Ask Hal: Answers to Fans' Most Interesting Questions About Baseball Rules from a Hall-of-Fame Sportswriter

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9781598510348: Ask Hal: Answers to Fans' Most Interesting Questions About Baseball Rules from a Hall-of-Fame Sportswriter

“Very few writers (or broadcasters for that matter) know the rules of the games they cover as Hal Lebovitz did.” — Bob Costas

A fun and fact-filled collection of baseball Q&As from a legendary sportswriter and rules expert.

Think it couldn’t happen on a baseball field? It probably did! Just ask Hal. Hal Lebovitz reigned as a leading expert on baseball rules for more than four decades. From 1957 until his death in 2005, Hal answered readers’ questions about sports in his popular “Ask Hal” newspaper column. Baseball provided the most frequent questions—and often the most curious and confounding ones. But Hal was never stumped.

Many questions came from real situations—Little League, church-league softball, major league games—even the World Series. (National TV broadcasters even called him at home live during the World Series for opinions about on-field rulings) Some came straight from fans’ vivid imaginations. Either way, there was always an answer, and Hal had it.

This book collects the best and most entertaining questions and answers about baseball rules from four decades of “Ask Hal.” Flip to any page and you’ll find a question that might spark a lively debate at any dinner table or settle a bet at the local tavern. How many can you answer? A book for fans who love to “know it all.”

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About the Author:

Hal Lebovitz was inducted into the writer’s wing of the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2000. He was a sportswriter for more than six decades. He got his first job covering high school sports for the Cleveland News in 1942 and soon became a beat writer covering the Cleveland Browns and Cleveland Indians. He was hired by the Plain Dealer in 1960 to cover baseball and was that paper’s sports editor from 1964–1982. “Ask Hal, the Referee,” his popular column on sports rules, began in 1957 and also appeared in the Sporting News. A former college athlete, he also coached baseball, basketball, and football and officiated all three sports, including a stint as a referee traveling with the Harlem Globetrotters. His sportswriting continued to appear regularly until his death, at age 89, in 2005.

Excerpt. Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

Baseball Basics

10 Ways to Reach

Q: While we were sitting in a local bar one night a representative of the Atlanta Braves walked in. Naturally, the tide of conversation shifted to baseball. He then set everyone’s mind spinning with the statement that there are 10 ways of reaching first base. We could not come up with 10. Can you? —Jeff E. Boy, Lewisburg, PA [9/2/77]

A: Try these on for size: You can reach first: 1) on an error; 2) by being hit by a pitched ball; 3) by interference by the catcher or a fielder; 4) on a fielder’s choice; 5) a base on balls; 6) a base hit; 7) a dropped third strike by a catcher; 8) a batted ball which hits a base runner; 9) a batted ball which hits the base umpire before passing a fielder; 10) as a pinch runner.

At least you discovered one way to get your mind spinning in a bar without buying a drink.

Bringing Home a Run

Q: How many ways are there to bring home a run? —J. R. C., Coshocton, OH [4/10/75]

A: Of course a home run will do it. Also any kind of base hit that would move a teammate far enough to score. The other ways (assuming there is a man on third): stolen base, sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, catcher’s interference with the bases loaded, obstruction, hit batsman (also with the bases loaded, wild pitch, passed ball, force play, fielder’s choice, including a double play or triple play which isn’t a force) error, balk, base on balls with the sacks loaded, dropped third strike when play is made on batter going to first, and a ground rule on an overthrow which would send the runner home.

That’s 17. Can anybody think of any others?

Hit-and-Run

Q: What’s the difference between the hit-and-run term in baseball and the run-and-hit? I say there is no such thing as a run-and-hit. —Glenn Morris, Sharpsville, PA [6/9/70]

A: It’s just the reverse. There really is no such thing as the hit-and-run. Whenever this term is used it really means run-and-hit. The purpose is to break up a possible double play and/or to get the runner an extra base. The runner doesn’t wait until the ball is hit. He runs with the pitch because he knows the batter is going to try to hit. The batter attempts to hit behind the runner when the play is on. But even if he doesn’t, it’s as good as a sacrifice if he can hit it on the ground.

So, every time you hear the expression “hit-and-run,” switch it around in your mind. It means run-and-hit.

