Look Before They Leap

Recognizing and Penalizing Crow Hops and Leaping

By Jay Miner

How can an umpire tell for sure if a pitcher is crow hopping or leaping in fast pitch?  It takes a practiced eye, to be sure.  But perhaps this explanation of those tactics and some suggestions on what to look for will help you in your efforts to call those offenses.

Crow hops.  'There are three types of crow hops.  All are illegal and afford an unfair advantage not intended by the rules.  Coaches often confuse leaping with crow hopping.  When the crow hop technique is used, the pitcher hops, steps or slides the pivot foot forward and establishes a new push-off point to begin a new delivery motion that is not associated with the pitcher's original motion.  Because the pitcher is initiating new momentum and is pitching from in front of the rubber, the pitcher gains a tremendous advantage when using the crow hop.

With the traditional crow hop, the pitcher hops forward, replants her pivot foot and pushes off anew in front of the pitcher's plate.  The base umpire must concentrate on the pitcher's pivot foot but must not confuse the stabbing of the pivot foot in the ground, as she completes her legal pitching delivery with her stride foot forward, with an illegal replant that occurs before the stride foot passes the pivot foot.

Also, if the pivot foot stabs the dirt as the pitch is released, a crow hop has not occurred because the stabbing of the dirt and the release of the ball are nearly simultaneous.  However, if the pitcher's pivot foot is on the ground in front of the rubber prior to the pitcher parting her hand, a crow hop has almost assuredly been committed.  Only with diligent study, quality instruction and experience will an umpire be able to identify a crow hop.

While the base umpire must carefully observe the pitcher's pivot foot, the umpires must also watch to see if there is a bobbing of the pitcher's head.  A pitcher who employs an illicit traditional crow hop shows an uncanny resemblance to a crow hopping in a field.  As a result, it's important to watch the pitcher's head as well as her feet.

A subtle but advantageous crow hop occurs when the pitcher simply steps in front of the rubber with her pivot foot and starts her delivery motion in front of the rubber.  Lacking the aggressive nature of the traditional crow hop, the step crow hop is another form of the crow hop that provides an unfair advantage for the pitcher and must be penalized.

The third type of crow hop is a sometimes practically imperceptible crow hop defined as a "creep."  With the creep, an adroit pitcher keeps the weight on her pivot foot and does not transfer her weight forward until the pivot foot slides into a second push-off point in front of the pitcher's plate.  The creep is the most difficult crow hop to determine because it can appear to the untrained eye as the follow through on a legal pitch rather than the illegal second replanting and push off that's blatantly illegal.  Generally, the base umpire must assume primary responsibility for detecting the crow hop.

Listen carefully when a manager or coach complains about the opposing pitcher's delivery.  The manager or coach may be confused about the actual violation, if there is a violation.  Armed with superior knowledge, you can gain the respect of a manager or coach by giving intelligent responses.

The crow hop is illegal under major (codes of fast pitch, but survives in "run what you brung" tournaments in which illegal pitching is ignored (ASA 1-Crow Hop, 6-3H; NFHS 2-16, 6-1-2c and Note 2; NCAA 1-29, 10-4d-2; USSSA FP 7-1E-c and Note 2).

Leaping.  Leaping is an illegal act that results in the pitcher becoming airborne on the initial push-off from the pitcher's plate.  When using the leap, the pitcher pushes up and away from the rubber and both feet are simultaneously off the ground during the delivery.

The rules mandate that the pitcher's pivot foot must remain in contact with the rubber or must drag on the ground away from the rubber on the delivery motion.  It's legal if the pivot foot turns or slides as the pitcher pushes off the rubber, providing there is no loss of contact with the rubber.  The pitcher may also legally slide the pivot foot across the pitcher's plate.  If contact with the rubber is maintained, that sliding is not considered a step and is allowed.

In past seasons, leaping was actually legal under some codes.  Today, however, leaping is illegal in all divisions of ASA play as well as in NCAA and NFHS games.

Studies indicate that the leaper doesn't throw appreciably faster pitches than the dragger, but the release point of the pitch is closer to home plate.  Obviously, that's an advantage for the pitcher.  Yet the leaper also usually has less control than the conventional pitcher and is less prepared to field a batted ball.  More importantly, many experts believe the leaper is more likely to be struck and possibly injured by a batted ball.

Leapers always cause problems for the umpires.  The base umpire must concentrate on the leaping violation but not at the expense of other responsibilities.  Also, warped pitching plates, uneven ground and holes in front of the rubber must be considered before calling an illegal pitch for leaping.  The plate umpire should not try to look for leaping infractions.  Plate umpires who watch the pitcher's feet soon have trouble calling balls and strikes accurately.

Additional information.  In 1981, I watched Rosie Black and Her Court (four players) beat a local men's all-star team in an exhibition game at Bleecker Stadium in Albany.  Of course, as part of the demonstration, no illegal pitches were called.  Therefore, Rosie shut out the all-star team by crow hopping 16 inches off the front of the rubber and then leaping off the crow hop.  The all-stars, a modified team, struck out 16 times and had difficulty even hitting a foul ball.  All had great fun, except the embarrassed all-stars.

REFEREE Magazine    August 2004     www.referee.com