Little League Rules

Little League Rules Myths: Explanations about 57 common rules myths, including:

  • The hands are part of the bat
  • Runners must slide if the play is close
  • On an overthrow out of play, runner gets base going to plus one
  • If a batter hits out of turn, she/he is out

This Word document contains links to video files showing common game situations, such as obstruction of a runner.

In-Game Situations

Below are some situations that have come up in games that warrant expanded explanation. Unless stated otherwise, these interpretations apply to baseball and softball.

Uncaught Third Strike

Here is the scenario:

Majors game. Bases are loaded, two outs, two strikes on the batter. The batter swings at a ball in the dirt, which gets past the catcher. The batter begins running to first, and all runners begin advancing. The catcher picks up the ball and throws to the pitcher covering home. The runner from third reaches home before the ball arrives. All other runners (including the batter) advance safely.

Rules 6.05(b) and 6.09(b) are applicable to this situation:

Rule 6.05(b):

A batter is out when:
(b) Majors/Intermediate (50/70) Division/Junior/Senior/Big League-
(1) a third strike is legally caught by the catcher;
(2) a third strike is not caught by the catcher when first base is occupied before two are out.
A.R. - When a batter becomes a runner on a third strike that is not caught, and starts for the bench or his/her position, that batter may advance to first base at any time before entering the dugout or any other dead ball area. To put the batter out, the defense must tag the batter or first base before the batter touches first base.

Rule 6.09(b):

The batter becomes a runner when:
(b) Majors/Intermediate (50/70) Division/Junior/Senior/Big League only: the third strike called by the umpire is not caught, providing
(1) first base is unoccupied; or
(2) first base is occupied with two out.
NOTE: A batter forfeits his/her opportunity to advance to first base when he/she enters the dugout or other dead ball area.

All runners would be safe and the run would score. Under Rule 6.05(b)(1) the batter was not out on the pitch because the third strike was not legally caught by the catcher. Although first base is occupied, there are two outs. Under Rule 6.09(b) the batter becomes a runner and, with the bases loaded, all runners are forced to advance. The runner advancing home beat the throw and thus was safe, scoring the run.

Had the throw to home beat the runner, that would be a force play and the runner would be out even if he was not tagged. Note that the only situation where a runner might be forced to advance because of an uncaught third strike is if there are two outs.

If you would like more information on the uncaught third strike rule, including some historical background, read this document.

Batter Interference with Catcher's Play on a Runner

The scenario that came up was:

The batter is in the back of the batter's box, but entirely in the box. There is a runner on second, who is attempting to steal third (a straight steal). The pitch lands in front of home plate, and the catcher moves forward to play the ball (the catcher is still behind the plate, but he is now forward his starting/standard position). When the ball reaches the plate, the runner goes. Because of the bad pitch, the batter freezes (doesn't move at all). The catcher fields the ball on the hop, comes up to throw, and finds himself standing face-to-face with the batter, so that if the catcher throws to third the ball would hit the batter. The catcher does not attempt the throw.

Rule 6.06(c) is applicable to this situation. The Rule states:

A batter is out for illegal action when -
(c) interfering with the catcher's fielding or throwing by:
(1) stepping out of the batter's box, or;
(2) making any other movement that hinders the catcher's actions at home plate or the catcher's attempt to play on a runner, or:
(3) failing to make a reasonable effort to vacate a congested area when there is a throw to home plate and there is time for the batter to move away.
EXCEPTION: Batter is not out for interference if any runner attempting to advance is retired, or if runner trying to score is called out for batter's interference.

Rule 6.06(c)(1) would not apply because the batter remains in the batter's box. Rule 6.06(c)(3) also wouldn't apply because a play was not being made at home. So it comes down to whether, in the umpire's judgment, the batter was making "any other movement that hiders the catcher's ... attempt to play on a runner." Since the batter in the example didn't make any other movement (he just froze), the plate umpire would be justified in letting the play stand, and leaving the runner on third base (again, a judgment call).