The Winning Run

Q: What is the definition of a “winning run” in baseball? Example: The Indians are playing the Yankees. The Indians score one run in the first inning and another in the sixth. The Yankees score once in the seventh and the Indians win, 2-1. Say Wayne Garland works the first five innings and gets credit for the victory. Would that mean the first run was the winning run, or would the run scored in the sixth be the winner? My co-workers say the sixth-inning run is the winning run, but in that case why wouldn’t the reliever get credit for the victory? Twenty rides on your answer. —Name withheld by request [11/23/77]

A: The rules book defines the winning pitcher as the pitcher of record—assuming he has gone at least five innings if he’s the starter—when his team goes ahead and never loses the lead. Therefore, Garland has to be the winner in your example.

There is no official definition for “winning run,” but teams do keep this statistic for their own private records. In almost every case major league statisticians consider the winning run to be the one that puts the team ahead to stay. Since the run in the first inning put the Indians ahead and since they never were tied, that run is considered the winning run in your case, which makes you a winner.

Who is Right?

Q: Please settle this argument: There is a runner on first and the batter hits the ball to the first baseman. He steps on first, then throws to the second baseman who steps on second. The fielding team claims it is a double play but the offensive team says the runner had to be tagged because the force is off. Who is right? —D. K., Rocky River, OH [6/3/75]

A: The offensive team is right. When first base was touched that base became unoccupied and, therefore, the force was off. The runner going to second on such a play must be tagged in order to complete the double play.

I’m assuming you didn’t have an umpire because that’s what he would have said, too. Otherwise he would have been wrong.

Fair or Foul?

Q: What is the ruling in baseball regarding a ground ball that bounces along the line in fair territory, then bounces over the bag and comes down in foul territory? I say foul. Others I’ve talked to say fair. Who’s right? —Kim Haughawout, Monroeville, OH [8/19/79 ]

A: You yelled “foul” too soon. It’s a fair ball, for it passed over the bag in fair territory.

Designated Hitter

Q: Why does the American League use the designated hitter and the National League doesn’t? —Steve Payton, Mount Gilead, OH [8/4/90]

A: In 1973 the American League, believing it needed something to spark fan interest, voted to try the designated hitter as an experiment for three years. The National League owners said it would watch with interest. The American League liked it so much that after two years (1975) they adopted the designated hitter rule on a permanent basis. The National League, doing exceedingly well without what it considered a “gimmick” voted against the DH. It’s been that way ever since, which is ridiculous. There should be conformity. To date, the respective league commissioners have been too chicken to decide the debate: DH or no DH?

Is It an Error?

Q: A disagreement has arisen over what is an error and what isn’t. I believe when the player, in the official scorer’s judgment, misplays a ball that he considers should have been caught it doesn’t have to be touched to be scored an error. My opponents argue that if a player lets a routine fly fall at his feet and doesn’t touch it, it isn’t an error. They argue it’s a mental error and mental errors are not scored as errors in the book. I consider this ridiculous and illogical. Please help us clear this up. —Tim Hildebrand, Euclid, OH [8/3/89 ]

A: A player does not have to touch a ball to be charged with an error. If, in the judgment of the scorer, the ball should have been caught with ordinary effort he must rule it an error.

Hit or Error?

Q: A batter hits a routine ground ball to the third baseman. The ball goes right through the fielder’s legs, without touching his glove, although he did put his glove down. Should this be scored a hit or an error? What about a hard hit ball that goes right through his legs without touching his glove? This type of scoring is hard for me. —Mike Flanagan, Brecksville, OH [4/7/75]

A: This play is relatively easy for the official scorer. When a ball goes through a fielder’s legs call it an error and you’ll be right at least 95 percent of the time. As a matter of fact, you’re always right, because scoring is a matter of judgment and whatever you call is right.

When a fielder is in front of a ball he should be able to catch it or knock it down. If he doesn’t do either, he didn’t accomplish what he was supposed to do—hence the error. Only if the ball is going a zillion miles an hour or takes a horrendous bounce would I give the fielder the benefit of doubt if the ball goes through his legs.

Here’s the simple rule of thumb: If the batter is safe on a ball that should have been fielded with ordinary effort, call it an error. The emphasis is on the words ordinary effort.

But don’t worry about your calls. Call ’em as you see ’em and ignore the critics. They’re always there.

[Excerpted from Ask Hal, © Hal Lebovitz. All rights reserved. Gray & Company, Publishers.]

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