I received an interesting email about the rules of baserunning:
You seem to be a good person to ask. Here's a baserunning scenario I can't figure out.
Runner on 1st. he runs with the pitch and the batter hits a long fly that an outfielder almost catches but doesn't. the runner originally on 1st has rounded 2nd by the time he notices that the ball might be caught, so he runs back to first WITHOUT retouching second (I've read about this happening before). Now the confusing part. If the runner is almost back to first when he realizes that the ball was not caught, can he run straight across the diamond to third? After all, he has already touched second base.
At first blush, the play seemed like a bad one. It just seemed deceptive. The first thing that crossed my mind was running outside the basepaths, but there are two problems with this assessment. First, the rule stipulates that the runner is only out if he's avoiding a tag. If the runner wants to take a circuitous route along the basepaths, so be it as long as no one's trying to tag:
Any runner is out when (a) (1) He runs more than three feet away from a direct line between bases to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball;
The second problem is that the scenario as described didn't necessarily require the baserunner to run outside the basepaths as my first reaction, replaying the play in my head, assumed. The runner could run full speed to second and slow upon rounding and then pick up the flight of the ball and head back to first while remaining in the basepaths. It would be a poor baserunning decision at second (i.e., overrunning the bag), but it could happen. By the same token, he could slide into second and then pick up the ball.
He could do the Hucklebuck to second and it wouldn't matter. Rule 7.08 wasn't any help.
My next guess was the rule that a runner must touch the bases in order:
In advancing, a runner shall touch first, second, third and home base in order. If forced to return, he shall retouch all bases in reverse order, unless the ball is dead under any provision of Rule 5.09. In such cases, the runner may go directly to his original base.
Well, the runner did touch the bases in order given that he never made it back to first. So this wasn't really much help. (It does support bypassing a base on, say, a foul ball into the stands, something is a common occurrence.)
I then consulted the good ol' Rules and Lore of Baseball by Rich Marazzi, and I found a similar call that I found illuminating:
A controversial call involving umpires John Kibler and Augie Donatelli was the result of a running play by Ken Henderson of the Giant on September 25, 1971, in a game against the Reds. In the top of the eighth inning the Giants were trailing, 6-5. Henderson was on first, and Tito Fuentes was at bat. Fuentes hit a long drive to left center that was caught by George Foster. Meanwhile, Henderson had run all the way to second base before retreating after the catch.
Foster threw to first to pick off Henderson. Umpire John Kibler called Henderson out, even though he got back to first before the throw. Tony Kubek, who was doing the game on NBC Television, emphasized that it was that it was a proper call since Henderson had taken a step with his right foot off second base toward third while his left foot had remained on the bag prior to the catch. When Henderson retreated to first he had stepped off with his left foot from the bag, then allowed his right foot to bypass the second base bag as he broke into a full run.
Donatelli, who was umpire-in-chief, overruled Kibler's call on Henderson and allowed him to stay on first. The Reds played the game under protest, but won it anyway, 6-5.
According to The Sporting News, the slow motion replay supported Kibler's decision.[emphases mine.]
So Henderson was out for stepping off in the wrong direction. I would think barreling back to first would be a bit more obvious. The call is out by Rule 7.02.
However, the Henderson call was reversed, so who's to say that Brian's scenario would be called "correctly". I just think that it would such an inelegant that we'd never see it at the major-league level so our theory will just have to go untested.