While there are some pace-of-play initiatives introducing a clock to the game of baseball, the traditional game doesn’t worry about a clock the same way football, soccer and basketball do. Half-innings end when three outs are made, not when the clock runs out of time.
But for a game without a clock for officials to manage, there are times when officials will need to watch a clock. Sometimes, a game is played under a time limit, which introduces an element the usual rules of baseball don’t cover. Any time that happens, you can expect there will be points of contention umpires will be asked to sort out.
Time limits are commonly seen in youth tournaments, adult leagues and freshman and JV play. Sometimes, certain varsity games will have a time limit.
The limits are typically straightforward: No new inning will start after so much time has passed, but the current inning is played to completion. In some cases, particularly weekend tournaments concerned about keeping a schedule on track, there may be a hard stop in the middle of an inning, but the score typically reverts to the last completed inning (just as if the game had been stopped because of bad weather).
Know the type of time limit for the game to manage it effectively
Check with an assigner, tournament director or conference commissioner if there are questions about whether a time limit will be used. Coaches aren’t always up front about time limits, particularly at lower levels where they want to get the team more playing time.
If there is a time limit, there are a few things to be worked out between the umpires calling the game:
Who has the clock?
Before the pregame meeting, you and your partner should decide who is keeping the clock. Nine times out of 10, the base umpire will keep the time. If it is the base umpire, make sure he has a stopwatch or other timing device accessible. It is not proper mechanics to wear a watch on the field, but it is OK to place the stopwatch or other timing devices in a pocket. What if neither umpire has a way to track the time? Pick someone, typically a representative of the home team, who has a timepiece and can relay the start time to the umpire crew. Often, teams are using apps to score the games — use that clock to track the time.
Start the clock.
Tournaments and conferences will often outline a time limit, but then are vague about when to start the clock — it’s often left up to the umpires. Some like to start the clock at the first pitch. Others like to start the clock as soon as the plate meeting concludes, providing an incentive for teams not to waste time in their final warmups.
When playing under a time limit, all the details about how things will work — including when the clock officially starts and who is keeping the official time — should be covered. Making sure everyone is on the same page will help avoid conflicts over the time limits later in the game.
The pregame meeting is also a good time to outline that the general pace of the game that is established in the early innings will be maintained as the game progresses closer to the time limit. There won’t be rushing in later innings, with one team hurrying up the other one because the time limit is imminent.
It’s also a good time to remind coaches when an inning officially ends and the next one begins — when the third out is made.
Play: With one minute left before the time limit in the bottom of the sixth inning with the home team leading, 3-1, the third out is made. The home team stalls the between-inning warmups to run out the time limit. Ruling: The seventh inning was reached when the third out was made prior to the time limit expiring. Even though a pitch wasn’t thrown in the seventh inning before the time limit expired, the inning will proceed (provided there’s not a drop-dead time limit). Note: In a blowout when the time limit is getting close, it’s OK to discuss with the losing coach whether it’s worth continuing.
Keep the teams informed of the time limit, especially as that limit gets closer. Best to avoid surprises.
Stalling tactics or rushing.
Time limits aren’t part of the original rules of baseball and they can create challenges for umpires when teams try to use stalling or rushing tactics to use a time limit to their advantage. Invariably the other team will complain to the umpires, expecting umpires to adjust the time limit.
Letting teams know at the plate meeting that the pace established early will be maintained when the time limit becomes a pressing concern can help. If a team is adopting tactics that stall or rush, remind them of that pregame item.
If needed, stop rushing pitchers from quick-pitching to batters. Or, warn the team about stalling. Don’t let conferences drag on any longer than earlier in the game.
For games being played under NFHS rules, an umpire may choose to remind teams that the batter cannot delay the game by failing to take his position within the box within 20 seconds (NFHS 7-3-1) or the pitcher cannot delay the game by throwing to a player other than the catcher when the batter is in the batter’s box unless it is to retire a runner (NFHS 6-2-2a). Also the rules require pitchers to pitch or make or attempt a play, including a legal feint, within 20 seconds after receiving the ball (NFHS 6-2-2c).
Because time limits aren’t part of traditional rules of baseball — and can prompt teams to use unconventional tactics — umpires can be challenged when presented with teams rushing or stalling. When presented with unique situations, it’s time for umpires to stay the course and see things through to the end — whether through natural game play or limits.
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