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Everything You Need to Know About Calling Time in Baseball

In baseball, time-outs are managed a little differently than players might be used to in other sports. In other sports, each team is allotted a certain number of time outs and those time-outs last for a specified amount of time. When it comes to baseball, these traditional time-out rules do not apply. Because calling for time is handled a little bit differently in baseball, this can lead to people wondering what does time mean in baseball.

In baseball, the term “time” refers to the act of an umpire ruling a dead ball, which suspends the previous play. A player or coach may request time from an umpire and, if granted, the ball is dead and play is temporarily halted for both teams.

Backside view of an umpire signaling for time

Although there are many opportunities for players and coaches to ask for time in a game, umpires are not always required to grant time whenever it has been requested.

“Time” Means Dead Ball

Baseball players, coaches, and umpires all use the term “time” as a shortened way to say “time out”. When a player has successfully called for time, the umpire yells “Time!” and all players understand that the ball is now a dead ball.

Although it may sound fairly straightforward, one thing to keep in mind is that time is not always granted to the player. In order for time to be called on the field, players or coaches may request time from the umpire, but the umpire will need to grant time in order for a time-out to occur.

If you’ve been a spectator at any baseball game, then you’ll know that a time-out is granted about 99% of the time, but there are those occasions where umpires won’t grant time. When time is not called in baseball it is typically because the pitcher has already begun their windup. Check out the video below to see a few examples of this happening in the Major Leagues.

Time Can be Called to End a Play

The most common way that time is called for in baseball is after a play has occurred. When the ball is dead from calling time, base runners are unable to advance and the defense is unable to put out a base runner. Some common scenarios to call for time include after a base hit, after a walk, after a stolen base, and after an outfielder has thrown a live ball into the infield.

When calling for time to end a play, players are actively preventing their opponents from catching their team off-guard. This could be the defense preventing base runners from advancing or it could be that base runners want to prevent the defense from getting an easy out while the next batter is coming up to the plate.

After a play has ended, there is usually a good 30 to 60 seconds needed for the next batter to get in their ready position in the batter’s box. In this amount of time, an alert player on either team can take advantage of their opponent not paying attention. To prevent this, players on either team are allowed to call for time and end the previous play.

The play will resume once the umpire calls “play”. Typically, this is done by the home plate umpire saying “play” and pointing at the pitcher, who is already on the mound and ready to begin their windup.

Time Can be Called In Between Pitches

In addition to calling time to end a play, players can also call time in-between pitches.

There are many reasons why players would call for time in-between pitches. Sometimes this is due to a batter needing some additional time to get ready in the batter’s box and sometimes players call time in between pitches as a way to get into another player’s head.

On occasion, you may see a pitcher taking too long to begin their windup. In those scenarios, batters will typically call time so they can reset themselves in the batter’s box.

Other common scenarios where players can request time in between pitches include pitching changes, substitutions, when a pitcher requests a new ball from the umpire, and when players need to make a mound visit to chat with their pitcher.

How Many Timeouts in Baseball?

As a general rule, there are an unlimited amount of timeouts in baseball. Because timeouts in baseball are for such a short duration, there is not a set limit of timeouts placed on either team. Although if a time-out is taking too long, an umpire will intervene to get both teams back to playing.

To help get both teams back to playing when a time-out has been called, baseball does have a few rules to help speed up the pace of play. Although these rules are not universal, some of the more common pace-of-play rules include how many warm-up pitches a pitcher gets, how many mound visits each team gets, and how long an umpire will allow a mound visit to last.

Another reason for not having a set amount of timeouts in baseball is that some of the timeouts only last a few seconds. For example, when a batter calls for time, those time-outs will generally last anywhere from 10-20 seconds. These types of time-outs do not drastically interrupt the pace of play.

When Can an Umpire Call Time Out?

Backside view of a first base umpire watching the pitcher deliver a pitch

With the numerous times that time outs get called in baseball, one might wonder just when exactly an umpire can call a time out.

As a general rule, umpires can call time whenever the ball is not live. This includes the time from when the base runners are no longer advancing to when the pitcher begins their windup. As long as a play has come to an end, the umpire is able to call time out.

With that being said, the MLB has also outlined 8 scenarios in which the umpire can call time. I’ll go over those 8 scenarios below, but if you’d like to check these out for yourself, feel free to reference the Official MLB Rules (section 5.12 Calling “Time” and Dead Balls):

  1. When in his judgment weather, darkness or similar conditions make immediate further play impossible
  2. When light failure makes it difficult or impossible for the umpires to follow the play
  3. When an accident incapacitates a player or an umpire
  4. When a manager requests “Time” for a substitution, or for a conference with one of his players.
  5. When the umpire wishes to examine the ball, to consult with either manager, or for any similar cause.
  6. When a fielder, after catching a fly ball, steps or falls into any out-of-play area. All other runners shall advance one base, without liability to be put out, from his last legally touched base at the time the fielder entered such out-of play area.
  7. When an umpire orders a player or any other person removed from the playing field.
  8. Except in the cases stated in paragraphs (2) and (3)(A) of this rule, no umpire shall call “Time” while a play is in progress.

Can a Baseball Coach Call Time Out?

Backside view of a third base coach who is watching the pitcher in a white uniform deliver a pitch

Baseball coaches are allowed to call time out, but the umpire must grant the time out before the time out takes effect. Generally, coaches will call time from their dugout so they can make a mound visit and chat with their pitcher.

When a coach makes a mound visit during the time out, it can be to give a pep talk to the pitcher, to see how the pitcher is feeling, or coaches are using this mound visit as a way to give a relief pitcher a little more time to warm up in the bullpen.

In addition to making pitching changes, coaches can also make substitutions for other positions. In order to make a substitution, coaches first need to request time from the umpire, then let the umpire know about the substitution changes being made.

Can an Infielder Call Time?

In baseball, a lot of time outs are requested from the batter or from the coach, but one thing we don’t see too often is when an infielder calls time.

Infielders are allowed to call time, but the umpire must grant the time before the time out takes effect. Generally, infielders will call time after they’ve received a cut-off throw from the outfield and are running the ball back into the infield.

Even though it’s uncommon for an infielder to request time when they’re not running the ball into the infield, I’ve also seen some infielders request time so they can take a moment to tie their shoes that just came untied.

Why Do Batters Call Time?

Now that we have a general understanding of when a time is called in baseball, some people might still be wondering what motivates a player to call time. Since we see batters calling time the most often, let’s answer the question as to why batters call time.

When a pitcher is taking too long to deliver the pitch, batters call time so they can reset themselves in the batter’s box. This time allows batters to reset themselves, both mentally and physically. On occasion, batters will also call time to throw the pitcher off of their rhythm.

When batters stand at the plate and are focusing on the pitcher for a while, fatigue starts to set in. So when pitchers take too much time to deliver the pitch, batters will call for time so they can take a moment to step out of the batter’s box, reset themselves mentally, and then step back into the batter’s box with better focus.

In addition to needing a few seconds to re-focus, batters can also call for time to throw pitchers off of their rhythm. Usually, this happens when batters feel rushed by a pitcher who likes to quick-pitch.

When a pitcher is quick-pitching batters, which means they like to deliver the pitch as soon as possible, batters will call time to force the pitcher to slow down. When batters force these quick-pitch pitchers to slow down, it can sometimes be enough to throw these pitchers off of their game.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.

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