There aren’t very many baseball rules that are dealt with incorrectly more frequently than batting out of order. The applicable rule is Rule 6.03(b), which was last revised (and clarified) in 1957. So it’s been around for a while. (For an interesting read about the history and confusion surrounding this rule, see an article in the SABR Research Journal entitled, fittingly enough, Batting Out-of-Turn Results in Great Confusion, written by Mark Pankin.)
Sometimes the confusing comes from something as simple as an unannounced substitution (Rule 5.10(j)); nevertheless, the manager on defense comes storming out and wants an out on somebody (though he’s not sure who). Or he comes out in the middle of the at-bat to challenge a batter, and again he wants an out. Or the coach on offense notices that he has the wrong player at bat and freezes because he’s afraid to call attention to it (fearing he’ll get an out), but equally afraid that if he doesn’t do something about it the sky will fall. Or worst of all, you’re the plate umpire and everyone agrees there has been a batting-order infraction, and now everyone is looking at you to fix it, but nobody has appealed it yet, so there’s absolutely nothing to do.
The rule, penalties, and remedies for batting out of order are really not that difficult master, once you catch onto the logic. In fact, the only really tricky thing about batting out of order is knowing how to fix it once a successful appeal has been made. The plate umpire owns this one since the plate umpire owns the lineup.
Before going any farther, let’s be clear about two terms that are essential when discussing batting out of order: proper batter and improper batter. These two are important because when verifying and untangling a batting-order appeal, the only two players that matter are the batter presently at bat and the previous batter. We’ll see why soon enough.
- Proper batter. The correct batter at bat with respect to the official lineup and batting order. To belabor the obvious, there is always just one (and only one) proper batter at any given time.
- Improper batter. Any offensive player other than the proper batter who is at bat, until such time as there is a pitch to the batter following the improper batter. If there is no appeal made on the at-bat of an improper batter, that batter becomes normalized (becomes the proper batter, retrospectively) once there is a pitch to the batter following. Sounds confusing, but it makes sense.
Important: Batting out of order is an appeal play. You should never call attention to an improper batter, nor should you let the scorekeeper or anyone else “outside the fence” have any say. Only members of the team on defense can ask for time and appeal a batting order issue. That said, the offense, if it notices the error, can rectify the mistake without penalty so long as the improper batter is still at bat.
If the team on defense appeals batting out of order, you must stop and consult the official lineup to establish whether a player batted (or is batting) out of turn. If you confirm that you have batting-order infraction, there are three courses of action, depending on the circumstances at the time of the appeal:
- The improper batter is still at bat. If either the defensive or offensive manager asks for time and points out that an improper batter is presently at bat, after confirming this with the official lineup, you must do two things. First, you send the improper batter back to the dugout, and then you call the proper batter to the plate. The proper batter assumes the count that was on the improper batter. That’s it. Play on. There is no penalty if the infraction is discovered while the improper batter is still at bat.
- A pitch has been delivered to the batter following the improper batter. Once a pitch is delivered to the batter following the improper batter, then that batter (whether on base or in the dugout, if he’s been put out) is now “normalized” and now is considered to have been the proper batter. The next batter up, then, is the player in the batting order who follows this newly normalized proper batter. Any subsequent challenge to the batting order is ruled on with reference to persons in the batting order who follow the normalized batter.
- The improper batter has reached base or otherwise completed his turn at-bat. If the defense appeals after the improper batter has reached base by any means, or if he has completed his at bat by being put out, but there has not yet been a pitch to the batter following the improper batter, then take these steps:
- First, identify the proper batter (the one who failed to bat in his spot in the lineup). Call that player out.
- Next, you must nullify any action that resulted from the improper batter’s at-bat. If the improper batter is now on base, you send him back to the dugout. If other runners advanced due to action by the improper batter, return those runners to the base they occupied when the improper batter advanced. (Exception: if a runner advanced by stealing a base during the improper batter’s at-bat, that runner’s steal stands.)
- Finally, call the next batter to the plate. The next proper batter is the batter whose spot in the lineup follows that of the batter who failed to bat in turn, whom you’ve just called out. (Often, this is the improper batter that you’ve just sent back to the dugout.) Note that if the batter now due up happens to be on base, then you simply pass over him and move to the next player in the batting order.
Note: If the improper batter’s at-bat results in his being put out, and if the defense then appeals the batting order infraction, that put-out is nullified. The defense gets the out from the batting-out-of-order appeal, but they don’t get that out and the improper batter’s put-out. Taking it one step further, if the improper batter’s at-bat results in a double-play, an appeal nullifies both of those outs. In short, a defensive manager is wise to know this rule well, since sometimes it’s best to let it go and just leave well enough alone.
This all sounds very confusing and in fact it can become a really tangled mess, but if you learn the rule and approach this systematically you can usually untangle it without too much trouble. The graphic on the right summarizes the conditions and appropriate courses of action for each. Also note that Rule 6.03(b) (Approved Ruling) includes a large number of example scenarios that you can learn from.