Sometimes sports-rule lawyering comes true: The strikeout with only one thrown pitch


Some time ago, I engaged in some sports-rule lawyering to try to come up with a way the losing team could manage to salvage a win without any remaining at-bats. It involved invoking a lot of obscure rules, but astonishingly one of the rules that I called upon was actually put into effect a few days ago.

The Crawfish Boxes provides an entertaining rundown of the sequence of events. Here is the boring version:

During his plate appearance, Vinnie Catricala was not pleased with the strike call on the first pitch he received. He exchanged words with the umpire, then stepped out of the batter's box to adjust his equipment. He did this without requesting or receiving a time-out. The umpire repeatedly instructed Catricala to take his position in the batter's box, which he refused to do. The umpire then called a strike on Catricala, pursuant to rule 6.02(c). Catricala, failing to comprehend the seriousness of the situation, still did not take his position in the batter's box, upon which the umpire called a third strike, thereby rendering him out.

You can watch it for yourself.

(Any discussion of this incident cannot be carried out without somebody referring to this Bugs Bunny cartoon, so there, I've done it so you don't have to.)

I noted back in 2011 that the conventional way of implementing the automatic strike is for the umpire to direct the pitcher to throw a pitch, and to call it a strike no matter where it lands. This rule was revised in 2008 so that the umpire simply declares a strike without a pitch. This removes the deadlock situation I referred to in my earlier article, where the umpire instructs the pitcher to deliver a pitch, and the pitcher refuses. (The rule change also removes a bunch of wacky edge cases, like, "What if the pitcher throws the pitch as instructed by the umpire, and the batter jumps into the batter's box and hits a home run?")

The revised rule 6.02(d)(1) specifically enumerates the eight conditions under which a batter is permitted to step out of the batter's box, none of which applied here.

(Note that the rules of baseball stipulate that unless the umpire has granted Time, batters step out of the batter's box at their own risk. The ball is still live, and a pitch may be delivered.)

Major League Baseball revised the rule in order to speed up the game, accompanying the rule change with instructions to umpires to enforce rules more vigilantly. Time between pitches is by far the largest chunk of wasted time in a baseball game, totalling well over an hour in a typical game. If you add the time between batters, you end up with over half of the elapsed time spent just waiting for something to start.

Comments (15)
  1. Jim says:

    Still not very clear with rule, that's why we need so many lawyers in this country. It's their profession to argue it out??

  2. Matt says:

    The ump didn't give the batter much time to get back in the box. I'm not sure the batter was even aware of what was happening. The announcers certainly had no idea.

    I coach my son's teams and there are always a couple of kids who step out of the batter's box between pitches. I keep telling them that they can't do that but they don't listen. My favorite thing is when the kids put their back hand up toward the ump while they get set in the box, just like they see on TV. It doesn't mean anything when the pros do it (time is not out but the pitcher doesn't throw a pitch out of professional courtesy). When they do it during batting practice I throw a pitch. Some of them learn and some don't.

  3. mikeb says:

    The umpire might have been right according to the rulebook, but he was being a real jerk. If he didn't like Catricala giving him grief over the bad strike call (the video isn't conclusive, but it sure looked like a bad strike call to me), he should have thrown him out at the time Catricala questioned the call instead of when Catricala was obviously cooling off instead of escalating the argument.

  4. DWalker59 says:

    Yep, it seems a little rude to me when a batter puts his hand out toward the ump as he steps in, without actually asking for time (Jeter does this as a habit).  It seems like he's asking the UMPIRE to wait.

  5. Joshua says:

    And then there was the day the umpire called a full-swung-at pitch with full follow-through a ball.

    That umpire should have been ejected from the game by both teams for gross incompetence.

  6. Mike says:

    Interesting.  But I do disagree with your calling the downtime "wasted."  The rhythm and timing of the game is an important part of it.  What fun would it be if it were all over in 15 minutes?!  If you want almost continuous action, watch soccer or basketball.

  7. "… watch soccer…"

    Watching an hour-long game that ends in a 0-0 tie? Yeah, that seems exciting.

  8. Joshua Ganes says:

    @Brian EE – You need to brush up on your sports. Soccer is a 90-minute game that ends in a nil – nil tie. That's much more exciting :)

  9. Nick says:

    @Brian: Action doesn't necessarily mean scoring. In fact, a lot of action in sports involves stopping scoring (amazing catches in baseball or blocks in most ball-oriented sports).

  10. No One says:

    Huh.  I dreamt that I explained this to someone last night.  I think I'm reading too many of your dream posts.

  11. voo says:

    @Brian EE: So you define how exciting a game is by how many scores are made? Umn well ok, I assume that's one – if completely illogical – way to do things.

    If you go by the slightly more sensible measure of action of "fraction of time something is actually going on and not just people standing around" baseball fares rather badly – well 10% action to idling ratio still beats american football so it's not that bad I assume.

  12. SteveS says:

    @Joshua Ganes – In Football, a tie is game between two sides that may end in a nil-nil draw!

  13. Aaron Margosis says:

    Sadly, the one-thrown-pitch strikeout video is no longer available on YouTube.  (Too much traffic from your blog post, is my guess.)

  14. Gabe says:

    voo: I'm not sure what the actual action:waiting ratio is for American football, but its advantage over baseball is that it has a clock. There is a limit to how much time a team can waste because not only is there a clock for when the ball is in play, but also a timer for between plays. Furthermore, if the time runs out, there is a fixed amount of time for overtime play (except when a winner must be decided, of course).

    Baseball has no clock, nor a fixed number of pitches, so even a single at-bat could last forever if the batter keeps hitting foul balls that don't get caught. Since there is no concept of a game ending in a draw, a tied game can go on forever.

  15. voo says:

    Gabe: The WSJ also did a count for how much action there is in a typical NFL game and it came out to.. less than 11 minutes in a 3 hour game (this comes out to about 6% action vs. idling). So baseball despite not having a clock or a fixed number of pitches on average still does better than American Football..

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