Inside the rules: tie goes to the runner

Many baseball fans, and possibly some players and coaches, believe that a baserunner who reaches first at the same time as the ball is safe. Those under that impression often will declare, magisterially and emphatically, that the ‘tie goes to the runner.’ However, that exact phrase doesn’t actually exist anywhere in baseball’s rules. While that may surprise some, it is also true that there is no mention of baserunner ties in major league baseball’s rulebook in any manner. The question then is, do we take silence on the issue to mean we must reject the oft-cited assumption completely?

Here are the relevant rules in the MLB rulebook:

Rule 6.05 (j) A batter is out when, after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base.

Rule 7.01 A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out. He is then entitled to it until he is put out, or forced to vacate it for another runner legally entitled to that base.

Rule 7.08 (e) Any runner is out when he or the next base is tagged before he touches the next base….

Explicit in those rules are two things. First, a runner is out if he is forced or tagged before reaching the base. The rulebook clearly shows that with the first and third examples. Conversely (and just as clearly shown) a runner is safe if reaching a base before being forced or tagged under rule 7.1. These rules are two sides of the same coin, for either the runner must beat the defense to the bag to be safe or the defender must beat the runner to the bag to record an out.

Missing in those rules are instructions for dealing with runner and defender reaching the bag simultaneously. The ‘tie’ lacks explanation. Some feel that no mention makes the tie benefiting the runner a myth, on par with misguided thinking that the hands are part of the bat, for example. However, closer inspection may show the reason why the ‘tie goes to the runner’ is such an age-old adage.

With no specific instruction on how to rule a tie, the umpire following only what is explicitly written in the code must assume ties simply do not exist, and many do just that. A common refrain among umpires seems to be that there are no ties on plays at bases. That interpretation means umpires are following the lead of Protestant Reformers and studying their rules sola scriptura. Subsequently, they must judge according only to the passages referenced above.

Unfortunately, such strict acceptance means calling a runner out or safe on an actual tie based on one instance of the rule while ignoring the other. To get around that, they argue that the ball either beats the runner or it doesn’t, and the runner is subsequently either out or safe. While the former is questionable, the latter is correct. No matter how debatable a call may be in baseball, safe and out are still the only two choices.

One problem with the only-ball-or-runner-first answer is that a provision should be made for a tie and simply favor either the runner or the defender. All calls would still be mutually exclusive, depending only on which side benefited from some clear and final decision on ties. But, this hypothetical scenario would require those in authority to give weight to one instance in the rulebook over the other and make a slight modification in the wording in all references to outs at bases. That has not happened over the course of 100 years and seems unlikely in the future.

After eliminating that far-fetched solution, another problem still remains with umpires saying that the ball either beats the runner or it doesn’t. That, of course, is an umpire’s claim that a ball cannot reach a defender precisely when the runner touches the bag. That notion is much more problematic and real. We can look at horse racing for convincing photographic evidence that it is possible for two or more horses to reach the finish line at the same time, even after a race lasting two minutes or more. How, then, could it not be possible for a runner and defender to reach first base after a play lasting all of four seconds? It is possible, and any umpire that claims it is not has chosen to speak only where the scripture speaks.

Another option for umpires, which is to study the rules for intent and allow an implicit interpretation regarding ties, has its own problems as well. For, if an umpire admits it is possible for ball and runner to meet a base at the same time, they face a new dilemma. Is a tie an out or is it safe? Some umpires could put the onus on the defender to beat the runner and declare the runner safe if he reaches the base at the same time. They could reference a rule for such a call. Others, taking the opposite stance, could argue that they follow a rule as well, just a different one. Here are examples of such stances, with predictably conflicting results.

In this Q and A on, major league crew chief Tim McClelland took the questions. When a reader asked about the ‘tie going to runner,’ he said that wording is not found and that “…the rule book does say that the runner must beat the ball to first base, and so if he doesn’t beat the ball, then he is out.” In this example, McClelland seems to invoke rule 7.1 while ignoring the other two, so he calls the runner out.

