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Saturday, May 16, 2009
"Tie goes to the runner" and other myths

I recently have been reading journalist Bruce Weber's book, As They See 'Em: A Fan's Travels in the Land of Umpires. It is a fun read, providing great insight into the history, politics, and nuances of umpiring. I was interested in it for the insight it may shed on the much-despised judge-umpire analogy, this time from the umpire perspective. I may write a book review on it, focusing on the analogy and what it teaches us about that.

For now, I wanted to mention one thing that caught my eye. As far back as Little League, we learned (and constantly repeated whenever there was a close play) that "the tie goes to the runner." Apparently, this is false. Rule 7.01 states that "A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out." Thus, the runner is out unless he beats the throw and/or tag to the base.

This is an interesting example of default rules and burdens of persuasion in action. The default is that the runner is out unless he affirmatively beats the throw. In a sense, the runner has the burden of proof that he is safe and his failure to meet his burden (his failure to beat the throw) means he is out. Weber does not get into the origins or rationale for the rule or the origins of the myth. But it is one more thing that umpires do that we do not understand.



I disagree with your interpretation of the rule. The rule certainly doesn't say that the runner is out unless he beats the throw/tag. But I will say that it's poorly drafted because it doesn't define what it means to be "out".

I think it's better that the "tie goes to the runner" from a public policy standpoint. When somebody is running for their life, as fast as they can and out of breath -- up against 9 other people out to kill him no less -- who wants a rule that says he dies if one of the nine gets to his house at the same time he does?

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 5/17/2009 10:01 AM  

No one who actually follows baseball believes that in reality the tie goes to the runner, rather it is short-hand for the fact-finding of the umpire. While science might be able to resolve many more of those close plays the human eyes and ears cannot resolve.

Tie goes to the runner is a public policy statement. Whenever the doubt cannot be resolved as to whether the runner reached safely the presumption is he reached safely. Since few runners reach first base safely a call of "out" usually harms the batting team more than the defending team.

Blogger Mark -- 5/17/2009 10:41 AM  

I like Mark's "balancing of the harms" approach. Mark raises another good point from a practical standpoint as far as what the human eyes and ears are capable (or not capable) of doing. In a non-tag situation (i.e. a force out), an umpire can't possibly watch both the ball hitting the glove and the runner's foot hitting the bag at the same time, so the ump watches the bag and listens for the ball to hit the glove -- I think it's probably easier on the ump, which results in more consistent calls, if the ump is listening for whether the ball hits the glove first.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 5/17/2009 11:28 AM  

Most veteran umpires will tell you that there is simply no such thing as a tie. They will say they are paid to make such close distinctions and thus if they bang the batter/runner out it was because the ball/tag got there first (not because it was too close to differentiate and policy should dictate in favor of the offensive team). In the umpire's mind, ties do not exist: one is out or safe.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/17/2009 11:38 AM  


That may be the case, but it doesn't answer Howard's question about what the rules provide when the ball and runner both get there at the same exact time.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 5/17/2009 11:42 AM  

You're right, it doesn't answer that question, but the reason is because the umpire will say that can't happen. Of course scientifically it can happen, but because the umpire's decision is based upon human perception of the play, he will be forced to decide which, to the best of his perception and training, happened first. This is how Jim Evans has explained it.

Of course, umpires like lawyers do not use simply the rule book as their guide to a game. Rather, just as an attorney has Restatements, practice guides, digests, and the like - umpires have the J/R manual and a handful of other guides that aid in their interpretation and application of the rules. All of that is a bit a moot point when it comes to a matter of perception, but I think the general point is that to an umpire this statement; "Tie goes to the runner is a public policy statement. Whenever the doubt cannot be resolved as to whether the runner reached safely the presumption is he reached safely" never applies because his job is to resolve doubt, not relegate his judgment to presumptions.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/17/2009 1:48 PM  

I don't have a copy of the rules in front of me, but I would guess that "out" is defined elsewhere. For sake of argument let's assume that the rules codify some basic intuitive definition, such as "the runner or the base is tagged with the ball" (with tagging the base covering where a player holding the ball touches the base on a force play).

