Guest Rules: how does your league do it?

Thu 22 Jun 2017


As long as slowpitch softball leagues have existed in the UK – and we’re now talking over 30 years in some cases – organisers have wrestled with rules that allow, or don’t allow, teams to use “guest players”.

We all know the reasons why “guests” (or “ringers”, as cynics are wont to call them) are sometimes necessary.  Players are ill, they’re on holiday, they have to work late, the dog ate their bat and glove -- and so to avoid forfeiting a game (and disappointing the opposition as well as themselves), teams pick up players that are not on their roster so they can put enough players on the field.

Of course no one would ever dream of picking up “guest” players to increase their chances of winning games!  But just on the off-chance that this might sometimes occur, human nature being occasionally fallible, all leagues have evolved rules to deal with this situation.  Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t, since humans are regarded as the foremost loophole-spotting animal on the planet.


Questions in Manchester​

The Manchester Softball League is only one of many that wrestles with the problem, but after some thoughtful opinion pieces on the subject published in their excellent weekly newsletter Bases Loaded, the league decided that it might be useful to find out what other leagues do, and sent out a call for information.

They received an excellent response, and then published an summary of the replies (see below).

Long-time MSL stalwart Jerry Seabridge, who has been associated with the league since it started, set the scene for the debate with these opinions:

“I have been a long-term advocate for reducing the number and type of guests that should be allowed….  As a matter of principle I believe that each team should have enough players to cope with the vast majority of absences every team in every sport faces.  This is the very essence of a team sport: most sports leagues do not allow players to play for multiple teams on a regular basis.  The existing MSL rules allow teams to play one short and thus provide a stick and a carrot to recruit sufficient players for a team.

“The current guest rules work in a perverse way.  Not only do they remove an incentive for teams to properly recruit, they also act as an incentive to find higher-division players willing to guest for them on a regular basis, thus boosting their chances to win matches.  Meanwhile, teams who do it properly by having an adequate size of squad suffer as a result.  It is simply not fair or within the spirit of having a team.  Every team faces issues in recruiting enough players, but the answer is not to enable teams without enough players to keep going.  In the long term it is far healthier for the league for such teams to merge with others or fold and individuals from those teams to join other teams.  It's the nature of a healthy sport that teams come and go, not something that we should shirk away from.

“That said, as someone who has either run a team or been part of the group within a team responsible for doing so for over 20 years, I do understand that on occasions a team will simply be caught out with a wave of one-off issues.  It is for this situation that I think guest rules should be available.”

Strategies

So what are the different solutions that our slowpitch leagues have found to deal with the issue?

The MSL summarized the responses they received around a series of questions:

1. How many guests are allowed?
Only the GLMSL allows more than two guests in any line-up (but has other restrictions). Most allow two guests, as we do, though the EMSL allows only one except for new teams who are allowed more in their first two years.  Some leagues have further restrictions related to gender: Oxford allows one of each, or two females, but not two males. Solent allows only one player of each gender.


2. Are there any restrictions on who can guest?
In the GLSML, with its six divisions, and also in Edinburgh, guests cannot play “down”, though the GLSML has a system of clubs which allow a limited number of guests to do so.  In Bristol, Division 1 players cannot guest in Division 3.  In Solent, players must be “equal to, or less able than the player or players they are replacing”.  They have a system whereby guests must be declared 48 hours beforehand and the opposing captain can veto the choice.


3. Do rostered players take precedence?
In Cardiff and Oxford, if 10 rostered players are available, no guests are allowed.  In Oxford, a guest pitcher is allowed, who must be replaced in the batting line-up by a DH. 


4. Can you play 6-and-6 with guests?
Explicitly not in Bristol, nor in NSL 2.  The Cardiff and Oxford rules which mention “10 rostered players” may imply this too.  In Solent, the guest cannot be an EP, so that might also imply that playing 6-and-6 is excluded.


5. Are there batting and fielding restrictions?
Yes, in every league: guests being required to play catcher or in right field and batting at the bottom of the order is almost universal.  A few leagues allow the guest to pitch, and just one (Oxford) allows the guest in the infield, but then only if the gender balance rules require this.  Manchester is the only league that allows a guest to play first base, and our "field anywhere" rule for guests “playing up" is not found elsewhere.


6. Are there restrictions on guest use over the season?
In the GLSML and Cardiff, an individual can appear as a guest for the same team a maximum of three times; after that, in the GLSML, they must then transfer to that team.  In Bristol, each team is allowed just five guests a season.  In NSL 2 you are allowed two guests per day, who must be different people.  Elsewhere, as in Manchester, an individual can effectively play for two teams throughout an entire season.


7. Anything else?
A few leagues allow some flexibility regarding their rules if both captains agree, but by no means all.  Several leagues have quite strict rules about rostering new players, usually within a seven-day time limit, after which new players are counted as guests or are ineligible.


8. A new league.
The Milton Keynes Softball League is a fledgling league, with specific circumstances: the league is made up of the MK Club split into four teams plus three other teams from the region.  Within the MK Club, every player is graded and captains can only seek replacements from a similar or lower-graded player.  Priority always goes to rostered players from that team, but there is no limit on the number of guests provided all options within the team have been exhausted.  Guests can be offered to regional teams if requested, with no limits on numbers.

What do you think?

If there are any leagues that didn’t respond to the Manchester survey, and would still like to, they should contact Bases Loaded editor Harry Somers (haroldsomers1@gmail.com) and copy Bob Fromer (bob.fromer@bsuk.com).

If you’re a team captain, or even an ordinary player, and you have thoughts on other ways to approach the problem of guest players, let us know.  If you’re an anarchist and would like to live in a softball universe without any restrictions at all, it would be good to hear from you too.

The BSF has of course come up against this problem as well with regard to the National Co-ed Slowpitch Championships they run every year, when questions of roster eligibility or the dreaded issue of dispensations rears its head.

The problem has been somewhat mitigated for the BSF with National Championships for NSL 1 and NSL 2 teams being held together on the same weekend in September, but no doubt NSL players will continue to turn up in the League National Championships in August, some more legitimately than others.

Many thanks to Manchester for triggering yet another examination of the topic – but it will no doubt continue to be debated long after most humans on softball league teams have been replaced by robots who can hit 500-foot home runs and round the bases in nine seconds flat.

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