Here is another quote regarding the same question, in a Q and A with former major league umpire and current umpire academy owner Jim Evans. Evans’ answer differs from McClelland’s. Evans says the rulebook states, “…that a runner is out IF the defensive team tags him or his base BEFORE he reaches it. The implication is if the tag doesn’t occur first (not at the same time or after), the runner would be safe.” Here this umpire prefers rules 6.05 (j) and 7.08 (e) over McClelland’s selection, so he calls the runner safe.

Proponents of the conflicting methods of interpretation shown above deal with two rules, 7.1 and 7.08 (e) in particular, that cannot both be true and cannot both be false. We are left with a logical contradiction. Unfortunately, we’re also left no closer to a concrete solution.

In looking through baseball’s rules, nothing says that a ‘tie goes to the runner’. Feel free to ridicule any who claim that wording is in the book. However, calling such an idea a myth may be pushing it, since an umpire may call a runner safe on a tie.

Umpires will call a runner both safe and out on ties at different times. Some will do so for different reasons, either by ‘missing’ the call because they ruled that the ball or runner did get there first, or by choosing one particular rule over another from among the same set of rules. The umpire must make a judgment call on such plays, as he often does in the game of baseball. Even though there surely can be a tie at a base, a call either way must be made by men with differing opinions of what the correct call is.

That sounds a lot like the methodology in interpreting the strike zone.

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  1. Kenny said...

    Was going to add a similar comment to the others. 

    Your statement: “Conversely (and just as clearly shown) a runner is safe if reaching a base before being forced or tagged under rule 7.1” is possibly correct.  Rule 7.[0]1 does not say a runner is safe if reaching a base “before being forced or tagged.”  Rule 7.[0]1 says that he is safe if reaching base “before he is out.”  Under 7.08, we know that he is only “out” if “he or the next base is tagged before he touches the next base” (6.05 is similar). So, if he reaches the base before [he is out because he was tagged or the base was tagged before he reached the base] then he is safe.  In other words, if it’s a tie, he is safe.  I think it’s convoluted, but I think it’s the best reading, and it allows the rules to be consistent.

    • Anonymous said...

      This drives me crazy. The answer is simple. If you slow down every play to the nanosecond, you’ll see that there simply cannot be a tie.

  2. Kenny said...

    Error in my last post.  First sentence of my second paragraph should have said

    Your statement: “Conversely (and just as clearly shown) a runner is safe if reaching a base before being forced or tagged under rule 7.1” is possibly INcorrect.

  3. David Wade said...

    Kenny, it is POSSIBLE that reading is incorrect, yes.  It is likely, even.  My point was that the vagueness of it is what evidently leads to the contradicting views held by the two MLB umpires I linked to.

    • Tom said...

      I don’t see how Kenny’s reading is incorrect. 7.01 simply says the runner is safe if he reaches the base before he is out, it does not define what an out is. That definition is left to 6.05 (j) and 7.08 (e). Both rules state that the base or the runner need to be tagged before the runner reaches the base. 7.01 says the runner is safe if he reaches base before he is out; to be out he or the base have to be touched before he reaches the base. If he reaches the base at the same time as he or the base is touched then he is not out. And if he is not out then he is safe.

  4. David Wade said...

    Remember, I agree that the tie should go to the runner, as many of you do.  But, there are many who don’t, including umpires.  I should have posted more links that state that interpretation is inaccurate, etc. to show where I’ve seen the debate exists.  The fact that two MLB umpires disagree is pretting striking, though.

    Dave W. (not me, but obviously a cool dude), the high school ump that commented above, is a good example of arguements I’ve seen/ heard against the tie going to the runner.

  5. Hizouse said...

    I agree with the commenters’ conclusions, but the argument is a little more subtle.

    6.05(j) and 7.08(e) both say:
    If A (batter or base tagged first), then B (out).

    It does _not_ logically follow that if not-A, then not-B—unless you read “when” in those rules to mean “when and only when.”  But I think that is the only way to read the rules and make sense of them. 

    If there is a tie, there is no rule that would require the runner to be called out.  Since he is not called out, then in a tie he touches it “before he is out” and thus should be safe per 7.01.

  6. Jake said...

    When do we invoke the theory of relativity and note that from the perspective of one observer (the fielder) the call goes one way, while from the perspective of another observer (the baserunner) it goes another way.

