Photo Credit: Dale Garvey

USA Softball recently announced several rule changes that took effect Jan. 1 for the 2020 season, with the biggest changes affecting pitching and bats on the fast-pitch side and courtesy runners on the slow-pitch side. The pitching changes continue a push by USA Softball to align rules for both males and females in relation to foot placement, while the bat certification rules continue a trend on updating safety rules. The new rules should help umpires who work several different codes, as the new USA Softball rules are aligned closely with other codes.
The changes are presented in approximate order of importance and combined where appropriate with the fast-pitch changes listed first, followed by the slow-pitch changes. Thanks to Kevin Ryan, USA Softball director of umpires, for reviewing the material.

Non-Pivot Foot Placement and Step 6A-1c, e

One of the most significant changes to the rules for 2020 centers on the pitcher’s non-pivot foot. In the past, both the pivot and non-pivot foot had to be in contact with the pitcher’s plate when the pitcher took her initial position on the pitcher’s plate. The non-pivot foot also had to remain in contact with the pitcher’s plate until the initial step forward to deliver the pitch. The new rule now allows the pitcher to have her non-pivot foot in contact with the pitcher’s plate or behind it, while the pivot foot must still remain in contact with the pitcher’s plate at all times prior to the forward step. The pitcher may also take a backward step with the non-pivot foot before, simultaneous with or after the hands are brought together. The reason for the new non-pivot foot rules is to align the male and female pitching rules as they relate to foot placement and stepping back from the pitcher’s plate.

Play 1:

F1 takes her position on the pitcher’s plate with her pivot foot in contact with the pitcher’s plate and her non-pivot foot (a) on top of the pitcher’s plate, (b) in contact with the backside of the pitcher’s plate, or (c) completely behind the pitcher’s plate. Ruling 1: Legal in (a), (b) and (c). The non-pivot foot no longer must be in contact with the pitcher’s plate in order to be legal.

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Play 2:

F1 takes a step back with her non-pivot (a) before bringing her hands together, (b) while bringing her hands together, or (c) after bringing her hands together. Ruling 2: Legal in (a), (b) and (c) as the pitcher may now legally take a step back with her non-pivot foot.

Illegal Pitch Penalty 6A-11b, c and 7-5d (Junior Olympic Fast-Pitch Only)
Another major change deals with the illegal pitch penalty in Junior Olympic (JO) softball. In all JO fast-pitch softball, the new penalty for an illegal pitch is only a ball on the batter. The old rule also included an advancement of runners, but the new penalty eliminates that from the rulebook. This puts the JO fast-pitch illegal pitch rule in alignment with NFHS, NCAA and USSSA rules, which all changed the illegal pitch penalty to a ball on the batter over the past couple of years and eliminated the advancement of runners.

Play 3:

With R1 on first and no outs, F1 leaps while throwing a pitch to the plate. B1 (a) hits the ball to left field for a single and R1 advances to second, (b) takes the pitch for a strike, or (c) hits the ball to F4, who throws her out at first. Ruling 3: This is an illegal pitch in (a), (b) and (c). In (a), since the batter reached first base and R1 advanced to second, the illegal pitch is nullified. In (b) and (c), the offensive coach has the option of taking the result of the play or awarding a ball to the batter.

Bat and Ball Certification Marks 3-1a, 3-3a

In April 2019, USA Softball unveiled two new equipment certification marks. These two rules now include both of those marks and state the official bat and ball must bear the old ASA Certification Marks or the new USA Softball Certification Marks.

Play 4:

B1 enters the batter’s box with a bat that doesn’t appear on the USA Softball Non-Approved Bats with Certification Marks list and has (a) an ASA 2000 Certification Mark, (b) an ASA 2004 Certification Mark, (c) a new USA Softball All Games Certification Mark, or (d) no certification mark. Ruling 4: Legal in (a), (b) and (c) as all those marks meet the requirement for a legal bat. In (d), the batter is using a non-approved bat and shall be out and ejected.

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Non-Glare Helmets 3-5e

This rule clarifies and specifies helmets may not have a surface that has a mirror-like finish. This clarification puts USA Softball in alignment with both NCAA and NFHS rule codes, which have both recently changed rules regarding high-gloss and mirror-like finishes on helmets. It is a safety issue with the reflection off of these types of helmets and the new rule simplifies what may or may not be worn when it comes to helmets.

Play 5:

B1 steps to the plate with a helmet that (a) has a high-gloss finish, (b) is a dull black color, or (c) is a dull white color. Ruling 5: Illegal in (a) and legal in (b) and (c). B1 should not be allowed to wear the high-gloss helmet.

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Placement of Runners 7-6c Effect 5

This change adds a new effect to the existing rule. If a batter uses an altered or non-approved bat, runners who are not out are placed back to the base they were on at the time of the pitch. This aligns the penalty for an altered or non-approved bat with the penalty for an illegal bat.

Play 6:

With R1 on first and R2 on second, B3 (a) hits a double to left field, (b) hits a home run, or (c) hits a ground ball to second and R1 is forced out at second base. The defensive coach notifies the plate umpire the bat used has no certification mark on it. The plate umpire inspects the bat and sees no certification mark listed. Ruling 6: In (a) and (b), the batter is ruled out and ejected and R1 and R2 are retuned to first and second base, respectively. In (c), the batter is ruled out and ejected, the out on R1 stands and R2 is returned to second base.

The changes to the fast-pitch rules closer align all major softball codes and should make enforcement easier on umpires working multiple codes.

“We feel our USA Softball Council saw an opportunity to match pitching rules, non-pivot foot [placement], with other organizations such as NFHS and WBSC,” Ryan said. “We feel these changes in the pitching rules will help both players, that go on to play other codes or play other codes now, and umpires who currently call multiple codes, keep the rules straight in their minds.”

Ryan also explained the reasoning behind the change to the illegal pitch penalty and why it was important to only change the JO penalty and not change it across the board.

“On the advancement of runners again they saw an opportunity to match up our JO game with NCAA, NFHS and WBSC,” he said. “Our men’s game still feels the effect of moving a runner up still fits when a pitcher makes an illegal pitch.”

Slow-Pitch Rule Changes

Courtesy Runners 8-9b-2, 8-9c-1

There are two minor changes to the rules regarding courtesy runners in slow-pitch softball. The first rule change allows for two courtesy runners in adult co-ed slow pitch, one for each gender per inning. The old rule only allowed one courtesy runner per inning and the courtesy runner had to be the same gender as the replaced runner. The new rule now allows one courtesy runner for each gender in the same inning and allows a little more flexibility.

The second minor change defines when a courtesy runner is officially in the game. The courtesy runner is official after a pitch, legal or illegal, or after a play is made. The old rule stated the courtesy runner was in the game when reported to the umpire.

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Home Run Limit 5-8a

This new rule adds a limit of 12 home runs for the Men’s AA division of adult slow pitch. As a result of a 2020 code change, the new AA division was implemented, while the A division still has a limit of 10 home runs.

Fence Distance 2-1 Table

This new rule places the maximum fence distance for men’s slow-pitch softball at 325 feet, replacing the old distance of 315 feet.

While the changes to the slow-pitch game were minor, they help move the game forward.

“The courtesy runner rules match what the players wanted when it was introduced to slow pitch and will make it a better game,” Ryan said. “The balance of the rule changes basically updated our rules to the interpretations that were being enforced in USA Softball.”

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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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