A second scenario is what the call would be had the batter attempted to get out of the way but found himself in the catcher's way anyway. For this scenario it would be batter's interference, and it does not matter if the interference was intentional or not. The ball would be dead, the batter would be out, and the runner would return to second.

Batter Intereference with Play at Home Plate

Batters must get out of the way when there is a play being made at home plate. This almost always happens when a player is stealing home.

For situations where the catcher is throwing to the pitcher covering home plate, Rule 6.06(c)(3) states:

A batter is out for illegal action when ... failing to make a reasonable effort to vacate a congested area when there is a throw to home plate and there is time for the batter to move away.

For situations where the catcher fields the ball and attempts to tag the running coming into home plate, Rule 6.06(c)(2) states:

A batter is out for illegal action when ... making any other movement that hinders the catcher's actions at home plate or the catcher's attempt to play on a runner.

So the batter must vacate the area whenever a play may be made at home plate. The batter will not violate the rule requiring one foot remain in the batter's box, because either exception 4 or exception 5 will apply. Those exceptions, in Rule 6.02(c), allow the batter to vacate the box when (a) the catcher does not catch the pitched ball, and (b) when a play has been attempted.

Here is an excellent rule of thumb for your batters: if the catcher does not catch the ball, get out of the way. If he catches the pitch and looks like he is going to throw to third base (something young catchers seem to do every pitch), get out of the way.

Infielder Intentionally Drops a Fly Ball

Here is the situation:

Runners on first and second, one out. A lazy pop-up is hit near third base. The third baseman intentionally drops the ball (it hits his glove then drops to the ground). He retrieves it, steps on third, and throws to second to complete the double play.

Rule 6.05(k) applies to this situation:

A batter is out when:
(k) an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, or first, second and third bases occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases.
A.R. - In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.

In the situation above the batter is out on the intentionally dropped ball, the ball is dead, and the runners remain on first and second with two outs. The exception noted in the Approved Ruling does not apply, as the ball was not allowed to drop untouched to the ground. Note that Rule 6.05(k) expressly applies to infielders only (not outfielders).

Here is another situation:

The fastest runner on the batting team is on first base with no outs. The batter, a slow runner, hits a lazy pop-up to the second baseman who lets the ball fall untouched in front of him. The runner on first holds. The second baseman picks up the ball and throws to the shortstop covering second. There is no throw to first base.

This is not an Infield Fly situation because there is no force at third. Since the ball fell untouched, this is a legal play and the runner is out at second. The batter is safe at first, essentially trading a fast runner for a slow runner. This exact situation occurred in a Major League Baseball game (Little League's rules are based off MLB's rules).

Pitch Count Thresholds (baseball only)

In a couple of games I have umpired I noticed coaches pulling their pitchers in the middle of an at-bat. I am not sure why they were doing it, but it occurs to me the pitching change may have been made because the pitcher reached his pitch count threshold mid at-bat.

Regulation VI(d) contains pitch count thresholds and required days of rest for pitchers. At the end of that section there is an exception, which reads:

EXCEPTION: If a pitcher reaches a day(s) of rest threshold while facing a batter, the pitcher may continue to pitch until any one of the following conditions occurs: (1) the batter reaches base; (2) that batter is retired; or (3) the third out is made to complete the half-inning or the game. The pitcher will only be required to observe the calendar day(s) of rest for the threshold he/she reached during that at-bat, provided that the pitcher is removed or the game is completed before delivering a pitch to another batter.

Here is the situation:

A 12-year old pitcher has thrown 63 pitches so far in a game. A new batter comes up to bat. It takes 4 pitches to get the batter out, so at the end of the at-bat the pitcher has thrown 67 total pitches.

In this scenario, would the number of pitches thrown for purposes of determining the required days rest (and reported in Bonzi) be 67 (the total pitches thrown) or 65 (the threshold that was crossed during the at-bat)?

