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“Tie goes to the runner, dude!” Or . . . maybe not

Nov 4, 2010, 5:30 PM EDT

Tie goes to the runner

During one of the playoff live chats — I can’t remember which one — there was a lively argument about the old “tie goes to the runner” rule.  I can’t remember who was arguing, but I’m pretty sure it was some of you Phillies people, because I recall the argument being shrill and emotional.

I kid!

But seriously, that’s a argument that seems to pop up all the time. It usually ends with someone saying “show me where in the rules it says that,” after which someone changes the subject.

Thankfully, we have David Wade over at The Hardball Times doing our dirty work for us. He examines the conventional wisdom behind the “tie goes to the runner” thing, then examines the rule and reviews how umpires tend to think about those situations in which the ball and the runner’s foot arrive at the bag at precisely the same time.

The result? Well, you gotta read the article.  But let us just note for now that people who don’t like references to “the human element” when calls are blown will not like the answer very much.

  1. mattjg - Nov 4, 2010 at 5:53 PM

    It looks like Wade botched the analysis, but the commenters nailed it. Two rules say, essentially, that the runner is out if the ball beats the runner. This implies that if the ball does not beat the runner (i.e. the runner beats the ball OR THERE IS A TIE) then the runner is safe. The other rule (which, according to some commenters used to to be contradictory but was changed in 2008) says the runner has the right to a base if he touches it before he is OUT (not before the ball arrives). To find the definition of “out” we look to the other rules. Therefore, the final rule merely says that the runner has the right to a base if he touches it before the ball ARRIVES BEFORE HE DOES.

    Therefore, under all the rules as currently written, a tie does go to the runner. I’m surprised that the HBT article missed what seems to me (and a number of commenters over there) fairly simple.

    • iammaxa - Nov 4, 2010 at 8:04 PM

      (1) If A, then B.
      (2) If not-A, then not-B.

      (2) does not follow from (1). You don’t need to have studied logic to know this. Take a concrete example:

      (3) If X is a square, then X is a rhombus.
      (4) If X not a square, then X not a rhombus.

      (4) clearly does not follow from (3). In fact, in this example (3) is true while (4) is false (to convince yourself that (4) is false, plug in a rhombus for X).

      • mattjg - Nov 4, 2010 at 8:58 PM

        By listing ways in which a runner can be out on a ball in play (i.e. runner tagged before he reaches first base or first base tagged before runner reaches first base) the rule implies that if neither of these events occur, then the runner is not out. The most reasonable reading of the rule then is “If, and only if, the ball beats the runner (or the runner is tagged) before the runner reaches first, then the runner is out.” Or

        (1) If, and only if, A, then B.
        (2) If not-A, then not-B.

        In this situation (2) does follow from (1).

  2. Utley's Hair - Nov 4, 2010 at 6:13 PM

    A.) Suck it, Craig. (I kid!! Or do I?)
    B.) I think the post wasn’t on a live chat (as if there were a large number of them, anyway) had something to do with—oddly enough—shortstop girth.

    • Gobias Industries - Nov 4, 2010 at 7:37 PM

      Good call, UH.

      I think everyone forgot to take their Ritalin that day because they got so distracted by the tie-goes-to-the-runner debate that they couldn’t focus on who the porkiest SS is.

  3. Ari Collins - Nov 4, 2010 at 6:13 PM

    Even if the textbook rules did say that the tie does not go to the runner, is there any reason to think that the umpires are going to change the actual on-the-field rules? And is there any reason to change the on-the-field rules to match the textbook rules, really? Is there anything WRONG with the tie going to the offense instead of the defense? Seems like a non-issue to me.

    • phillysoulfan - Nov 4, 2010 at 7:45 PM

      It’s really a matter of thinking how an MLB Umpire is seeing the same thing you are. You see it one way, they see it another.

  4. umpire6 - Nov 4, 2010 at 6:18 PM

    I don’t see a citation in that previous comment. Rule 6.05(j): A batter is out after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base.

    I can see how that can be interpreted as tie goes to the runner. However, I’ve been through professional umpire school at the Evans academy and I can tell you we were taught that a runner has to beat the throw. To drive that point home, we went through drills where we called plays at first blindfolded, because it’s easier to hear the difference between a ball entering a mitt and a foot touching a base than it is to actually see it when a play is close.

    There’s over 180 errors and inaccuracies in the MLB rulebook. It’s a document that has only slightly been changed since the early 1900’s. I think most high school rulebooks use the language, “a runner has to beat the throw.” Regardless of how it’s written, that’s certainly how the rule is indoctrinated.