    Great, this reminds me of physics homework: “Nolan Ryan throws a fastball at 0.99 times the speed of light…”

  7. MGL said...

    I’m too lazy to look it up, but isn’t the rule different for base runners (already on base), as opposed to the batter/runner?  I recall the rule was the opposite – that the runner was out unless he beats the tag, implying that in a tie, he is out.

  8. Big Mike said...

    There really is no lack of clarity.  Those two rules (6.05 (j) and Rule 7.08 (e)) are not at all vague – “before” isn’t a word with multiple interpretations.  By saying that the runner is out when the bag is tagged “before” he touches it, he is not out if there is a tie – thus, ties go to the runner.  If the rule instead defined him as safe when he touches the bag “before” the ball got there, then the tie would go to the defense.  McClelland and the high school ump are simply applying the wrong standard by saying that the runner has to beat the ball.  The burden of proof here is explicitly on the defense.

  9. David Wade said...


    I’ve seen that argued- proponents of that cite 6.05 (j) as specific to first base and that the tie goes to the runner there.  But in the other two rules it states unoccuppied base and take that to mean ties go to the defenders on other bases.

  10. Max Marchi said...

    7.08(e) has recently been reworded (don’t know when exactly).
    It used to be:

    He fails to reach the next base before a fielder tags him or the base…

    That was more confusing (see Chapter 5 of Baseball and Philosophy).

  11. MGL said...

    OK, it used to be that a tie goes to the fielder at other bases, but I guess that changed that so that a tie now goes to the runner at all bases.  I agree, there is no ambiguity.  Might be confusing to some, but there is only one definition/interpretation of out/safe at all bases, including the tie.  My guess is that they don’t specifically mention a “tie”, even though it is implicit in the rules, because, one, they don’t have to, and two, they don’t want to deal with the issue of, “There ARE no ties.”

    If an umpire wants to assume there are not ties, that is fine. He either rules out or safe, depending upon what he thinks he sees.  If an umpire thinks that he sometimes sees a tie, then he is forced by the rules to call “safe.”  Either way, it is fine.  Personally, I think that when an umpire says, “There are no ties,” he is being delusional (because the human eye can only discern so much), but, again, it doesn’t matter one way or another.  If you can’t tell on replay which one arrived first, then no one is going to argue that the ump got the call wrong…

  12. Rams Bladder Cup said...

    I think, because the umpire has to call either “safe” or “out” his mind is always going to fall to either of the possibilities.  After years of calling these plays it just becomes automatic and there really is no “thinking” involved.

    Also, if someone could do the math of the speed of sound and the affect it has on the rule that would be cool since most plays, at first, are hear the ball, see the foot.

  13. Mike Whitaker said...

    Actually, I think you and McClelland are misreading it.

    - 6.05 and 7.08 both say if the ball arrives first, the runner is out.
    – 7.01 says he has a right to the base if he’s not out, i.e. if the ball DOESN’T arrive first.

    Ties therefore go to the runner. End of. :D

  14. Michael said...

    Hate to break this, but:

    “No such thing as a tie” is a true statement, and probably the most (unwittingly) scientific thing you’ll ever hear an umpire say.

    AND…even IF you could slow down time to a sub-nanosecond slice and determine that the ball contacted the glove exactly when the runner’s foot contacted the base, by definition the runner is on the base, therefore safe.

    I don’t see any gray areas here.

  15. Rams Bladder Cup said...

    That first paragraph of mine is a little sloppy.  What I was trying to say is that an umpire is not going to think “tie” and then use his interpretation of “ties” to make the call.

    better? no? oh well, I tried.

  16. Mike Whitaker said...

    Speed of sound = circa 1100 fps (I’ll be nice and use American units :D )
    Assuming a first baseman at full stretch, back foot on the base, his hand is at most 5 or 6 feet from the base – let’s call it 5 1/2 feet for ease of maths. If the umpire is as disadvantageously positioned as possible, so that the foot hitting the bag, the ball hitting the glove and the umpire are in the same line, the difference in time between the sound of the foot and the ball is about 5.5/1100 or 1/200 of a second – 5 milliseconds (or about 1/8 of a frame of video).

