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Here's a situation that came up during a back lot league softball game a few weeks ago. (Note: While our league has some of its own rules we try to defer to MLB rules in all causes that aren't specifically addressed.)

There is a runner on second (R2) and a runner on first, with no outs. A ground ball is hit to the third baseman (3B) who cleanly fields the ball away from third base. Seeing that R2 is running toward him, 3B does not go to third and instead waits to tag the incoming R2. R2, in an attempt to buy some time for the other runners, stops advancing to third base. As soon as R2 stops, 3B declares R2 is out (without making a tag) and throws the ball to first to make a play.

During the discussion after the play, the 3B claimed that any player advancing on a force cannot stop moving toward their next bag or they are automatically out (the same way a runner leaving the baseline to avoid a tag is considered out). Our rules don't have a specific clause that addresses this situation and I couldn't find anything in official MLB rules (though it's possible I missed something, as 3B claims it is an MLB rule).

So, is 3B’s claim correct? That if a runner who is forced to advance to their next base stops (in particular to avoid/delay a tag) they are automatically out?

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The man on 2nd is only out if:

  • The 3rd baseman tags third, which would make him out by force-out

or

  • The 3rd baseman tags the player.

If the man on 2nd decides to not run to third, then he would only be out by one of those two options. It's only a force if you tag the base the runner is required to go to by rule.

3B's claim is incorrect; the runner on 2nd made the correct decision -- he "made the best of the situation".

  • Sorry the scenario might have been unclear. I have edited the 2nd paragraph in my question. The third baseman fielded the ball away from third base. It seems in his mind it was easier to tag the incoming runner from second instead of running back to third base for the force out. The runner from second saw this and stopped running to delay the tag. – fromcanada Aug 6 '14 at 16:05
  • Thanks! This probably seems like a fairly straightforward question, but 3B usually has pretty good knowledge of the game, so most of us are inclined to take his word at face value (we don't have "proper" umpires until the playoffs). – fromcanada Aug 6 '14 at 17:19
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    In a run-down, the runner caught between bases can run back and forth, hoping the defenders will mess up an exchange, allowing him to progress safely. So, no, just stopping is not sufficient to be called out. – Jon Custer Aug 6 '14 at 20:35
  • @JonCuster, aye, which is what the answer states unless I'm misunderstanding you. – Nick Aug 6 '14 at 20:53
  • @NicholasV. - perhaps a slight clarification indeed. Stopping alone is clearly not an out. And, somebody besides the 3rd baseman could apply the tag. Sorry if my clarification seemed to be questioning your answer. – Jon Custer Aug 6 '14 at 21:12
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In addition to the baseman tagging the bag or the player, or the player leaving the baseline, there is yet one additional way a forced runner may cause an out, although it is not himself that is out: if the runner from behind catches up with him, and occupies the same exact position on the basepaths (either literally catches up with him and touches him, or both occupy the same base), then that runner is out per Rule 7.08h:

7.08 Any runner is out when --

(h) He passes a preceding runner before such runner is out;

So the third baseman could hold the ball indefinitely, standing on the basepath between second and third, and eventually either the runner from first would be declared out (because he has no safe location to go once the batter reaches first) or the batter would be declared out (if the runner from first stayed at first).

That may have been what the third baseman was thinking about, although it doesn't apply until he literally is caught up with (not just 'forced'), and even if the runner from first reaches second, the runner from second doesn't cause this out unless he is standing on the bag as well or is passed by the runner from first. The specific play that occurred (the third baseman or shortstop fielding the ball some distance from the bag, and choosing not to tag the bag) occurs regularly in MLB, often because the fielder could not reach the bag in time, or because he believes he could start a double play 2nd-1st but could not start a 3rd-1st double play.

Runners overtaking comes up occasionally in the MLB particularly on pop flies to the outfield, where one runner feels it is going to land safely and one player feels it is going to be caught. The earlier runner runs head down, and often from first (meaning he has no base coach in his view), while the later runner (on second, say) stands on the bag waiting to tag.

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There is one more scenario which results in R2 being out. That is, if R2 left the baseline (by more than 10 feet or so) trying to avoid the tag.

But stopping does not make the runner automatically out. He created what is called a "fielders" choice, to force the third baseman to choose between putting him out or the batter. The ploy worked, the baseman chose to put out the batter, and that's that.

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There is a final rule to which your third baseman may have been referring. MLB 5.09b2

  • (2)  after touching first base, he leaves the base path, obviously abandoning his effort to touch the next base; 


If your 3rd baseman being authorized to act as an official believed that R2 had given up on the play usually by moving towards the dugout or otherwise off the field of play, then that runner was out. The scenario given would be a misapplication of this rule, as simply stopping is not abandoning the bases. Runners stop regularly in their attempts to proceed to the next base.

Another poster did indicate that your official could have called the runner out due to a baseline violation MLB 5.09b1

(1)  He runs more than three feet away from his base path to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s base path is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely; or

The scenario precludes this as it stated that R2 stopped.

3B should have touched third or charged (possibly forcing a baseline violation) and tagged R2 to get the out and then make the throw to first if there was still time. R2 should have proceeded to 3rd after 3b made the throw since neither of these happened and make his case that he was safe.

Rules cited are Major League Baseball Official Rules 2016

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