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Baseball terminology often finds its way into everyday life, and therefore even people who don’t know much about baseball can be quite familiar with all sorts of baseball terms and expressions. This includes words like “strikeout” and terms like “home run.” It can even include full phrases like “pitching a perfect game.” Some baseball vocabulary, however, remains a little confusing to understand, and there is no better example than the term “ghost runner.”
“Ghost runner” actually has a couple of different meanings in baseball. Technically, a ghost runner refers to an imagined baserunner, used when the batting team does not have enough players to play a proper game. However, the term is also used colloquially to refer to the automatic runner placed on second base in during extra-inning games.
Officially, Major League Baseball uses the term “automatic runner” or “designated runner” to refer to the runner placed on second in extra innings. “Ghost runner” is not a recognized term in professional baseball. This makes sense, because the designated runner on second base is not imaginary or theoretical – they are very much a real player.
What is the Automatic Runner Rule?
In 2020, Major League Baseball added a new rule to help decrease the length of extra-inning games. Once a game reaches the tenth inning, each team starts their at-bats with a runner automatically placed at second base. This makes it more likely the offensive team will score, and therefore it is more likely the game will end in a timely fashion.
The automatic runner shall be the last batter to get out in the previous inning. However, teams will often replace them with a pinch runner to try to ensure that the fastest possible player starts the inning in scoring position.
The automatic runner rule is used during all regular season MLB games, but it is not used during the postseason. If a postseason game goes to extra innings, there will be no runner placed on second base.
What Else is the Automatic Runner Called?
Technically, the extra runner on second base is called either the automatic runner or the designated runner. MLB seemed to originally prefer the term designated runner, but automatic runner has become the more commonly used term as of late.
Informally, fans will often use the term “ghost runner” instead. While this is not the official term, nor does it accurately describe the rule, it has become quite popular. Some fans, however, prefer to use the term “zombie runner” instead. They feel this term more aptly describes the automatic runner, because the runner has, seemingly, “risen from the dead” to return to second base after getting out the previous inning. Zombies are visible, unlike ghosts, so they make for a more accurate comparison to the automatic runner.
How Does the Automatic Runner Work?
An automatic runner is placed on second base at the beginning of every half-inning from the top of the tenth inning onwards. They will be the last batter to get out for the batting team in the previous half-inning. The offensive team can also choose to replace the automatic runner with a pinch runner. This pinch runner will remain in the game for as long as it continues.
This automatic runner functions the same as any other runner, except they did not have to “earn” their way onto the bases. That means they can advance bases and score just like any other baserunner, but they will not be credited with reaching base for the sake of their on-base percentage.
If the automatic runner scores, it will not count as an earned run against the pitcher on the mound. It will count as an unearned run instead because the pitcher did not allow this runner to reach base and therefore should not take full responsibility for allowing them to score. This is similar to what happens if a runner reaches base or scores due to a defensive error.
Why Was the Automatic Runner Rule Created
The automatic runner rule was first introduced to Major League Baseball during the pandemic-shortened 2020 season. It was an idea the league had been discussing for years, but the special circumstances of this season pushed it into effect more quickly than anticipated.
The league wanted to keep games as quick as possible because they were playing a truncated season with fewer off days. They also wanted to limit how often players on opposing teams were exposed to one another. Therefore, they implemented a few measures to keep games from running too long, and the automatic runner was one such measure.
The automatic runner had its desired effect, and extra-inning games ran far shorter in 2020 than they had in previous years. Thus, MLB decided to keep the rule in place for subsequent seasons.
What is a Ghost Runner?
The ghost runner is a concept used in casual baseball or softball games, not professional contests. It is used when one or both teams do not have enough players to play a proper game.
The rule is used when a runner who is still standing on base is supposed to come up to bat again. In a professional game, this would never happen, because there would be nine batters on either side. However, if there are five or fewer players on the offensive team, the ghost runner can be used.
The runner whose turn it is to bat will leave their current base, and a ghost runner will be placed on the base in their place. The ghost runner will move at an imagined speed, simulating the presence of an actual runner. Ghost runners can still score runs for the offensive team or be gotten out by the defensive team.
Because the ghost runner is not used in professional games, there are no official rules as to how the rule must be used. Instead, the two teams should agree ahead of time when to use a ghost runner and how fast the imagined ghost runner will travel.
How Fast Does a Ghost Runner Travel?
Before using a ghost runner, both teams should agree on how fast the ghost runner moves from base to base. Typically, the ghost runner is said to move as fast as the batter at the plate, since the ghost runner is an imagined replacement for that same player.
For example, if there is a ghost runner on first base and the batter hits a ground ball, the fielding team must get the ball to second base before the batter reaches first in order to get the ghost runner out. If the batter reaches first before the ghost runner reaches second, the ghost runner will be called safe.
How Many Bases Does a Ghost Runner Travel?
Again, there are no set guidelines as to how a ghost runner is used because it is not an official rule of professional baseball. Most commonly a ghost runner is imagined to only advance as many bases as the batter. Therefore, if the batter advances one base, the ghost runner will advance one base, and so on.
Sometimes, however, more complicated rules will be used instead. For example, the ghost runner might be said to advance one base on an infield single and two bases on an outfield single. The ghost runner might also be said to always score from first base on a double.
What Is the 27th Man in Baseball?
The 27th man is another relatively new rule introduced to help reduce the problems caused by the long and arduous baseball season. In this case, it is used during doubleheaders to help teams deal with playing two full games in one day.
The 27th man is an extra player who can be added to the team’s roster for the two games of the doubleheader. Normally, an MLB roster can only have 26 players, but this exception is made when they must play two games in one day. This player is not subject to the traditional rules that govern when a player can be called up or sent down to the minor leagues.
Where Does the Term Ghost Runner Come From?
The ghost runner is an imagined player who is not really on the field, and therefore no one can actually see this player running the bases or scoring a run. In other words, this runner is just like a ghost, because they have an effect on the outcome of a game even though no one can see them.
When Should You Use a Ghost Runner?
A ghost runner should only be used to replace a runner who needs to return to the plate. This means a ghost runner only needs to be used when the batting team has five or fewer players. However, as long as a team has more than three players, they can use a pinch runner instead of a ghost runner, since there can only be three runners on the bases (and one runner at the plate) at a time.