    According to sound engineering texts, the shortest delay perceptible to the human ear is about 7 ms.

  17. Mike Whitaker said...

    Actually, I’ll revise that, after a couple of minutes trying not to damage my back or knees while experimenting and measuring…. probably nearer 8 feet full stretch. So just *about* enough to make a perceptible difference in the extreme case.

  18. Dave Studeman said...

    I agree with Mike.  The seeming logical conclusion is that a tie goes to the runner, because the base goes to the runner if he touches it before he’s out—and 7.08 says he’s out if the base is tagged BEFORE he touches it.

    What am I missing?

  19. David Wade said...

    So, a tie is only theoretically possible (down to the microsecond, and to the dismay of thousands of bettors who’ve wagered millions of dollars on horse racing where there have been dead heats).  The umpire’s human limits in processing information (what he’s seeing and what he’s hearing)keep him from discerning something that close anyway.  And, MLB umpires cited disagree on the ruling in the first place.  I love it!

  20. David Wade said...

    Rams Bladder- thankfully, Mike Whitaker worked out the math.  I read somewhere something similar to what he wrote (we can only see/ hear and process so fast), but Mike saves me from looking for it.  Also, I was told there would be no math.

  21. MikeS said...

    Whitaker and Studeman are correct.  McClelland is wrong.

    7.01 says he is safe if he arrives at the base before he is out, not before the ball arrives.  6.05 and 7.08 describe how to make him out.  Seems obvious where the “tie goes to the runner” comes from.

  22. Dave W said...

    Hi, nice article, I really like the logical arguments on either side.  I ump high school games and I can tell you that from my perspective the runner either beats it there or he doesn’t.  During the game you don’t have time to think, “That was a tie, what should I call?”  If it’s a bang-bang play like that you make the best call you can, and then sell it.  And half the crowd will think you blew it.

  23. trokenmatt said...

    Yeah, I have to agree with the commenters. This is not at all controversial. The rule is well defined.

    A runner is out if the ball arrives first.
    If its a tie, the ball did not arrive first.
    Therefore, when its a tie, the runner is not out.

  24. David Wade said...

    Actually Mike, I love it.  This is even better discussion than I imagined.  Actually, I had seen a lot of blog entries that claimed the runner was out in a tie and I’m surprised that’s not been trumpeted by anyone.  Anyway, I think your notes do a better job of explaining something I believe that I stated in the article-

    Not to beat a dead horseracing analogy, but if there can be a dead heat, surely there can be a tie at first. 

    Tom Tango pointed out the odds against events landing on the same time stamp, and that makes sense.  But, I had a thought-  are the odds not so long if we agree the two measured events usually land within a second of each other, and are therefore not infinitely random?  Not sure if that makes sense or not, but that should increase our chances of a tie somewhat.

    I like how your points argue that we really can’t get that close in our observation anyway.

  25. wickethewok said...

    There’s an interesting chapter in “Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter’s Box” about this subject.

  26. David Wade said...

    Wicke- I just read the chapter (google books).  I wish I’d found it myself before I wrote my post- I would have used a quote or two from there for sure because it was quite entertaining.

  27. Mike Whitaker said...

    “are the odds not so long if we agree the two measured events usually land within a second of each other, and are therefore not infinitely random?”

    Ignoring quantum effects? Yes, they’re just as long – there are as many numbers between 0 and 1 as there are between 0 and infinity (either take my word for it, or read and Be Very Afraid :D ).

    What we can say is that the limits of both human perception and video technology mean that there can be ties to a human observer. AND that the laws clearly say that such ties go to a runner, IF that observer happens to be the umpire :D

  28. David Wade said...

    Ha ha.  Awesome.  You should check out Tom Tango’s blog- there’s a quantum physics debate going on over there about this article as well.

  29. Rams Bladder Cup said...

    Great stuff. Thanks to all for this interesting discussion.