The total pitches thrown would be 67. However, in the exception "threshold" refers to the maximum pitches for a particular number of days rest. In the example above, the threshold would be 65. So for purposes of determining days rest, and for reporting in Bonzi, the pitcher would be treated as having thrown 65 pitches.

When I posed this question to the District 1 UIC last year she confirmed the interpretation but requested that the following protocol be observed to avoid any confusion:

The manager should let the umpire and opposing manager know: "My pitcher is finishing this batter." That should let everyone know that the pitcher will not be crossing the threshold for purposes of the Regulation VI(d) days of rest. There has to be communication between the managers, the umpire, and the pitch counter/scorekeeper to avoid disputes and confusion. If a question arises, it can be dealt with before the additional pitches are thrown.

When I spoke with the District 1 UIC, she also included the interpretation in the Little League Rules Instruction Manual, which is taught to umpires in training:

This exception will allow a pitcher to finish pitching to a batter while exceeding his/her pitch count limit threshold for a particular day(s) of rest requirement. This exception will only take place providing he/she reaches the threshold during that player's at-bat and that the pitcher does not start the at-bat at the limit for that threshold. This will make it easier on the teams so that they will not have to remove the pitcher for a relief pitcher in the middle of an at-bat, which can be a disadvantage for the pitcher coming in cold.

So when reporting pitch counts in Bonzi, the number of pitches in the example above would be reported as 65, so the correct days of rest are applied. The team's paper pitch count record is where the 67 pitches would be shown and could be found.

Maintain your pitch count records during the season in case of a dispute about pitch counts.

Substitution Rules

At Majors and above questions often arise around substitutions (other than the rules regarding re-entry of pitchers, this does not apply to divisions that use the continuous batting order). In particular, when the starter may re-enter the game and where in the line-up. Rule 3.03 governs substitutions:

A player in the starting line-up who has been removed for a substitute may re-enter the game once, in any position in the batting order, provided:
(a) his or her substitute has completed one time at bat and;
(b) has played defensively for a minimum of six (6) consecutive outs;
(c) pitchers once removed from the mound may not return as pitchers [Note that this subsection 3.03(c) applies to baseball only, Majors and below. Softball players and upper baseball players have different rules here.];
(d) only a player in the starting line-up may re-enter a game;
(e) a starter (S1), re-entering the game for another starter (S2) must then fulfill all conditions of a substitute (one at bat and six defensive outs) before starter (S2) can re-enter the game;
[sub-bullet (f) removed]
NOTE 1: A substitute may not be removed from the game prior to completion of his/her mandatory play requirements.
[Notes 2 and 3 removed]

Here is the situation:

Tommy starts the game as the first baseman for the Home team. At the start of the top of the 4th inning, Tommy is removed and Josh enters the game. As of the start of the top of the sixth inning, Josh has not yet batted. With one out in the top of the sixth, the Home team's manager removes the pitcher and brings Tommy off the bench to pitch.

This is an illegal substitution because Josh, Tommy's replacement, has not yet batted and so he has not satisfied the conditions of Rule 3.03(a).

Here is another situation:

Bill starts the game as the Home team's cleanup hitter. At the start of the bottom of the 4th inning Bill is removed from the game and Scott bats in his place. In the bottom half of the sixth inning, the Home team will be sending up its seventh, eighth, and ninth hitters in the batting order. The first two batters get on, and the manager has Bill hit for the ninth batter (who has until this point played the entire game).

This is a legal substitution. Bill is a starter, and thus eligible to re-enter the game once under Rule 3.03. Rule 3.03 allows starters to re-enter the game "in any position in the batting order" so long as their substitute has completed one at bat and six consecutive defensive outs. In this case Scott has done so (he batted in the bottom of the fourth and played defensively the top of the fifth and top of the sixth).

