard stories of pitchers who could throw almost like a fast knuckleball by using vaseline, and letting the ball slip from the hand unpredictably.
Thanks for reading, love your stories and would love to hear more of them!
Dan W Miller from the beaches of Southern California now living in Phoenix since 2000 on November 02, 2017:
In answering troll Dan below, it's the release of the ball rom the hand and not so much the changed wind resistance when a ball has junk on it. I would "cheat" by chewing real sticky gum, spit in the mitt and I could get a real good grip on the ball.
Can you imagine they even threw a "shine ball" with a can of hot wax on the mound? OMG! But, yeah, no helmets, a ball getting out of control... I could see it. Especially after submariner Carl Mays (known for throwing a wet ball) killed Ray Chapman with a ball off his head in 1920.
My rule of thumb for calling an infield fly (read my How To Be The Best Umpire) was if I can see the infielder's number on his back, it's going to be a tough play and I probably WON'T call it. But call it early and call it loud.
Saw ss Maury Wills dupe Rusty Staub who was on 1st. He acted like it was a tough play, dropped it and I don't know what Staub was thinking but he hesitated to get back on the bag. Maury snatched it, threw a bullet to Wes Parker at 1st and got him. Double play.
I had a ball stick in my armpit while umpiring, let the ball drip and yelled dead ball BUT I gave the runners 1 base because they would have advanced.
As far as the pitcher being motionless - yes. But as The Great Luis Tiant would ESTABLISH a bunch o quirks in his NORMAL delivery to the plate. I'm sure El Tiante was the only one they would allow this.
One was to "bounce" his mitt from belt high. Didn't matter how many times. He also would lift his chin quickly over and over. You CAN look around but he pushed the rules. So funny because he tried to get EVERY advantage he could. So find footage and watch him bounce, tilt but never move his legs or his shoulders. Sometimes 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, etc and then there'll be a couple of SET, STOP, THROW to an unsuspecting batter.
Dan on March 05, 2017:
This is a good read. Do you know if any experiments have been conducted regarding substances on the ball in terms of ball movement? It's surprising that even a little spit could affect the trajectory enough to give the pitcher an advantage. Wouldn't most of it fly off the ball in mid air?