    • phillysoulfan - Nov 4, 2010 at 7:38 PM

      Thanks Umpire, you beat me to it. I read Bruce Weber’s “As They See ‘Em: A Fan’s Travels in the Land of Umpires”. This guy went through Umpire School and called a few minor league games and some major league grapefruit league games. He was taught exactly that. 1) There is no such thing as a tie. and 2) In the odd event that SHOULD the runner tag the base as the ball hits the mitt, the runner has to beat the throw.

      It’s a fascinating read if you’re a fan of baseball. I highly recommend it.

  5. Richard In Big D - Nov 4, 2010 at 7:02 PM

    This kind of controversy is what happens when something other than plain English is used. On close examination, it it quite clear that the ball must be to the base first in order for the runner to not be safe, and therefore the tie would go to the runner. That a working major league umpire would read that so incorrectly explains so much about the mayhem that we see in slow motion replays. Maybe the commissioner could make a ruling and instruct his umpires accordingly (when we GET a commissioner, that is…).

  6. Chris Fiorentino - Nov 4, 2010 at 9:20 PM

    It was ME who started the argument…what else is new. I said that Uribe should not have been getting such great accolades for a play where the runner was safe at first (because it was a tie) and then he hit a stupid sac fly and was cheered like the hero of the World Series. Of course, 2 nights later he hit a bomb at CBP to win the NLCS just to show me that he is the man.

    I always heard the tie goes to the runner, so just figured it was a rule. Learned something new that day.

  7. dsmaxsucks - Nov 4, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    I thought Craig was a lawyer, but it appears if he went to law school it was in…. Philadelphia. (I kid).

    This is first year law school stuff, and I thought it was why lawyers got baseball blogs. I don’t remember if this resembles an LSAT question or a law school question (since it has practical import it is not actually like either) but the rules of construction clearly establish that the tie goes to the runner.

    Rule 6.05(3) The runner is out if he or first base is tagged BEFORE he touches first base.

    (simultaneous does not equal before, much like midnight does not equal before midnight. Before means before, not simply “Not after”).

    Rule 7.01 A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it BEFORE he is out.

    As a simultaneous touching does not equal an out, the runner acquired the bag before he was out. One rule defines out, and the other involves the right to a base.

    These two rules are not inconsistent, and they mean tie goes to the runner.

  8. carstensm - Nov 5, 2010 at 12:37 AM

    When I was an umpire I’d always say, “There are no ties.”

  9. Walk - Nov 5, 2010 at 3:51 AM

    Those rules made me laugh a bit thinking of the implications. By default in a situation that is a tie the call can never be wrong no matter if the runner is called safe or out. The rules prior to the change seemed to imply to me the umpire was free to chose whichever call he wanted and be correct either way. After the rule change the call seems pretty straight forward and ball has to beat the runner to get the out call. I am very surprised the wording was changed in this instance, the umps had the best of both worlds under the original wording.

  10. paperlions - Nov 5, 2010 at 7:11 AM

    Words mean things. The rules clearly state that the ball must beat the runner, not that the runner must beat the ball. If the ball and runner arrive at the same time, then the ball did not beat the runner and the runner is safe. It is disturbing that umpire schools teach the rules so poorly….it isn’t like the sentence construction was circumlocutious, it was pretty straight forward.

  11. Jonny 5 - Nov 5, 2010 at 9:15 AM

    I’m not going to go look at “rules” because they are BS when it comes to what’s safe, and what isn’t. Basically the Ump gets to call it as he sees it. And as I see it…..
    90% of the time that it appears to me to be a tie, it’s called an out. I don’t agree with it because in my opinion it’s the defense’s job to prevent baserunners. If they can’t get the ball to the bag faster than the runner gets there, the runner really should be safe. It’s one of the toughest calls imo to be on first base. It’s not easy to watch a bag on the ground and a glove in the air at the same time, so I just accept the fact that it’s harder to get on base than it is to get an out, even in the event of a tie.

  12. soccermom17540 - Nov 5, 2010 at 11:13 AM

    “but I’m pretty sure it was some of you Phillies people, because I recall the argument being shrill and emotional.”


    Of course you did want a reaction like mine. But REALLY?!?

    • mattjg - Nov 5, 2010 at 12:01 PM

      You know in middle school, when you made fun of your crush so people didn’t know you like her/him? It’s the same with Craig and Phillies fans. He mocks us because he knows that deep down inside he wants to be with us (ew, not that way you perv). Give it a couple more years and Craig will be a full fledged Phillies fan.

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