Myth of the "Must Slide" Rule

This is probably the single most misunderstood and misapplied rule in Little League (with the possible exception of "tie goes to the runner"). There are any number of variations of the "must slide" myth:
  • The runner must always slide at home.
  • The runner must slide if the defense is making a play on him.
  • The runner must slide if the play is close.
  • The runner must slide at second base during a double-play attempt.

None of them are true. There is never a situation where a runner is required to slide. The relevant rule is Rule 7.08(a)(3):

Any runner is out when-
(a)(3) the runner does not slide or attempt to get around a fielder who has the ball and is waiting to make the tag;

First, the runner has two options -- he or she may slide, or he or she may attempt to get around the fielder. The choice is up to the runner. Second, the rule does not prohibit contact with the fielder. Rather, it says that if the runner elects not to slide, he or she must attempt to get around the fielder. Consider a common play:

The catcher is standing just off the line as the runner approaches. The catcher fields the ball thrown to him, and starts to step across the line to tag the runner. The runner swerves to her right trying to aviod the catcher, but the catcher continues her motion toward the runner, and the two collide. The collision causes the catcher to drop the ball.

The runner would be safe. The fact that contact occurs does not mean that the runner is automatically out. In this situation, by swerving, the runner satisfied the rule -- she attempted to get around the fielder. Of course, if the runner goes more than three feet to either side attempting to avoid a tag, then he or she can be called out under Rule 7.08(a)(1), but that is another matter.

Finally, read the last half of the rule again. For this paragraph to even apply, the fielder must have the ball and be waiting to make the tag. Here is another common play:

On a passed ball, the runner on third base breaks for home. The catcher retrieves the ball and throws to the pitcher, who is covering home. The runner and the ball arrive at the plate at the same time, just before the ball reaches the pitcher's glove. The runner proceeds straight through home plate and the pitcher is unable to catch the ball.

The runner is safe in this situation. The fielder did not have the ball and was not waiting to make the tag. The runner would be safe even if he had collided with the pitcher or the pitcher's glove. Only once the fielder has the ball and is in position to make the tag does the runner acquire the obligation to slide or attempt to get around. There are two other rules that may be implicated in a play such as this:

  • If contact occurs before the fielder has the ball, there is an argument that the fielder is guilty of obstruction (Rule 7.06(a)); or
  • If the runner intentionally interferes with the thrown ball, the runner is out (Rule 7.08(b)).

The biggest question is what time frame, if any, must pass between a fielder catching the ball and that fielder "waiting to make a tag." It is possible for an umpire to interpret the language such that if the ball hits the fielder's glove before the runner arrives, even just a moment before, and the fielder is over the base, the second half of the rule is satisfied (the fielder has the ball and is waiting to make the tag) and the runner must now slide or attempt to get around. This is a judgment call for the umpire.

The 2013 Little League "Make the Right Call" Casebook includes the following comment rearding Rule 7.08(a)(3): "There is no 'must slide' rule. The rule is slide or attempt to get around. The key in this situation is 'fielder has the ball and is waiting to make the tag.'" The 2016 Make the Right Call Casebook repeats this comment, saying: "There is no 'must slide' rule. A runner is never required to slide at any base."

So remember: There is no must slide rule.

Two Runners on a Single Base

Another situation that commonly occurs, especially with younger players, is two runners standing on a single base. Here is the situation:

With the bases loaded, the runner on first runs to second base (either on a steal, or trying to get a double). The runners on second and third remain on their bases, so that two players end up standing on second base. The pitcher runs toward second base with the ball. Just before the pitcher arrives, the player who was originally on second base breaks for third base, and the player on third base breaks for home. No players are tagged, and runners end up at home plate, third base, and second base.

Rules 7.03, "Occupying a Base," and Rule 7.08(c) are applicable to this situation:

Rule 7.03:

Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching the base, the follownig runner shall be out when tagged. The preceding runner is entitled to the base.
(a) If two runners are on a base and both are tagged, the lead runner is out if forced.

