Baseball has very particular rules that people who do not follow the sport closely may not know about. One of these rules is the dropped third strike policy.
It’s common knowledge that when you have three strikes you are out – so common that corporations, schools and even the legal system have used “three strikes” to signify the seriousness of certain policies. But did you know that you could have three strikes and not be out?
Take a look at this play by Steve Tolleson of the Toronto Blue Jays just last year. He turns what is seemingly a straightforward strike out essentially into a double (runner on second).
This is the definition of, “heads-up baserunning” right here. Let me break it down for you.
What Is a Dropped Third Strike?
If the catcher drops the third strike, or it hits the ground while the batter is swinging, the batter has a chance to run to first base. This can only be done with no one on first base or with two outs in the inning.
The MLB created this exception to the rule to prevent catchers from dropping the ball on a called third strike to initiate an unfair double play or triple play. But, whatever the outcome is, the pitcher is still credited with a strikeout in his statistics.
How to score a dropped third strike
If the batter reaches first base safely, you score the play as E2 but still credit the pitcher with a strikeout.
If the batter is thrown out at first base, you score the play K, 2–3.
One thing to note is that this rule usually is not enforced at younger levels, tee-ball or minors. In older divisions (high school, pony league, majors etc…) the batter may run on an uncaught third strike.
This rule tends to draw controversies because of its nature. It gives teams and players a chance when they should be out.
How other positions should handle a dropped third strike
If you’re playing defense then a dropped third strike can be hectic. What seems to be a sure out is now a runner down the line and off to the races.
The catcher needs to react quickly. It should be instinct that if the ball hits the dirt, you’re grabbing it and throwing it to first.
Ball in Front of the Catcher
Ideally, in a dropped third strike situation, the catcher will be able to recover the ball quickly, clear the running lane by repositioning in fair territory and make the throw to the first baseman, avoiding the runner. In this scenario the catcher will call out “Inside” to the first baseman indicating he wants the first baseman to set up for a throw in fair territory.
Ball Behind the Catcher
If the ball gets behind the catcher, the catcher will need to quickly retrieve the ball and determine if he wants the first baseman to set up in fair or foul territory. If he want
The first baseman should stay calm and collected. This play will require the first baseman to set up in fair territory for most throws from the catcher but some that get past the catcher will be easier throws from All you need to do is what you normally do – wait for the throw from the catcher and glove the easy out.
Where you set up to receive the throw will depend on where the dropped third strike ends up. If the ball gets past the catcher, you will set up in foul territory and yell “outside” so the catcher he knows where you want the ball. If the ball settles in fair territory, you will set up in fair territory and call out “inside” to the catcher. This allows the catcher to get a good throwing lane and not hit the batter with the ball while he runs towards first base.
The right fielder should be aware of the situation and run down the line to back up the first baseman. As you saw in the Tolleson clip, the ball can easily get away on an errant throw. If the right fielder isn’t there to back up the first baseman, an easy out could turn into an easy double.
As a batter, you want to always be aware of what is happening at the plate. If you swing and see the ball hit the dirt, don’t wait for the umpires call. Know the rule yourself – jump the gun, drop the bat and race down the first base line. Trust me – if you eke out a single from a strikeout, you have a solid chance of moving up the batting order and congratulations will be in order from your coach.
Famous dropped third strikes
Chicago White Sox vs. Anaheim Angels, 10/12/05
A.J. Pierzynski’s catching instincts came into play in game 2 of the 2005 ALCS as home plate umpire Doug Eddings called strike three – but not out number 3.
In this video, it looks at though the catcher Josh Paul traps the ball off the dirt when in reality he caught it. Eddings didn’t have the correct vantage point and so he thought it was a dropped strike three rule.
Pierzynski ended up setting up a game-winning double with his heads up baserunning, showing that the dropped third strike rule really can change the direction of a game in one pitch.
Brooklyn Dodgers vs. New York Yankees, 1941 World Series, Game 4
This is perhaps the most famous instance of a dropped third strike. Dodgers catcher Mickey Owen let a strike pass by him, allowing Tommy Henrich of the New York Yankees to reach first base and set up the game-winning run.