Photo Credit: Dale Garvey

When it comes to hit batters, softball umpires don’t have to make the exact same decisions as their baseball counterparts. Beanball wars in softball are exceptionally rare. In fact, only the NCAA has rules explicitly covering intentionally throwing at a batter or umpire.

Still, hit batters are a part of softball and judgment on the part of umpires is required. Decision number one is, was the batter hit or did she let the ball hit her?
All the codes state that a batter who tries to get hit will not be awarded first base and the pitch is ruled a ball or a strike (USA 8-1F Exc.; NFHS 8-1-2 Effect 4 b; NCAA; USSSA 8-4D Exc. 2). The exception is if the pitch results in ball four.

In NFHS and NCAA rules, a batter is awarded first base when a pitched ball is entirely within the batter’s box and it strikes the batter or her clothing. No attempt to avoid being hit by the pitch is required (NFHS 8-1-2 Effect 4 b; NCAA NCAA rules note the benefit of any doubt must go to the batter and could include a batter freezing and unable to move due to the unusual movement or speed of the pitch. USSSA adds that if a batter’s loose garment, such as a shirt that is not buttoned, is hit by a pitched ball, the batter is not entitled to first base (8-4D Note 1).

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When the pitch bounces and hits the batter, the batter is awarded first base. Also, be aware of the incorrect old adage that, “The hands are part of the bat.” Don’t be fooled when a coach makes that claim. In the real world the hands are not part of the bat. If the batter swings and hits the ball fair or foul off her hands, call the ball dead and charge the batter with a strike.

A batter is not awarded first base if she is hit by a pitch at which she offers. Likewise, a batter is not awarded first if she is hit by a pitch that’s in the strike zone. In both of those situations, rule the ball dead and charge a strike to the batter. For strike three, the batter is out.

In USA and NFHS, a slap hitter who runs out of the batter’s box and is struck by a pitch is awarded first base unless her getting hit prevented the pitch from entering the strike zone or she swung at the pitch (USA 7-4L Effect; NFHS 7-2-1h). In those latter two situations, the ball is dead and a strike is added to the batter’s count. In NCAA, a batter who is hit by a pitch while out of the batter’s box results in a dead ball with “no pitch” being declared.

Be sure you are not a tunnel-vision plate umpire. A tunnel-vision plate umpire keeps his or her eyes incorrectly fixated ahead and down the tunnel of the trajectory of the pitch. It takes practice and concentration to track pitches correctly. A good pitch tracker follows a pitch with his or her eyes all the way to its conclusion.

The toughest situation is the one in which the batter’s hands may or may not be involved. The defensive coach will try to convince you the ball hit the bat alone. His or her counterpart will be just as certain only the batter’s hands were involved. Or that one happened first followed by the other. You’d have to have the eyesight of a bald eagle to see the ball hit the bat first and then the batter’s hand, so don’t try to sell that ruling.

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Our tendency in hit-batter situations is to be too quick. It feels as if the world wants an instant ruling, when in fact we can (and should) take a moment and process what has occurred. You have the luxury of calling time (either way the ball is dead) and reading the situation.

If the batter instantly grabs her hand or arm and cries out in pain, the call should almost certainly be that she was hit. Virtually no amateur player is such a good actress that she can pull that off so quickly. Sound is another clue. Did you hear the “ping” of an aluminum bat or the “splat” of a ball hitting a gloved or ungloved hand or arm? And if asked if that call was based on sound, don’t deny it. If that was your best or only clue, go with it.

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Don’t forget that another part of the play is the potential that the batter swung at the pitch, which makes everything else moot. The plate umpire may go to a base umpire for help on a checked swing. A batter who is hit by a pitch that results in a strike (swinging or called) is not awarded first base. So in any of the three possible scenarios — foul ball, batter hit by pitch and awarded first base or batter hit by a strike — the ball is dead.

Play 1: B1 is standing in the batter’s box and a pitch grazes the sleeve of her uniform but not her arm. Ruling 1: The ball is dead and B1 is awarded first base.

Play 2: B1 squares to bunt but draws her bat back as she tries to avoid the pitch. The ball hits her hand on the bat and rolls into fair territory. Ruling 2: The ball is dead and B1 is awarded first base since she was not attempting to hit the pitch or bunt the pitch.

Play 3: R1 is on first base as B1 bats with 1-1 count. B1 swings and misses the pitch, but she is struck with the pitch. Ruling 3: The ball is dead and B1 remains at bat with a 1-2 count. R1 is returned to first base.

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Note: This article is archival in nature. Rules, interpretations, mechanics, philosophies and other information may or may not be correct for the current year.

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