Rule 7.08(c)

Any runner is out when -
(c) that runner is tagged, when the ball is alive, while off a base;

In the situation above, all runners are safe and the run scores. While the rule is that two runners may not occupy a base, the rule does not state that the following runner is automatically out. Rather, he is out when tagged. In other words, under the rule only one runner can be considered to be "occupying" the base for purposes of being safe from being tagged out under Rule 7.08(c).

Another situation: The other runners do not attempt to advance, the pitcher runs with the ball to second base and tags both runners standing there. RULING: The runner advancing from first, the "following" runner, is out.

Note that Rule 7.08(h) may also apply in these situations. That rule states that:

Any runner is out when -
(h) [That runner] passes a preceding runner before such runner is out;

A third situation: The other runners do not attempt to advance and the runner advancing from first rounds second base, so that he passes the runner originally on second. RULING: The runner from first is automatically out.

A fourth situation: Runners on first and second, two outs. The batter hits the ball and runs to first base. The runner on first base runs to second base. The runner on second base freezes and does not advance. Scenario A: the ball is thrown to second base and both runners are tagged while they are standing on second. Scenario B: the ball is thrown to third base and the base is tagged. RULING: In both Scenario A and Scenario B, the runner originally on second is out. In this situation the runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner, and the runner coming from first is entitled to second base. In addition to the explicit direction in Rule 7.03(a), under Rule 7.08(e) he has failed to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base.

Here are a couple videos showing this situation (remember, when the lead runner is not forced to advance, the lead runner is entitled to the base even if the following runner has already touched it):

Pitchers Wearing Elbow Sleeves and/or Batting Gloves

A couple questions have arisen about pitchers wearing compressions sleeves and batting gloves while on the mound.

For compression sleeves (elbow sleeves), the relevant rule is Rule 1.11:

Rule 1.11(a)(3) ... The pitcher's undershirt sleeves, if exposed, shall not be white or gray. Neoprene sleeves, if worn by a pitcher, must be covered by an undershirt. NOTE: A pitcher shall not wear any items on his/her hands, wrists, or arms which may be distracting to the batter, e.g., sweat bands.

So a pitcher may wear a sleeve, so long as he or she pulls their undershirt sleeve over the elbow sleeve, hiding it from view. If the pitcher is not wearing a long-sleeved undershirt, the player would have to remove the elbow sleeve.

For batting gloves worn under the mitt, the rule is Rule 1.15:

Rule 1.15(b) ... The pitcher may wear a batting glove on the non-pitching hand under the pitcher's glove provided the batting glove is not white, gray, or optic yellow.

If the pitcher chooses to wear a batting glove, note that he or she will not be allowed to rub the ball down. Rule 8.02(a)(6) allows a pitcher to rub the ball down, but only "between the bare hands."

Tagging First Base (or any Base on a Force Out)

Here is the situation:

Nobody on base. Ball hit to the second baseman. First baseman moves to cover first base, but the throw is off. After catching the throw well off the bag, the first baseman then hits the bag with his bare hand (while the ball is still in his glove) before the runner arrives. The first baseman never touches the bag with his foot, or with this glove. Is the batter-runner out or safe.

The relevant rules are:

Rule 6.05(i): A batter is out when ... after hitting a fair ball, the batter-runner or first base is tagged before said batter-runner touches first base.

Rule 7.08(e): A runner is out when ... failing to reach the next base before a fielder tags said runner or the base after that runner has been forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner.

Rule 2.00 (TAG): A TAG is the action of a fielder in touching a base with the body while holding the ball securely and firmly in the hand or glove; ...

Other references in the Green Book (the official Little League Rules book for baseball) and Orange Book (the official Little League Rules book for softball) also require the defense to "tag" the base. See Rule 6.05(b)(2), Rule 7.04 Note, and Rule 7.10(a) & (b) as examples.

So a fielder need only touch the base with some part of his or her body while holding the ball in the hand or glove. In the example above, the batter-runner is out.

