There was a play last night in the Cardinals-Giants game where about 8,000 things seemed to happen back-to-back-to-back-to-back-to… you get it.
One of those things is a perfect example to illustrate the oft-misunderstood “running out of the baseline” rule.
You can watch the video here.
San Fran base runner Gregor Blanco, realizing that John Jay has just made one heck of a catch turned and ran back toward first base. Jay gets up and hurls the ball toward first base where Blanco, at first glance, seems to avoid the tag attempt from first baseman Allen Craig.
Subsequent replays have shown that Craig did tag Blanco who should have been called out. But regardless of that, should Blanco have been called out anyway for being out of the baseline?
I say the rule is often misunderstood is because most people assume the “baseline” is a straight line from one base to the next and you cannot run more than three feet on either side of it. This is not the case.
Surely you have seen a batter launch a ball into the gap and take a wide turn around first base, out into the grass in foul territory. He was way beyond three feet and nobody was complaining he wasn’t in the base line.
So what’s the rule? “Any runner is out when… He runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. A runner’s baseline is established when the tag attempt occurs and is a straight line from the runner to the base he is attempting to reach safely…” (Rule 7.08a1, emphasis is mine).
To reemphasize, the line is not from base to base, but rather from runner to base. Also as it states, this rule applies only if a tag attempt is being made. Otherwise a runner is free to go anywhere on the field he wants. By the rule, a runner on first base could take his leadoff in right field.
Blanco’s baseline was established the moment Craig started moving toward him (essentially the same instant Craig caught the ball), and Blanco without question moved toward the outfield in an attempt to avoid the tag.
The call as to whether he went more than three feet is extremely close. Considering that Blanco is 5’11” it would be about three feet from the middle of his chest to the end of his fingers. After Blanco gets past Craig and is lying on the ground reaching for the base, he is unable to reach it. If the baseline was from base to base, he would clearly be out of the baseline and clearly should be called out. But again, it is not from base to base.
When Craig first started attempting to tag Blanco, Blanco was about a foot to the outfield side of the base-to-base line, meaning his baseline gives him about an extra foot of leeway on that side of the base. Which makes it an extremely difficult call to make when he slides past Craig and his outstretched arm is about a foot from first base.
Like last week’s “outfield fly rule” call, this play is close enough that I can see how an argument could be made for either side. If I had to pick one or the other, though, I would say he was out of the baseline (his baseline, that is).