I’ve been attending a lot of our Little League post season all star games. I’m a softball umpire so I understand the game pretty well. A common question I get asked a lot is about why, in softball, with a runner on 3rd base, a walked batter runs to first and then immediately runs to second base. People think that because the pitcher is “in the circle” she can’t do that. I thought it would be useful if I wrote a quite blurb on Little League Softball rule # 7.08 which covers this unique situation in softball. The team that masters this rule can have a distinct advantage during a game.
This rule defines the conditions under which a runner is out. I’m going to quote the specific sections of the rule that are applicable here and then I’ll explain how this works.
7.08 – Any runner is out when -
(a) (5) (a) the runner fails to keep contact with the base to which that runner is entitled until the ball has been released by the pitcher on the delivery.
NOTE 2: If the pitcher has possession of the ball within the pitcher’s circle, and is not making a play (a fake throw is considered a play), runners not in contact with their bases must immediately attempt to advance or return to base.
PENALTY: The ball is dead. “No Pitch” is declared, and the runner is out. Eight (8) foot radius circle must be properly marked.
So, what does this mean in English? Note 2 is the specific part of the rule that is referred to as a “circle violation.” To understand this rule, you need to understand the two main conditions under which this rule is most confusing. Let’s take them one at a time.
Ball 4 walk – Runner not yet in contact with first base
This is the one that everyone gets confused by. According to the rule, the runner is not in contact with their base yet and is therefore allowed to immediately attempt to advance. This is typically done with a runner on third base because the offensive team knows that if the catcher throws down to second, the runner on third will score. Therefore, this is a legal strategy.
Runner on base - Pitcher in circle
This is one that is often the most frustrating because it’s the most subjective. Pitch is thrown. Runner leads off. Ball is received and returned to the pitcher. Pitcher is in the circle and turns their back on the runner. The runner decides to advance. This is a perfectly legal since the runner is not in contact with the base, the pitcher is in the circle, and the runner decides to advance. Where it gets “subjective” is with the word “immediately.” If the umpire feels the runner “hesitated” before advancing, they can call the runner out.
Another situation which is NOT subjective is the same as above. The runner decides to advance and then changes her mind and return to base. This is an unarguable circle violation because the rule says you must advance OR return to base. You are not allowed to do both.
Hopefully this clears up some of the confusion regarding this unique softball rule. Teams are encouraged to learn this rule and make sure your umpires know the rule and learn what they consider “immediately” to mean. This is one of the easiest rules to exploit if you are not properly educated.