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The batter’s boxes have measured six–feet by four-feet since Grover Cleveland was President in 1886. They have been around as long as peanuts, popcorn and crackerjacks. Their purpose is to restrict the batter from taking unfair advantage of the pitcher or the defensive team.
The Mets and Phils played at Citi Field on Aug. 15. Luis Castillo led off the bottom of the fifth with a bunt base hit. He walked up on a Kyle Kendrick pitch and when he made contact with the ball his front foot was on the ground entirely out of the box- almost on the Whitestone Bridge. It’s possible that his back foot was on the ground out of the box as well. From this corner, it was a blatant violation of the rules as it allowed Castillo a head start to the base. Because Castillo’s foot was touching the ground completely out of the batter’s box, he should have been called out and the ball ruled dead. But plate ump Ron Kulpa didn’t see it that way despite the objections of Phillies’ manager Charlie Manuel. It’s possible that Kulpa was blocked out on the play.
Pro rule 6.06 (a) and NCAA rule 7-10a state if a batter hits a ball fair or foul with one or both feet on the ground out of the batter’s box, he is out and no runners can advance. Under NFHS rules, it is also a violation if the batter’s knee touches the ground completely outside the lines of the batter’s box or touches home plate.
When a batter makes contact with the ball, it is legal to have one foot in the air off the ground and one foot in the box.
The lines of the box are considered part of the box. Therefore, if a batter steps on the lines of the batter’s box when he makes contact with the ball, he is legal. If part of his foot is on the line and part of his foot is out of the box, he is legal when making contact with the ball. If the lines of the box are erased during the game, the plate umpire must create an imaginary line for the purpose of enforcing the rule.
What if a batter’s foot is touching the plate when he makes contact? In this case, under Pro rules, he is out whether or not the ball is fair or foul unless part of that foot is touching the batter’s box which is only six inches from home plate. Since the size of the average foot far exceeds six inches, it is quite possible for a batter to have a part of his foot on the line of the box and a part of his foot on home plate. However, under NFHS and NCAA rules, if any part of the foot is touching the plate and the batter makes contact with the ball, the batter is out.
The rule under discussion has created one of the more colorful chapters in baseball history. Ironically, two of baseball’s greatest sluggers-Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth violated the rule.
Aaron, playing for the Milwaukee Braves, lost a home run on Aug. 18, 1965, while facing St. Louis Cardinals’ southpaw Curt Simmons at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Simmons delivered a slow breaking pitch and Hammerin’ Hank” walked up on the pitch and went yard. By doing so, he took unfair advantage of the pitcher since he was able to hit the pitch before it possibly broke. Plate umpire Chris Pelekoudas judged that Aaron’s left foot was on the ground completely out of the batter’s box when he hit the pitch and he called the Braves’ slugger out. “His left foot was at least three-feet out when he swung,” said Pelekoudas. The infraction caused Aaron to finish his career with 755 home runs rather than 756.
Let’s go back to July 26, 1926, when the Cleveland Indians played the New York Yankees. Indians’ pitcher Joe Shaute tried to give Babe Ruth an intentional bases loaded walk with two outs in the sixth inning. But the Babe impatiently and foolishly stepped across the plate and fouled off what would have been “Ball Four.” Umpire Brick Owens called him out for making contact with the ball with one foot on the ground outside of the batter’s box.
I must confess that I did the same thing when I played in the Little League as a 12-year-old. However, I missed the pitch and the umpire erroneously called me out. The batter should only be called out if he makes contact with the ball and either one or both feet are on the ground outside the box.
As stated, the batter is ruled out as long as contact is made whether or not he hits or bunts the ball fair or foul. On July 28, 1991, Yankees’ center fielder Bernie Williams was called out by plate umpire Ken Kaiser when he bunted a ball foul with a foot on the ground outside the batter’s box.
When a batter is in the batter’s box waiting for a pitch, he must have both feet within the box to be considered legal. Some batters will cheat and have a part of the foot out of the box. When a batter’s back foot is extremely deep in the box and part of his foot is out of the box, it creates a disadvantage for the catcher in steal situations because he must now make a longer throw. Some coaches will instruct their batters to stand deep in the box for that reason.
Batters might try to extend the batter’s box for a variety of reasons. Coaches should be aware of this when scouting other teams. The plate umpire should be given this information before or during the game, if possible.
In the July 14, 2000, contest played between the New York Mets and Boston Red Sox at Fenway Park, Mets’ reliever Dennis Cook was banished after hitting Carl Everett with a pitch. Cook complained that Everett’s wide-open stance took him beyond the batter’s box lines. Aware of Cook’s objections, the following day plate ump Ron Kulpa, who had the Castillo play above, attempted to use preventive medicine by advising the temperamental outfielder to keep both feet in the batter’s box before the pitch was delivered. Everett countered by drawing a line. “As long as I’m on the line I’m in,” he declared. The guns were drawn for battle.
With a 2-2 count, Kulpa again indicated that Everett’s foot had crossed the line of the batter’s box and drew a proper boundary with his foot. This sparked a hot debate between Everett and Kulpa. Boston manager Jimy Williams jogged onto the field to save his player but he was too late. Everett slammed down his helmet, bumped Kulpa, and then head-butted him causing the umpire to grab the bridge of his nose.
Everett’s actions led to a 10-game suspension handed down by Frank Robinson, who was then vice president of on-field operations for major league baseball.
As discussed, one of the reasons for the rule is to prevent the batter from taking unfair advantage of the pitcher.
During the 1981 season Seattle Mariners’ manager Maury Wills ordered the grounds crew in the Seattle Kingdome to alter the dimension of the batter’s boxes to give his team an advantage in a game against Billy Martin’s Oakland A’s. The A’s had complained that Seattle’s Tom Paciorek was not in the batter’s box when he hit the ball. So the A’s did some investigative work.
Before the April 25 game Martin asked umpire Bill Kunkel to measure the batter’s boxes. Kunkel discovered the boxes were seven-feet long instead of the prescribed six-feet.
Wills admitted to the conspiracy of tampering with the batter’s boxes. Martin felt that Wills’ motives went deeper than just Paciorek. Martin theorized that since Rick Langford, a breaking ball pitcher was on the mound for the A’s that night, Seattle hitters would be able to get a cut at Langford’s pitches in the elongated batter’s boxes before the pitches broke.
This is apparently what Hank Aaron did 16 years earlier!