We are always striving to be consistent–not only in our own personal games but as a unit as a whole. One area where it seems that there is a lot of inconsistency is the Hit by Pitch rule. It seems like a pendulum, where some umpires are placing an unnecessary burden on the batter to get out of the way and others put them on anytime they get hit. As with most things, the middle ground is the best way to go.
There is no rule that states that the batter has to make an attempt to get out of the way of a pitch. Rule 7-3-4 states, “A Batter Shall Not permit a pitched ball to touch him.” When a fastball is inside and a batter freezes, that is not permitting a pitched ball to touch him; he should be awarded first base. When a batter misreads a curveball that doesn’t break and gets hit, he is not permitting a pitched ball to touch him; he should be awarded first base. When a pitch is so far inside that the batter turns his back to the ball and gets hit squarely in the back, that is not allowing a pitched ball to touch him; he should be awarded first base.
In football, we look for certain “indicators” to call certain fouls. We can apply that to HBP as well. If a batter has opportunity to get out of the way but sticks out his arm or leg, that is an indicator that he permitted the ball to hit him; he should not be awarded first base (unless it was also ball four). If a slow pitch is inside and the batter makes no move, that is an indicator; he should probably be kept at home.
Now, just because an indicator is present, it doesn’t mean that we are going to keep the batter home. That’s where we have to use our judgment. Did the batter have a reasonable chance to get out of the way and did he make a reasonable effort? That’s your judgment.
This is a safety rule. When I keep a player at the plate because he permitted the pitch to touch him and a coach complains that it is a safety rule, I respond by saying, “That’s right, coach. It’s not safe for your batter to let the pitch hit him.” That being said, when in doubt, error on the side of safety and send the batter to first.