It’s been said location is the most crucial thing in real estate. It could be argued it is the same when it comes to umpiring, especially when dealing with tag situations.
Any time there is a runner on base, umpires need to be aware of their tag responsibilities. The best way to do that is to pre-pitch and know exactly which runners you are responsible for when the ball goes in the air. It is also important to have these responsibilities discussed during the pregame, but that is a topic for another day. This article will specifically address which umpire has responsibility for the tag, in case of an appeal. When the ball goes up, umpires need to know where to go and which runner(s) to watch. Umpires need to read and react quickly in order to get to a good location to see first touching and the runner tagging.
The codes differ on which umpires take which runners in some situations, so let’s break down who has what in each code.
In the two-umpire system, all codes agree the plate umpire is responsible for all tag responsibilities when the base umpire chases (provides outfield ball coverage in NCAA). That part should be easy to remember. However, the codes differ when it comes to handling runners when the base umpire does not chase.
With a single runner on first or second, all codes agree the base umpire is responsible for that runner tagging. They also are in agreement the plate umpire always has the responsibility for R3 tagging up at third base in all situations when the base umpire does not chase.
Where the codes differ is when there are multiple runners on. In NFHS and USA Softball, the plate umpire always has the responsibility for the tag of the lead runner when there are multiple runners. In the case of runners on first and second base, the plate umpire has the runner at second base and the base umpire has the runner at first. With runners on second and third, the plate umpire has the runner at third base and the base umpire has the runner at second. With runners on first and third, the plate umpire has the runner at third and the base umpire has the runner at first. With bases loaded, the plate umpire has the runner on third and the base umpire is responsible for runners on first and second.
NCAA and USSSA differ with multiple runners. In those codes, the plate umpire always has tag responsibilities for a runner on third base only. The base umpire always has tag responsibilities at first and second base.
Things get a little trickier in the three-umpire system. First, let’s start with NFHS and USA Softball as the mechanics for these two codes align. USSSA and NCAA also align, but differ greatly from the other two. For NFHS and USA Softball, if an umpire chases, tag responsibilities revert to the two-umpire system, as described earlier. So let’s take a look at just the instances when all umpires remain in the infield and no base umpire chases.
With a single runner on first or second, the first-base umpire (U1) is responsible for the tag. The third-base umpire (U3) and plate umpire (P) have no tag responsibilities in these two scenarios. With a single runner on third, U3 is responsible for the tag of that runner.
With multiple runners, the easiest thing to remember is U1 has all tags at first and second and U3 has all tags at third when both base umpires stay in and do not chase. The plate umpire has no tag responsibilities in the three-umpire system when no base umpire chases.
In NCAA and USSSA, tag responsibilities in the three-umpire system are much more complicated. First, let’s start with scenarios when no base umpire provides outfield ball coverage, as those are the easiest to remember. U1 is always responsible for tags at first and U3 is always responsible for tags at third. P has no tag responsibilities ever when both umpires stay in. A mechanics change was approved in 2021 on how to handle runners on second base when both base umpires stay in. For any ball hit to the right of center field, U3 has the tag at second base. For any ball hit to the left of center field, U1 has the tag at second base (as shown in the MechaniGram on pg. 28). The reasoning was this change provided better coverage of the tag at second base on a ball hit to right field and allows U1 to stay outside the diamond instead of sprinting to try to get a good angle
to see that tag, which is nearly impossible.
When an umpire provides outfield coverage, tag-up responsibilities shift and are dependent on the number of outs. With a single runner on first, U1 always has the tag at first if U3 or P have outfield coverage. If U1 provides outfield coverage, P has the tag at first with less than two outs. Once there are two outs, there is no longer a need to worry about the tag.
With multiple runners on, if one of the base umpires provides outfield ball coverage, the remaining base umpire is responsible for all tags at first and second base and the plate umpire has all tags at third base, regardless of how many outs there are.
The most important thing to remember is which code the game is being played under and what the mechanics prescribe for that code. A proper pregame discussion between the crew should get everyone on the same page to know who is responsible for which bases and prevent any embarrassing situations where a team appeals and all umpires look at each other confused. Pregame and pre-pitch prepare for tag situations and you will always end up in the right spot.
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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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