The Look Back Rule
Rule 8, Section 7T [1-3] is always a rule in which we get a lot of questions and comments. By design the Look Back Rule was supposed to stop players from dancing around between bases while the ball was in the Pitcher’s possession and control in the Pitcher’s Circle. As many before us used to say when the ball is in the pitcher’s control and possession while the pitcher is in the pitcher’s circle the runner or runners must go one way or the other. The runner is not allowed to just stand between bases.
As the game has evolved there seems to be a lot of questions about when does the pitcher become a defensive player and then back to a pitcher. It is difficult to answer that question as a matter of fact because it is more a matter of judgment by the umpire. The design of the rule is once a play was over and the pitcher has control and possession of the ball in the circle the runners must advance or return to the base they left. Again now umpire judgment comes into play. Both the defense and the offense deserve the right to finish their responsibilities on each play. Runners must have the opportunity to read the play, see that the play is over, and that the pitcher is in control and possession of ball in the circle then decide which direction they will go, back to the base they left or advance to the next base. These three thought processes cannot be defined except by umpire judgment.
If the pitcher fields the ball in the circle and does not make a play on any runner and just stands in the circle with the ball any runner on a base has the right to judge if they can go forward or back to the base they left. They also have the right to over run a base and return or continue if they are continuing a play. Just because a pitcher has fielded the ball in the circle the play must be allowed to continue. Once the umpire has judged the play has ceased the pitcher now goes from a defensive player to a pitcher in the circle with control and possession of the ball.
When looking at the Look Back Rule remember control and possession in the circle by the pitcher is a must. The time and ability for both the defense and the runner to complete the play is also a piece of the puzzle. However most of all, like many plays and rules in our game of Softball umpire judgment is critical in getting the call correct.
PLAY: R1 on 3B and R2 on 1B with no outs. B3 hits a line drive back up the middle and the pitcher dives sidewise landing in the circle and makes the catch, lying on the ground in full control of the ball while the runners remain off base. Neither runner makes any attempt to advance or return until the pitcher stand up in the circle. When does the Look Back Rule come into play?
Ruling: This is an excellent example of the need by the umpire to have good judgment. If the umpire judges the pitcher had control and possession of the ball in the circle while on the ground, and the runners had time to read the play, see the pitcher has the ball in their possession and decide to advance or return and they did neither then we would have an out for a violation of the Look Back Rule. If in the judgment of the umpire, the runner saw the play, was able to determine the ball was in control and possession of the pitcher and then returned or advanced no look back rule would be enforced. If the umpire judges the pitcher does not have control and possession at any time then the Look Back Rule is not in effect. Rule 8, Section 7T [1-2].
Several umpires have requested that we try to explain the wording in Rule 5, Section 5B . Specifically the wording that reads; A batter-runner being called out prior to reaching first base or any other runner forced out due to the batter becoming a batter-runner. On an appeal play, the force out is determined when the appeal is made, not when the infraction occurred. The wording of the rule which is hard to understand is “On an appeal play, the force out is determined when the appeal is made, not when the infraction occurred.” While maybe not written as clearly as we may like the meaning is easier to understand. When talking about an appeal of the batter-runner reaching first base safely the rule actually states the out at 1B is in effect if or when the appeal is made. This allows the Batter-Runner to be called out for missing 1B on appeal and not allowing any runs to score as if the Batter-Runner was called out at first base when the ball beats the runner.
PLAY With two outs and R1 on 3B, R2 on 2B R3 on 1B with two outs, B4 hits a triple but misses (a) 1B or (b) 2B. An appeal is made after all three runners had scored and the umpire calls B4 out. Do the runs count?
RULING: In (a) the runs do not count since B4 is ruled out prior to reaching 1B and in (b) any runs that scored prior to the appeal for B4 missing 2B would count. Rule 5, Section 5B .
PLAY: R1 on 2B in a Co-ed Game and B2, a male batter is walked. B2 is awarded 2B by rule and the umpire awards R1 2 bases also. Correct?
Ruling: Incorrect. The ruling should be, the ball is dead. A walk to a male batter will result in a two base award. The next batter (a female) shall bat unless there are 2 outs then the female batter is given an option fo batting or going to 1B. This is an award to the male batter only and all other runners only advance a base, if forced. In this case, R1 on 2B only advances to 3B. Rule 8 Section 1C  EFFECT (Co-ed)
Batter Runner Interference
PLAY: One out, R1 on 1B. B3 swings at strike 3 and leaves the batter's box and runs toward first base after the third strike is dropped by F2. R1 returns to 1B, which draws a throw by F2. The throw ricochets off B3's helmet, staying in live territory, allowing R1 to advance to 2B.
RULING: The umpire needs to determine if the retired batter interfered with the throw from F2, or if F2 just made a bad throw. If it is a bad throw, no penalty. If it is a good throw and in the umpire’s opinion B3 hindered, impeded or confused the defense, then the runner closest to home would be called out. In this case that would be R1. Rule 1Interference, Rule 7, Section 6N, and Rule 8 Section 7P.
PLAY: No outs, bases empty. B1 hits a ball to the LC field fence. In trying to stretch the play into a triple, B1 gets caught in a run down between second and third base. During the rundown F6 dives and tags B1 on the back. F6 falls to the ground and the ball pops out of F6’s glove. The umpire rules B1 out.
RULING: B1 is out since F6 had control of the ball and completed the tag before hitting the ground and losing possession of the ball. F6 is only required to have control of the ball through the tag process to have an out. Rule 1 Tag, Rule 8, Section 7B
This month we would like to thank Region 15 umpires Mike Graber Alaska ASA, Sean Wells and Charles Coburn Seattle ASA and Region 6 Mike Thomas Oklahoma ASA for plays they submitted for Plays and Clarifications.