My eight-year old son asked me about this today.
In his Little League game last night, he was playing first base. On one play, there was a somewhat errant throw. He eventually corralled it with the glove – but he was stretched out on the ground when it happened. And, the only play he had at that point was to tag the base with his throwing hand.
Of course, the batter/runner was out. But, he asked me about it today – wanting to know why it was O.K., and the batter was out, when he tagged the base with his hand that did not contain the baseball.
I explained to him that this was no different than if he had caught the ball and tagged the base with his foot – as he would normally make the play at first after catching a throw. And, that the only time that there was no “electricity” (to borrow a term from my youth) allowed was when you were tagging the runner (and not that base). In order to retire a runner, you had to tag him with the ball, or, tag him with your glove while the ball was inside it.
Yet, afterwards, when I was alone, I thought about this some more.
Yes, there is a difference between forcing someone out at a base and tagging them out between the bases. And, yes, it would be very awkward to have to tag the base with the ball every time you had a force play there. But, why not allow that “electricity” rule when tagging a runner since it’s acceptable when “tagging” a base?
Maybe it goes back to the days of soaking (or plugging) the runner – where you could retire the player if you hit him with a thrown ball? Perhaps that’s where the ball on runner contact was established?
I don’t know. And, I am not saying that retiring runners without a ball tag should be allowed. I’m just curious why it’s required on a tag of the runner but not on the tag of a base. And, it’s funny that I have never thought about this in the forty years that I’ve been a baseball fan – until asked today about it by my son.