Umpiring the
"Skunk in the Outfield Play"


Believe it or not, there are actually instructions on how to run this play!!

I have had several inquiries as to the legality of the play and how it should be umpired. The information below should assist you if you have the unfortunate opportunity to encounter this play.

 

The Play

“SKUNK IN THE OUTFIELD” (instructions on how run it)
The unique thing about this play is where the runner at first base (R1 )takes his lead. In this play, R1 will take his lead in the outfield, generally when there is a runner on third base.

Do not confuse this play with the typical "cat and mouse" or "get in a rundown" play often run by offensive teams to score a runner from third base. In this play R1 will take his lead 15-20 feet out on the "outfield grass" half-way between first base and second base. This "lead" location will put the runner approximately 65 feet from both first base and second base. R1 will simply turn and sprint to this "spot" when he takes his lead off of first.

When R1 gets to his "lead-off location" (in the outfield) he will "hold the spot" until a defender, with the baseball, approaches him and is within 15 feet. He should make sure that when he makes a move, he goes directly toward first base or second base. The "base path rule" is not enforceable until a runner is attempting to avoid a tag or play by the defender. If a runner leaves the base path to avoid a tag or play by a defender, he is out. Many people misinterpret this rule. This rule in no way restricts where a runner may take his lead. He can legally take his lead anywhere he wishes. The runner's base path to first base or second base is determined by where he is when the defense begins to make a play on him.

If the defense makes no play on R1, he will sprint directly to second base as quickly as he can on the next pitch. He has used the play to easily steal second safely.

If the defense does make a play on the runner he will not panic but will rather hold his spot and will break at the last possible moment. If there is a runner on third base (R3), he will take a safe but aggressive lead and will read the actions of the defense. When the R3 or coach feels that the defense has moved out of position or has taken the ball too far out to make the play at home, R3 will break and attempt to score.

Umpiring the Play and Applicable Rules

Legality of the play – It is a legal play and not considered a “travesty of the game”.  While some of us may personally disagree with that assessment, we are bound by the rules of the game.

Basepath– The runner establishes his basepath from where he is standing directly toward the base to which he is going when a play is being made on him (NFHS 8-4-2-a-2,  NCAA 8-5-a,  OBR 7-08-a-1).

Basepath – The ONLY time a runner is required to be in a DIRECT LINE between two bases is on a force play if the runner slides (NFHS/NCAA only).   (NFHS 8-4-2-b,  NCAA 8-4,  OBR n/a)

The act of throwing the ball to the first baseman and then having the first basemen simply step into the line directly between first and second does not, in and of itself, constitute a play being made on the runner at first base.  It does NOT mean that the runner is more than three feet outside the baseline.  Do not call the runner out if this is the only action taken by the defensive players.  (I don’t care what you may have read on the internet, the runner is not out for being out of the baseline if all they do is throw to first base and make no attempt to approach the runner with the ball. They have made no attempt to make a play on the runner, so he can't be "out of the basepath" yet)

If a defensive player, with the ball, starts toward the runner, be particularly observant of where the runner goes.  If he moves deeper into the outfield, you may well have an ‘out of the baseline” violation.  Be prepared to call it………and explain it to the offensive coach.

Umpires should be aware that there are several options the defense may take to address this play and be prepared for each of them.

  1. Throw to first base and have the first baseman step off the bag directly toward second base.
    1. You have nothing. There has been no tag attempt on the runner. The runner is not out.
  2. Pitcher steps off and throws to second baseman who runs directly at the runner.
    1. Now you have a tag attempt being made. Get into position to observe the play and be alert for the runner going outside the baseline to avoid the tag.
  3. Second and/or first basemen move quickly out toward the runner and get parallel to the runner and fairly close to him. Pitcher steps off the rubber and throws to either one of the defensive players.
    1. Now you have a tag attempt being made. Get into position to observe the play and be alert for the runner going outside the baseline to avoid the tag. Remember that the runner must move directly toward either first or second base, not in a line between the two defensive players or deeper into the outfield. 
  4. First or second baseman moves into a direct line between the infield and the runner, so that the defensive player is essentially 90 degrees to the runner. Pitcher steps off the rubber and throws to the defensive player who then sprints directly at the runner.
    1. Now you have a tag attempt being made. Get into position to see the play and be alert for the runner moving out of the baseline. The instinctive move for the runner is step backwards to avoid the sprinting defensive player. If he takes more that about 2-3 steps backward (deeper into the outfield) he is probably out of the baseline and you can call him out. Be ready to explain the call to the offensive coach!!
  5. An alternative to number 4 above is for the pitcher step off the rubber and walk toward the runner while keeping an eye on the runner at third. When the pitcher gets to the middle of infield dirt, he then sprints directly toward the runner.
    1. Now you have a tag attempt being made. Get into position to see the play and be alert for the runner moving out of the baseline. The instinctive move for the runner is step backwards to avoid the sprinting defensive player. If he takes more that about 2-3 steps backward (deeper into the outfield) he is probably out of the baseline and you can call him out. Be ready to explain the call to the offensive coach!!