As we move into the 2012 ASA Softball season the questions about illegal pitches come up on a regular basis, especially in the game of fast pitch. ASA umpires have always been taught that all pitchers are legal until they do something that is illegal. If you look at pitchers from this perspective it makes it easy to see and call illegal pitches. One question recently asked that should make you stop and think is, “Can an illegal pitch be called without the batter in the batter’s box? “
This is a great question because it is an example of the ASA rules being a body of work and not a lot of “stand-alone” rules. If you were to look at ASA Rule 6 Section 1, 2 or 3 there is nothing that says the batter must be in the batter box for an illegal pitch to occur and or be called. An example would be a pitcher steps on the pitcher’s plate with their hands together, separates them, waits on a batter to enter the box, then once the batter enters the box brings the hands back together, can an umpire call an illegal pitch for bringing the hands together more than one time?
Throughout the ASA Rule Book we constantly refer to “a pitch”, as legal or illegal. So a pitch to ASA Umpires can be a legal or an illegal act. ASA has always taught that for a pitch to be delivered, legal or illegal, the batter must be in the batter’s box and the pitcher in the pitching position with all defensive players except the catcher in fair territory. We also teach, as shown in the umpire manual on page 244, if a batter is not in the batter’s box umpires should hold up play. Umpires should hold up play on a right-handed batter by raising your right arm above your head with the palm open and facing the pitcher. On a left-handed batter raise your left arm above your head with your palm open and facing the pitcher.
We also have rule support throughout the ASA Rule Book, for a legal or illegal pitch to occur the batter MUST be in the batter’s box. Using the ASA rules as a complete body of work the following rules, used together, support the fact no batter equals no illegal pitch.
Rule 6, Section 1A and B When taking the pitching position in contact with the pitcher’s plate, the pitcher must have their hands separated and must have the ball in either the glove or the pitching hand. The pitcher shall not be considered in the pitching position unless the catcher is in position to receive the pitch.
Rule 6, Section 10B The pitcher attempts a quick return of the ball before the batter has taken a position in the batter’s box or when the batter is off balance.
EFFECT: Section 10 A-E: The ball is dead, all subsequent action on that pitch is cancelled.
Rule 7, Section 3A: Prior to the pitch, the batter must have both feet completely within the lines of the batter’s box. The batter may touch the lines, but no part of the foot may be outside the lines prior to the pitch.
These three rules show the preliminaries of the pitch, what an umpire should do if the batter is not in the box or ready to receive a pitch, and that the batter has to be completely in the batter’s box prior to the pitch. So when looking at these rules together we have rule support that a batter must be in the box before a pitch legal or illegal can be delivered.
This is a great example why we say apply the rules to the play and not the play to the rule. Get to know the rules better and use the entire ASA Rules of Softball as a body of work to help guide you in those situations.
Plays and Rulings:
PLAY: B1 enters the batter’s box and gets a base hit with a bat that has a handle shaped like an axe handle. The defense appeals before a pitch to the next batter:
RULING: B1 is not out because an axe handle bat is legal in ASA play.
Rule 3, Section 1C HANDLE: The region of the bat from the knob, not including the knob, to the start of the taper where the diameter increases. The handle will include a grip. Rule 3, Section 1D TAPER: The transition area between the handle and the barrel. The Taper shall have a generally conical shape. It starts where the barrel decreases in size and ends where the handle diameter becomes constant.
The rule is written this way to allow the handle to have new technology. It is also written to distinguish the handle from the taper. So the bat may have an axe shaped handle as long as the taper is generally conical. If the handle is axe like and the taper is generally conical the bat is legal.
PLAY: In a Junior Olympic Fast Pitch game, the home team takes the field and all the players including the pitcher are wearing optic yellow shorts. The pitcher picks up the ball, which is optic yellow and the team at bat protest that the pitcher cannot wear anything optic yellow including her uniform.
RULING: The optic yellow shorts are legal. The only color limitations ASA has for the pitcher is the color of the glove. We also limit items worn on the pitcher’s hand, wrist, forearm, elbow and thighs.
Rule 5, Section 6: All players on a team shall properly wear uniforms that are like in color and style. Sleeves or straps of the uniform top may be adjusted, with or without tie-ups, to the comfort of the players, provided uniform numbers remain visible. If because of the blood rule a change is required and the uniform part does not match, the player will not be penalized. All protective equipment should be worn properly. If a player is requested by the umpire to remove jewelry, illegal shoes or illegal parts of the uniform and they refuse, the player will not be allowed to play. Coaches, players and team representative shall not display the names and/or logos of any other softball association on their uniforms. EXCEPTION: Men's E Rec the only uniform requirement is matching shirt with number.