So 7.01 means a runner acquires the right to the base when he touches it before he or the base is tagged. And if he does not touch the base before he is tagged--either because the ball/tag beats him or because they get there at the exact same time moment (however unlikely that actually may be)--he is out.

I agree with Mark that "tie goes to the runner" is shorthand for public policy. My point is that it is inaccurate shorthand because that is not the policy expressed in the rule. Under the rule (as I am interpreting it) the policy is that a tie goes to the defense, because the runner is out unless he gets to the base *FIRST*.

And Anon probably is right that there are no ties, at least not to the naked eye. That is what Weber and several umpires take away from it.

Blogger Howard Wasserman -- 5/17/2009 2:28 PM  

While "tie goes to the runner" is learned at a young age and oft-repeated, I thought anon's perspective was the view of any learned (for lack of a better term) baseball fan, player, ump, etc.

Anonymous Ryan -- 5/17/2009 3:46 PM  


I'm still not convinced that 7.01, as drafted, means what you say it means. To me, the express language of the rule simply doesn't answer the question you raise. Being out is simply a question of timing. So "out" can't mean being tagged with the ball (as you suggest), because answering whether somebody is out depends entirely on WHEN the runner was tagged with the ball. So "out" is really a timing question, and the rule attempts to answer that question by stating that a runner is safe if he reaches base before he is out. That makes no sense.

Even taking your interpretation of the rule that the runner is safe if he reaches base before he is tagged, that still doesn't address whether the runner is safe or out if he reaches the base at the same time as the tag/ball -- Because one could just as easily argue it the other way (i.e. reaching the base at the same time as the tag/ball means that he "touched the base before he got tagged").

By the way, this situation is not that uncommon (at least to the human senses, which is all that is relevant).

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 5/17/2009 5:39 PM  

How about a discussion of Apollo or Zeus in sports law. You could even throw Nike in there for the other "myths" part....

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/17/2009 6:44 PM  

Zeus doesn't have as much influence in baseball as you would think. Athena plays a more significant role in baseball.

Blogger Rick Karcher -- 5/17/2009 8:29 PM  

What of Rule 6.05(j) which says:

"A batter is out when ... after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base."

Doesn't that seem to shift the burden back to the fielder??

Anonymous Anonymous -- 5/18/2009 4:57 PM  

Yes, it does shift the burden back to the fielder. To me, the rules seem to treat a forced runner differently than a batter-runner reaching first base.

It appears that a runner is out on a force play if he "fails" to touch the base before the base is tagged. According to rule 7.08e: A runner is out if: (e) "He fails to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base, after he has been forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner."

I.e., a forced runner is out if he fails to beat the throw. Kinda sounds like tie goes to the fielder in this case.

BUT - by rule 6.05 (J): a BATTER is out if: (j)After a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base. As you correctly pointe out. This would suggest at first base, with a batter turned runner, tie goes to the batter (runner).

In reality, I believe most umps don't get into interpretations of implicitly stated rules. I think they base their calls on which they think got there first, which is what you were saying in your earlier post.

Anonymous Billy Bowlegs -- 5/28/2009 12:47 PM  

"tie goes to the runner" is a playground phrase used when there is no umpire to decide the call. It was used by kids to decide perceived ties in much the same way as "shooting odds or evens" or jsut deciding based on force of personality.

The rules seem to conflict on the batter/runner having to be conclusively safe or else he is considered out versus the forced runner having to be put out or he is safe because the forced runner has acquired rights as a base-runner. He's been declared safe previously, a batter/runner has not.

I believe that is the reason for the apparent discrepancy between the definition of what is an "out" as applied to the two types of runners.

When I umpire, there are no ties. And happily no appeals on arguments heard on safe/out decision. :)

Blogger Charles Slavik, CPT*D -- 6/03/2009 10:51 AM  

Spot on about Rule 6.05(j). Bruce Weber vastly oversimplifies this issue.

Anonymous Anonymous -- 2/25/2010 1:36 AM  

Tie goes to the umpire.

Blogger kathy -- 5/17/2010 5:33 PM  

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