    And David, it’s “Rams Bladder Cup” not just “Rams Bladder”, big difference. One’s just an internal organ, the other is, well, I’ll let Milton the chocolatier from a Monty Python scketch describe it “…We use choicest juicy chunks of fresh Cornish ram’s bladder, emptied, steamed, flavoured with sesame seeds whipped into a fondue and garnished with lark’s vomit…”

    One of MPs best:

  30. Mike Whitaker said...

    Actually, a tie is more than theoretically possible.

    If the umpire is going *purely* on sound, there’s a range of about 15ms in which he can’t distinguish the sounds of ball hitting glove and foot hitting bag (from ball 7ms early to ball 7ms late).

    Interestingly, that’s less than half a video frame, so the umpire can theoretically distinguish things that the TV will show as a tie (one frame, ball out of glove, foot not on bag, next frame, ball in glove, foot on bag).

    In that 15ms, an 80mph throw travels nearly two feet, for what it’s worth, and a batter at a full run about 4 inches.

  31. Mike Whitaker said...

    ..and of course by ‘more than theoretically possible’ I mean ‘more than theoretically possible as far as the umpire’s perception is concerned’.

    A couple of things though, if we’re going to take speed of sound into consideration :D

    Given the typical umpire’s positioning for an across-the-diamond out at first, (on the fair side of the first base line so he can see the foot land) he’s *very* slightly shading in favour of the fielder in terms of speed of sound, as he’s a couple of feet closer to the glove (but that’s a millisecond or two).

    Much more importantly – I rather picked up the impression from watching a LOT of baseball this summer (thanks to and the Twins) that umpires go on sound of ball hitting glove compared with sight of foot hitting bag. If that’s the case, the runner gets a much bigger (well, relatively speaking!) advantage, since the sound of ball hitting glove takes of the order of 20ms to reach an umpire 20’ away (sound travels close enough to a millisecond a foot). Assuming that the 7ms window in which he can’t tell two events apart holds when one is visual and the other auditory, that’s most of a video frame!

  32. Mike Whitaker said...

    Last note, I promise.

    Bear in mind that the first base coach is positioned opposite the umpire, pretty much. And if both are going purely on sound, he’ll hear foot on bag 10+ms before the umpire does, relative to ball in glove. Which makes it possible for the umpire to hear ball first and the first base coach to hear both together, and BOTH be as objectively right as they can be given the sensory input they have. :D

    Isn’t physics wonderful? Bet you wish you’d never asked now, David!

  33. Lisa said...

    I’m in the middle of researching a complicated legal issue and I’m ready to put my head through the wall. I ask myself, “Is this really worth it? Isn’t there more to life?” Slogging through this issue, the phrase, “tie goes to the runner” keeps popping into my head, so I google the term and find your article. It made my day to see that you and I are doing the same work: interpreting rules to determine what is allowed and what will lead to fair play. Have a good one.

  34. Chris A said...

    I feel MLB should address this grey area in Baseball. The rules should definitely address a tie because we all know they do happen and to imply or pretend they don’t is just silly. But for the time being I will say this: If the umpire is consistent during the game on which rule he follows..i.e. either the ball reaching the base before the runner or the runner reaching the base before the ball. Then I’m OK with it. Consistency is the main factor because if during a game the umpire switches which rule he is going to follow randomely during the game, it leaves the umpire open for being accused of playing favorites.

    • said...

      Scientifically they cannot happen the issue is how humans can see and hear safe and out. But if we could see billionths of seconds we would see that there are no ties

  35. said...

    The tie does go to the runner even though it may not say in the mlb rule book. There’s a book called “Baseball Roots” & here is what it say about this age old issue. “A player running the bases shall be out if the ball is in the hands of an adversary on the base or the runner is touched with it BEFORE he makes his base. It being understood however that in no instance is a ball to be thrown at him.” So going from a common logic point of view, since this rule states that these action in order to get the runner has to take place BEFORE the runner reaches, since we now know those rules, it would seem only logical that the tie would go to the runner or otherwise that too, would have been stated in this rule. So IMO based on the fact that we now have a rule clarification on what IS considered an out, the tie would have to go to the runner. And this rule can be found on page 15 from the book “Baseball Roots” by Ron McCulloch. And its a great read too. I highly recommend this book to true fans of the game. Its a great book.

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