That headline isn’t a joke, and I won’t even drive you around the block before dropping you off. A batter really can strike out on fewer than three pitches *and* it’s already happened. With a tip of my hat to YouTuber Star Raving Sports, I’ll explain how that happens first, then show you an example of it happening in real life.
Here’s a snippet from MLB’s official 2019 rule book:
(3) If the batter refuses to take his position in the batter’s box during his time at bat, the umpire shall call a strike on the batter. The ball is dead, and no runners may advance. After the penalty, the batter may take his proper position and the regular ball and strike count shall continue. If the batter does not take his proper position before three strikes have been called, the batter shall be declared out.
The umpire shall give the batter a reasonable opportunity to take his proper position in the batter’s box after the umpire has called a strike pursuant to Rule 5.04(b)(3) (Rule 6.02(c)) and before the umpire calls a successive strike pursuant to Rule 5.04(b)(3) (Rule 6.02(c)).
Basically, once a batter takes his place in the box, he’s expected to go through the stages of that at-bat promptly. And if, for some reason, he’s delaying the game, the umpire can simply call a strike. And if after that first called strike the batter still isn’t getting the hint, the umpire can call another. If three strikes are called, the batter is out.
Now, is it easy for me to envision an umpire getting frustrated enough with a batter to call one strike for not getting his butt back in the box? Of course. I watch baseball, I’ve seen such petulance. But surely it wouldn’t rise to a completely umpire-aided strikeout, right? Wrong!
It happened in 2013, when batter Vinnie Catricala didn’t like a first-pitch called strike from umpire Ron Teague. As you’ll see, Catricala steps out of the box to argue just long enough for Teague to call strikes two and three on him, before throwing him out of the game:
So in total, Catricala faced only one pitch, but on the books, he struck out. Unreal. Baseball is so weird. I love it.
As for Catricala, he never made it to the big leagues. In fact, 2013 was his final season in professional baseball. He never made it past Triple-A, but he’ll likely be remembered forever, thanks to his one-pitch strikeout.