Rule 3, Section 6B PANTS/SLIDING PANTS:
All players’ pants may be long, short, or mixed in style, as long as they are like in color. Players may wear a solid-colored pair of sliding pants. It is not mandatory that all players wear sliding pants, but if more than one player wears them, they must be like in color and style. No player may wear ragged, frayed or slit legs on exposed sliding pants.
Rule 3, Section 6C: UNDERSHIRTS:
Players may wear a solid-colored undershirt. It is not mandatory that all players wear an undershirt, but if more than one player wears one, they must be like in color and style. No player may wear ragged, frayed or slit sleeves on exposed undershirts.
Rule 6, Section 6B Fast Pitch:
A pitcher shall not wear any item on the pitching hand, wrist, forearm, elbow or thighs, which may, in the umpire’s judgment, be distracting to the batter. Batting gloves may not be worn on the pitching hand.
PLAY: With R1 on 3B and one out, B3 hits a ground ball to F3. R1 tries to advance home as F3 throws home and hits B3 who is running outside the three-foot lane. Do we have interference on B3 for not running in the three-foot lane?
RULING: B3 is not out for being out of the three-foot lane but could be called out for interference, if in the umpire’s judgment B3 committed interference. The three-foot lane only applies to the Batter-Runner when running to first base and the throw is to first base.
Rule 8, Section 2E: When the batter-runner runs outside the three-foot lane and, in the umpire’s judgment, interferes with the fielder taking the throw at first base….. However there could be Interference by the Batter-Runner if in the judgment of the umpire, the Batter-Runner impeded, hindered or confused the defensive player attempting to execute a play.
(Rule 1 - Definitions), or Rule 8 Section 7J  When a runner interferes:
1. With a fielder attempting to field a batted fair ball or a foul fly ball, or
2. With a fielder attempting to throw the ball, or
3. With a thrown ball.
EFFECT: If this interference, in the umpire’s judgment is an attempt to prevent
a double play and occurs before the runner is put out, the immediate
trailing runner shall also be called out.
4. Intentionally with any defensive player having the opportunity to make
an out with the deflected batted ball.
The three-foot lane is not a factor when the throw comes from the fielder at 1B back toward home plate. It should be judged the same as a throw from 1B to 2B, 2B to 3B or 3B to home plate. If the umpire judges interference per Rule 8, Section 7J  then you could have the Batter-Runner out on interference. However whether the Batter-Runner was in the three-foot lane or not has no bearing on this play.
PLAY: B1 hits a ground ball to F6 who throws to F3. The throw is high and F3 jumps to catch the throw. F3jumps up totally in fair territory to get a thrown ball and comes down with his foot only on the orange portion of the bag. In this case, the defensive player, with the exception of their foot, and the ball are all in fair territory.
RULING: Rule 8, Section 2M: On an errant throw pulling the defense in foul ground off the white portion of the base, the offense and defense can use either the white or contrasting portion of the base.
Three things the umpire must consider to rule on this play......
1. Was this an errant throw? In the example given, the defensive player had to jump to
catch the ball. This act would make the throw an errant throw.
2. Did the throw pull the defensive player into foul ground? The answer here is yes, after
jumping to get the high throw, the defensive player came down on the contrasting
color portion of first base which is completely in foul ground.
3. Did the defensive player have control of the ball in his possession and were they in contact
with that base before the batter-runner reached first base?
If the answer to all three questions is yes, the batter-runner is out.
QUESTION: In the Two Umpire System, Fast Pitch or Slow Pitch, when does the base umpire cover 3B?
ANSWER: There are four times the base umpire has responsibility for a play at third base. They are:
1. on the batter-runner on a triple with no runners on base.
2. on the last runner into third base.
3. on a lone runner on fly ball advancement.
4. on any return throw from the plate area or a cut-off by a player.
NOTE: Regretfully these four items were left out of the 2012 Umpire Manual. They will be back into the Umpire Manual Section in 2013
Question: In the Two Umpire system is it better for an umpire to go out on all fly balls so you will be safe from any problems that may occur in the outfield?Answer: We have never said if you go out on all fly balls you will be safe from any problems. In the Two Umpire System, we teach that the base umpire should go out on any fly ball that might be trapped or near the fence. The base umpire in the Two Umpire System must read the play immediately and decide “Do I NEED to go out because the fly ball could be trapped?” So, in the Two Umpire System, if the base umpire feels the NEED to go out on a fly ball, then go. The emphasis is on the issue of NEED. We do not want umpires in a two-umpire system saying they do not go out on fly balls because they are in the Two Umpire System.