First Base Runner's Lane

A situation sometimes occurs on a bunt or other weak hit when the catcher or pitcher are trying to throw to first base. Here is an example:

Batter bunts the ball along the first base line. Catcher fields the ball near the line, but the batter-runner is running fair territory on his way to first base (he is not in the running lane which starts halfway up the line and is on the foul-territory side). Because of his position, the batter-runner is directly between the catcher and first baseman, blocking their view of each other. The catcher does not throw, but instead holds the ball.

In this situaion, the batter-runner would be safe, even though he failed to run on the foul-territory side of the line during the last half of the distance between home and first base.

The relevant rule is Rule 6.05(j), which states:

A batter is out when ... in running the last half of the distance from home base to first base, while the ball is being fielded to first base, the batter-runner runs outside (to the right of) the three-foot line, or inside (to the left of) the foul line, and in the umpire's judgment in so doing interfere's with the fielder taking the throw at first base; except that the batter-runner may run outside (to the right of) the three-foot line or inside (to the left of) the foul line to avoid a fielder attempting to field a batted ball;

In the example, the batter-runner was clearly in the wrong position, as he was inside the foul line. However, because the catcher did not make the throw, the batter-runner did not interfere with the fielder taking the throw at first base.

The 2017 Rules Instruction Manual, which is the manual used to train umpires at Little League's regional clinics, has the following Instructor Comment:

There are two key elements to this rule that frequently are misunderstood: (1) the ball must be thrown in order for the runner to interfere with the "fielder taking the throw" and (2) the throw must be a reasonably catchable throw. A catcher who does not throw, or throws well over the fielder's head, should not be rewarded by having interference called.

The 2017 RIM also states: "It's always interference if the catcher's or pitcher's throw hits the batter-runner when he/she is not in the 'lane.'" The key is that the umpire is looking for interference with the fielder's attempt to make the catch, not with the catcher's (or pitcher's) attempt to make the throw.

"Catch and Carry"

Sometimes our teams play on fields that are not fully enclosed in fencing. At those fields a play similar to the one described below could occur:

Teams are playing on a field that is not fully enclosed, meaning that dead ball territory is defined as "fences extended" (similar to right field on NSLL Field 4 and left field on NSLL Field 3). There are no outs and a runner is on third base. The batter hits a fly ball down the right field line in foul territory. The right fielder races over and makes the catch while still in live ball territory (he is in foul territory but has not crossed the fences extended line). The right fielder's momentum carries him over the fences extended line into the dead ball area. The runner on third base tags up and starts for home, but the right fielder remains on his feet and throws back to the infield, causing the runner to stop and return to third base.

The question: should the runner be awarded home base because the right fielder entered dead ball territory?

The answer is no, the runner should not be awarded home. The operative rule is Rule 5.10(f), which states:

The ball becomes dead when the umpire calls "Time." The Umpire-in-Chief shall call "Time" ... when a fielder, after catching a fly ball, falls into a stand, falls across ropes into a crowd when spectators are on the field, or any other dead-ball area. As pertains to runners, the provisions of 7.04(b) shall prevail. If a fielder after making a catch steps into a dead ball area, but does not fall, the ball is alive and in play and runners may advance at their own peril.

The last sentence, in blue, controls. Since the right fielder in the situation above did not fall, then the ball remained alive and in play despite his momentum carrying him into dead ball territory after the catch.

Also, note that there is no requirement that the fielder return to live ball territory before making the throw. Since the ball is alive and in play, and runners may be advancing, the fielder continues to play without regard to his position on the field.

The key in this situation is whether or not the fielder falls. If the fielder falls to the ground in dead ball territory, Rule 7.04(b) states that the runners are entitled to advance one base from the time of the pitch (in the situation above, the runner would be awarded home base). If the fielder does not fall, the ball is live and teams (and umpires) should be prepared for a possible play.