Lies our coaches told us: Part 4


Mandatory Credit: Bob DeChiara-USA TODAY Sports

Ah, the check swing. Perhaps one of the most unique factors of this beautiful sport called baseball — and one of the most misunderstood factors, more importantly. The lie of the check swing is so pervasive that I’m sure many of you are combing through your impressive database of baseball knowledge, trying to figure out exactly what I’m talking about. The answer, as it turns out, is quite simple — there’s no such thing as a check swing.

Ok, maybe the better way of saying that is “all swings, including check swings, are full swings according to the rulebook”. But the main point remains — we’ve been lied to for far too long about the idea of a hitter “checking his swing”. On the relevant information, the MLB rulebook says the following “A strike is a legal pitch when so called by the umpire, which—Is struck at by the batter and is missed”.

That’s some extraordinarily plain and simple language for an often complex rulebook. Sure, the the judgement calls by the umpires may at times be questionable, but the bottom line is this — if a player moves his bat, and the umpire rules that the movement was an attempt to hit the baseball, the pitch should be ruled a strike. Period.

The somewhat depressing notion of doing away with the idea of the check swing would no doubt be met with much criticism and weeping and gnashing of teeth — but it would be more firmly rooted in the rulebook than the interpretation currently accepted as truth. While the idea of an umpire being forced to make such a judgement call may be viewed unfavorably by many fans, I’d urge them to reconsider their stance. Think about it in terms of which is easier to delineate — a) whether a player’s swing was 50% or 50.1% of a full swing, or b) whether or not he intended to hit the baseball. Clearly, the latter is much, much easier to determine, and thus much, much easier to enforce as a meaningful judgement call.

Hopefully that clears up any misconceptions and check swings, and with the hope that it did, and the relatively short nature of the above explanation, it’s time for a bonus misconception — “the tie goes to the runner”.

This one is simple. There is no rule stating that in the event of a tie at a base, a runner shall be declared safe. What it really comes down to is that a runner either beats the throw, or he doesn’t — it doesn’t matter how close it may appear, because in reality the ability to correctly determine that there wasn’t even a fragment of a second between the ball touching the glove and the toe touching the base is something that simply doesn’t exist. The ability to determine (correctly or otherwise) whether or not a runner beat the throw is much more common, and much closer to ensuring a continued correct application of the rulebook.

This misunderstanding is not likely to cause very many problems, because generally speaking any such “tie” at a base is likely to be, in all reaility, a situation in which the runner was either safe or very close to being so. The only real problem it has the potential to create is if an umpire explains his call by saying to a questioning manager “it was a tie, so the runner is safe” — if this happened, it would likely result in the rare successful appeal of the game, under the pretense that the umpires made an important decision using a misapplication of the rulebook.

In the next installment of Lies our coaches told us we’ll examine two different misconceptions — one centered around the definition of a certain piece of equipment, and the other dealing with runners on and near first base.