Why should umpires like appeal plays? Because we can get an out if appealed properly. An appeal play is a play or rule violation for which the umpire responsible for the play does not make a ruling until requested by a coach or player.
The first step to administering appeal plays is to understand the legitimate appeals that can be requested during a game; the four appealable plays for all codes are: a batter-runner attempting to advance to second base; a runner missing a base; a runner leaving a base early on a caught fly ball; or batting out of order.
In NCAA, batting out of order is an appeal play and considered “participation by an improper player.” The NCAA has an additional appeal play — switching baserunners on occupied bases. The other codes have rules for this specific play, but it is not considered an appeal play.
The next step is to ensure the appeal is made in the appropriate timeframe. Most appeals must be made before the next pitch (legal or illegal). If the play results in the end of a half-inning, it must be appealed before all infielders have left fair territory and the catcher vacates her normal fielding position. On the last play of the game, the appeal must be made before the umpires leave the field of play.
There are two types of appeals — live ball and dead ball. The appeal must be specific as to the base and runner. For a live-ball appeal, a fielder must touch the base or tag the runner, even if the runner has stopped on a different base. A dead-ball appeal can be verbal and made by a coach or any defensive player. If an umpire anticipates a possible appeal and the ball is already back to the pitcher, it is much easier to administer the appeal by making the ball dead and telling the defense to make the verbal appeal.
Batter-runner attempting to advance to second base.
Most coaches (and fans) do not know this is an appeal play. The batter-runner, by rule, is allowed to overrun first base. However, if she makes any move toward second base after overrunning first base, she puts herself in jeopardy of being called out. This appeal must be made while the ball is still live and before the batter-runner returns to first base. Most of the time the intent of the fielder is all that is needed to qualify this as an appeal, i.e., the fielder tags the batter-runner while the batter-runner is off the base.
There is one exception. NCAA has a unique rule associated with the look-back rule that allows the batter-runner to advance to second base while coming back toward first base under certain conditions.
Runner missing a base.
This can be a live- or dead-ball appeal. The runner is assumed to have touched the base once she has passed it. The different codes have rules for the status of an appealed runner with regard to force outs. In USA Softball, a force out is determined by the timing of the appeal; if the force on the appealed runner has been removed by other actions on the play, it is no longer a force out (R/S 1 – Appeals, J). In NCAA, NFHS and USSSA, a force out is determined by the runner’s status at the time she missed the base. If she was forced at that time, it is still considered a force play at the time of the appeal. This may result in nullifying runs which scored on the play (NFHS 2-1-11; NCAA 126.96.36.199.7; USSSA 9-8).
Play 1: R1 is on first base and R3 is on third base with one out. The batter hits a ball that rolls to the fence. R3 scores, R1 misses second base as she advances to third base and the batter-runner misses first base as she advances to second base. The defense appeals the two missed bases. Does it matter the order in which they appeal in order to negate the run? Ruling 1: In USA Softball, it matters. If the batter-runner’s miss at first base is appealed first, that removes the force on R1 and it becomes a timing play. The run scores if R3 touches the plate before the second appeal for the third out. In NCAA, NFHS and USSSA, it does not matter because both missed bases were force outs. The run does not score.
Play 2: R1 on first base and R3 on third base with one out, the batter gets a base hit. R3 scores, R1 misses second base and arrives at third base safely. The batter-runner is thrown out at second base for the second out. The defense appeals the missed base (third out). Ruling 2: Again, this is a timing play for USA Softball. In NFHS, NCAA and USSSA, the R3’s run does not score since the third out is a force out (R1 missing second base).
Leaving a base early on caught fly ball.
On a caught fly ball, the runner may leave the base when the fly ball is first touched, not when the ball is eventually caught. An appeal on a caught fly ball or line drive can never be considered a force play as the batter-runner has been called out and all forces are removed; runs may score on this appeal.
Note that we do not use the words “leaving a base when tagging up.” The runner does not necessarily have to be in the act of tagging up for this appeal to be made. Case in point, it is an appeal play when a defensive player catches a line drive and doubles off a runner. This is not a force play — it is a live-ball appeal. The umpire will rule on this immediately because the actions of the defense have made it obvious the defense is appealing the runner left the base before the fielder first touched the caught line drive, which is treated the same as a fly ball.
Batting out of order and participation by an improper player.
These appeals can only be dead-ball appeals; they are more complicated and a thorough reading of these rules in each code’s rulebook is required. In NCAA, improper players include a player batting out of order (in the Batting rule), a player inaccurately listed in the lineup, a player unreported or misreported and an illegal player.
Switching baserunners on occupied bases.
There is a fifth appeal in NCAA play — switching baserunners on occupied bases after a suspension in play. To discourage this practice, the NCAA declares both runners are out and ejected, and the head coach is also ejected. This is not an appeal play for the other codes — umpires can penalize the team as soon as they see it.
Administering appeal plays can be very straightforward or quite complicated. It’s important to review the rules regarding appeals regularly in order to understand the intricacies of the rules.
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