Photo Credit: Bob Messina

Webster’s defines abandonment as “to leave or forsake completely; to give up possession or control of or to give up, discontinue or withdraw from.” No, Webster’s does not author a softball rulebook, but does define the rule nearly perfectly in its dictionary.

Abandoning a base is the simple act of leaving a base without cause. This can happen for many reasons. The most common reason is the baserunner assumes she has or had been called out and leaves the base to walk toward the dugout. Baserunners also leave bases for myriad reasons, including the inning is over, the game is over or simply just a momentary brain lapse. While these situations are rare, it’s vital for umpires to handle them correctly. Rare, obscure calls that an umpire may not see on a regular basis can be the difference between working big games, postseason or moving up to higher levels. It is imperative umpires understand abandonment, what does and does not constitute abandonment and know how to properly rule on it when it does happen.

All four codes are mostly in agreement when it comes to abandonment. NFHS and USA Softball specify that once a runner reaches a base safely, the runner must enter dead-ball territory before being called out for abandonment (NFHS 8-6-19; USA Softball 8-7u). NCAA rules specify if a runner obviously heads toward her position or the dugout believing she was out, the batted ball was foul, etc., or leaves the field of play, she is guilty of abandonment (12.11.4). USSSA states if a runner leaves the baseline, obviously abandoning her effort to touch the next base, she is declared out (8-18q).
Let’s take a look at a couple of plays and how the different codes would handle them.

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Play 1: With R1 on first and one out, B3 hits a ground ball to second base. F4 fields the ball and throws to F6 at second base to retire R1. F6’s throw to F3 at first is late and B3 is ruled safe at first. B3 overruns first base into right field. Thinking she is out, she takes a wide turn into foul territory near the fence line, but still in live-ball territory. The first-base coach successfully calls her back to first base. Ruling 1: In all codes, the runner is not ruled out for abandonment. The batter-runner never entered dead-ball territory nor did she obviously head toward her dugout.

Play 2: The first batter of the inning bunts and is ruled safe at first on a bang-bang play. The runner, after overrunning first base to right field, comes back and steps on first. Believing she was out, the runner starts walking toward her dugout, which is on the third-base side of the field. The runner jogs toward her dugout and reaches the third-base foul line before she realizes she was safe and jogs back to first. Ruling 2: In NFHS and USA Softball, the runner is not out for abandonment since she did not leave live-ball territory. However, if the ball was in the circle, she could be ruled out for a look-back-rule violation. In NCAA and USSSA, the runner would be ruled out for abandonment since she obviously headed toward her dugout.

The simplest way to not find yourself in the situation of calling a runner out for abandonment is to handle your responsibility as an umpire. Too often, base umpires give soft signals and quiet calls on bang-bang plays. Patience and showing your call with authority will eliminate much of this unwanted attention. Base coaches can be an ally in this situation, but only if they know what you called. Remember, they are usually busy telling you what the call should be instead of watching their runner.

Runners abandon bases for other reasons as well. In an NCAA regional, a third-base coach went to give instructions to her passing batter as she walked to the plate. Thinking this was a conference, the baserunner from third joined them. The umpire was forced to call her out for abandonment. Could this situation have been controlled? If the umpire on third had stayed locked in to the situation and not taken a mental break between batters, the umpire may have noticed the baserunner beginning to walk away from the bag. In this type of situation, a simple, “This is not a conference,” or an even simpler, “Stay where you are,” would have prevented an out. Preventive umpiring is golden in this situation.

In the umpire world, we have all heard the phrase, “Don’t trouble, trouble.” I am sure some of you are thinking this preventive umpiring scenario is not your job or responsibility. And that is accurate by definition, if not by theory. As umpires, our job is to manage the game and do so as accurately and fairly as possible. Is keeping an abandonment situation from happening managing the game? We have multiple opportunities to look bad. From the catcher trying to move pitches all over the zone to the bang-bang plays on the bases, we get our fair share of difficulties. Simply managing this type of situation will make games smoother and your stock as an umpire rise. This situation of a runner leaving a base to join a potential conference should not be confused with a runner who leaves the base thinking she was out or a batter-runner who doesn’t advance on a dropped third strike. As the umpire in those situations, you are not going to go out of your way to prevent an out.

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Use your voice and proper mechanics and be the stability on the field. If everyone knows your call, there should not be mistakes or misinterpretations. Dominate the field, control and manage the game, and you will see your skill increase and your level of games begin trending upward.

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