What Are The Base Stealing Rules In Baseball?

Mike Specter
Mike Specter

It doesn’t matter whether you’re playing baseball as a rookie or a professional. The base steal is one of the most thrilling plays in the game as it’s got everything we love about this sport in one swoop — speed, timing, deception, and coordination.

Let’s not forget the adrenaline-fueled excitement of the race to the next base and the suspense of whether it will be a successful steal!

But when can you steal a base during a baseball game??

A successful base steal can undoubtedly push your team to victory in a game. However, a steal attempt can also destroy your chances of winning if it fails. One way to avoid ruining your team’s momentum with unsuccessful steals is by knowing when to attempt a steal in the first place.

This is where we come into play. Get it?

The following paragraphs cover everything you need to know about stealing a base during a baseball game. We also examine the various scenarios where attempting a steal would be a pointless effort or even an infringement.

What Does it Mean to Steal a Base in Baseball?

Whether it’s the perfect slide, jump, take-off, or slow pitch in the dirt, a successfully stolen base is one of the most satisfying feelings in baseball, at least for the stealing team.

But what does a base steal mean?

Stealing a base in baseball is a tactical approach to scoring a point whereby a base-runner proceeds to the next base without his team scoring a hit. More often than not, such plays occur between the first base and the second base.

How does this work?

A stolen base occurs when a base runner is not entitled to the move but advances successfully to the next base during a pitching sequence to a hitter. However, a steal can also happen when the catcher returns a throw to the pitcher.

By now, you’ve probably figured it out. But speed is an essential determinant of a successful base steal. However, it is not all you need.

Using keen observation skills, you also need to predict where a pitcher will throw and the speed at which he’ll do it. Then, time your run perfectly to catch the pitcher and catcher off-guard.

Without all these qualities, you risk getting tagged out by the fielding team — when the pitcher or catcher makes a pitch to a closer fielder.

Let’s put this in perspective for you. The throwing distance between the home plate and the second plate is approximately 127 feet, while the throwing distance between the home plate and the third base is only 90 feet. As a result, the ball needs to travel an additional 37 feet if it’s going to reach second base, which means more time for your steal.

What Are The Base Stealing Rules In Baseball?

Once you decide to steal a base, you’ll take off sprinting to the next base and have only a few seconds to make it there. The pitcher must pitch the ball over the home plate during this time. Then, the catcher has to grab it, rise to his feet, and throw the ball to the player covering the base you’re trying to get to.

This entire sequence takes about 3.5 seconds — the time you have to get to your next base.

But when can you steal a base? Here are the rules for stealing a base:

1. Lead-off Rules

A lead-off happens when a base runner stands a short distance away from their current base, giving themselves a headstart in anticipation of the next pitch. Usually, this lead distance falls between six to ten feet from their current base.

Digging a little deeper, here are some lead-off rules for stealing a base for you:

  • First of all, if you are attempting a steal at second base, you must be careful to avoid being tagged out from a pick-off
  • A pick-off can occur when the fielding team is on to you. If this happens, the pitcher or catcher throws to a baseman close to you and tags you out.
  • You are safe if you can get to second base before being tagged out by the second baseman.

2. Double Stealing Rules

In baseball, a double steal happens when two base-runners steal a base during the same pitch. However, to be successful, you and the other base-runner must be fast runners, and both run perfect sequences.

This is because if one player gets caught during a double steal attempt, the other runner will not be awarded a point even if their steal is successful.

3. Rules of Stealing on a foul tip

A foul tip occurs in baseball when a ball glances off the batter’s bat and into the catcher’s hands or glove before touching the batter, ground, or umpire — a legal catch. A foul tips is considered equivalent to a swing and miss by the batter. Therefore, baserunners can advance at their own risk without tagging up.

Here are some rules you should note while stealing on a foul tip:

  • A foul tip becomes a foul ball if a catcher misses it
  • You must rescind the stolen base if a foul tip becomes a foul ball. Also, other base-runners attempting to steal a base must return to the previous base.

4. Interference Rules

Interference occurs in baseball when a play is illegally thrown into disarray by a person, changing the game’s course. Rules of stealing a base during an interference call include:

  • As a base runner, you are prohibited from proceeding to the following base if the umpire makes an interference call.
  • The only existing condition for moving up a base after an interference call is if it is explicitly ruled that a runner should proceed to the next base after interference was called.

5. Balk Rules

A balk is an infringement called by an umpire when a pitcher tries to switch his direction of throw mid-pitch after he has started to throw to the home plate. In other words, the rule forces pitchers to follow through with the throw to the home plate once they have committed to that direction.

If a pitcher commits a balk, any opposition player already on a base gets a free walk to the next base — no running, no stealing.

The advantage of the balk rule is that it allows fast, sharp-eyed players to watch the pitcher and time their run to the exact moment the pitcher commits to a pitching direction.

6. Reverse Stealing Rules

This rule is one of the more obvious ones. After all, it will be counterproductive to steal a base backwards since the goal of a baserunner is to run safely to home plate. Therefore, trying to reverse-steal a base is a step in the wrong direction.

Are There Times You Cannot Steal A Base in Baseball?

Now that you know when you can steal a base, it is only fair that we also address situations when you can’t.

Although they are only a few, there are certain conditions where you can’t steal a base as a baserunner. Here are some of these scenarios:

  • You can’t steal a base on a foul or dead ball.
  • You cannot steal a base that is already occupied. Before advancing to steal, the base you are proceeding to must be vacant. However, an exception is a double steal, a case where the base-runner ahead also plans to steal a base. 
  • If the umpire makes an interference call, you can’t proceed to the next base.
  • You cannot steal a base when a fielder hasn’t caught a batted ball.

The Final Inning

Successfully stealing a base during a game comes with so much thrill and satisfaction. More importantly, it also gives your team an advantage over the competition. However, you risk putting your team in a tight spot without proper knowledge about when you can steal a base.

Hopefully, this article has given you the insight you need into the rules for stealing a base and when you can do it.

We wish you a successful steal on your next attempt!

Mike Specter
Mike Specter
Mike hold's a Degree in Sports Coaching from the University of Minnesota and has held managerial and baseball head coaching roles at the college level. Mike currently consults with several professional athletes and clients in the areas of self-accountability, health, and goal orientation.