Vincent Rojas, Gardena, Calif., must decide if the ball went into the fielder’s glove at a different nanosecond than the runner’s foot hit the base before making a safe/out ruling. It’s difficult for humans to process as two different events in many cases. (Photo Credit: Bob Messina)

Fans, players and coaches are often heard yelling from the stands, “Tie goes to the runner!” However, no rule in baseball or softball has that phrase. A few reputable MLB umpires have stated, “There is no tie; they’re either out or safe.” And there is no do-over. Is it possible to have a tie? If so, how do umpires make a ruling?

The physiology of the human eye.

Time is a continuum; there are no pauses, replays or fast-forwards. Real time cannot be divided into microseconds or nanoseconds, although humans attempt to do that through digitizing. Movies and television are created with digital cameras using frames per second. Have you ever seen an old movie which shows the stagecoach wheels seeming to spin backward? The camera’s frames per second could not keep up with the actual motion. But in the time continuum there are no frames-per-second. Since the continuum of time is an accepted scientific fact by many, in real time there are no ties.

However, it has been proven that the human visual system has its limitations. The human eye and its brain interface can process 10 to 12 separate images per second, perceiving them individually, according to Restoration of Motion Picture Film, a book by Paul Read and Mark-Paul Meyer. It takes approximately one-tenth of a second for the eye to see an image and project that to the brain to initiate visual sensation. The visual cortex holds onto one image for about one- 15th of a second, so if another image is received during that period, an illusion of continuity is created, allowing a sequence of still images to give the impression of motion.

In actual time the ball may go into the glove at a different nanosecond than the runner’s foot hits the base, but the human eye cannot process that as two different events. So human beings, with the limitations of our current visual capacity, may see two events on the field happen at exactly the same time, which can be perceived as a tie. A tie, therefore, is more than theoretically possible.

Flash and snap thud.

What about the flash of the ball and snap-thud of the ball hitting the glove and foot landing on the bag? The shortest delay perceptible to the human ear is about seven microseconds. If the umpire is going purely on sound, there’s a range of about 15 microseconds in which he or she cannot distinguish the sounds of the ball hitting the glove and the foot hitting the bag (from ball 7ms early to ball 7ms late), according to Handbook of Clinical Audiology.

Interestingly, that’s less than half of a video frame, so the umpire can theoretically distinguish things that the TV will show as a tie (one frame: ball out of glove, foot not on bag; next frame: ball in glove, foot on bag).

Does a tie go to the runner? Baseball and softball have different rules for when a batter-runner or a runner is out.

The relevant rules in MLB are:

“Rule 6.05 (j) 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. “Rule 7.01 A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out. He is then entitled to it until he is put out or forced to vacate it for another runner legally entitled to that base.

“Rule 7.08 (e) Any runner is out when he or the next base is tagged before he touches the next base …”

Baseball has a different rule for when the batter-runner is out and when a runner is out. A tie at first base on the batter-runner should result in a safe call because the base was not tagged before the batter-runner touches first base (6.05). The two rules covering a runner are 7.01 and 7.08. Rule 7.08 agrees with 6.05, but rule 7.01 states the runner must reach the base before being forced or tagged. Those rules are contradictory — either the runner must beat the defense to the bag to be safe or the defender must beat the runner to the bag to record an out.

All rules for ASA, NCAA, NFHS and USSSA pertaining to the situation use the same wording. The rule references are in the order of ASA, NCAA, NFHS, USSSA for each point:

  • Batter-runner: out when she is put out prior to/before reaching first base (8-2B, 12.4.1, 8-2-2, 8-17D).
  • Runner/force play: out if a fielder contacts the base or tags the runner before the runner reaches the base (8-7C,, 8-6-3, 8-18M).
  • Runner/tag play: out if tagged while not in contact with a base (8-7B,,3, 8-6-2, 8-18M).

So, softball is consistent. The rules all state the defender must beat the runner to the bag to record an out.

There is a possibility that an umpire’s eyes will see a play as a tie. Baseball makes an umpire decide which of the rules will be applied to defend his decision. In softball, he or she has rulebook support for calling the batter-runner or runner safe.

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