If all these conditions are met, the ball is dead, and other baserunners advance if they are forced to vacate their base by the batter taking first. Rule 5.09(a) further clarifies that a hit by pitch is also called when a pitch touches a batter's clothing.
In the case where a batter swings and the pitch hits him anyway, the ball is dead and a strike is called. If the batter does not attempt to avoid the pitch, he is not awarded first base, and the pitch is ruled a strike if in the strike zone and a ball if out of the strike zone. In practice, umpires rarely make this call. Perhaps the most famous instance of a non-hit by pitch was on May 31, 1968, when Don Drysdale hit Dick Deitz with a pitch that would have forced in a run and ended Drysdale's scoreless innings streak at 44. Umpire Harry Wendelstedt ruled that Dietz made no effort to avoid the pitch, Dietz proceeded to fly out, and Drysdale's scoreless streak continued to a then-record 58 2/3 innings.
A hit by pitch can also be called on a pitch that has touched the ground. Such a bouncing pitch is like any other, and if a batter is hit by such a pitch, he will be awarded first unless he made no attempt to avoid it.
A batter hit by a pitch is not credited with a hit or at bat, but is credited with a time on base and a plate appearance; therefore, being hit by a pitch does not increase or decrease a player's batting average but does increase his on-base percentage. A batter hit by a pitch with the bases loaded is also credited with an RBI per MLB rule 10.04(a)(2). A pitch ruled a hit by pitch is recorded as a ball in the pitcher's pitch count, since by definition the ball must be outside the strike zone and not have been swung at.
The rule awarding first base to a batter hit by a pitch was instituted in 1887.
Often, if a player is acting rude or unsportsmanlike, or having an extraordinarily good day, the pitcher may intentionally hit the batter, disguising it as a pitch that accidentally slipped his control. Managers may also order a pitcher to throw such a pitch (sometimes called a "plunking"). These pitches are often aimed at the lower back and slower than normal, designed to send a message more than anything else. The opposing team usually hits a batter in retaliation for this act. The plunkings generally end there because of umpire warnings, but in some cases things can get out of hand, and sometimes they lead to the batter charging the mound, bench-clearing brawls, and several ejections. Such plunking duels are more common in the American League than in the National League, because in the NL the pitchers must bat for themselves and open themselves up to direct retaliation (although hitting a fellow pitcher is a serious breach of baseball etiquette). The most common sign the catcher gives, if he or the coach wants to plunk a batter is simply giving the pitcher the middle finger.
The all-time single-season record also belongs to Jennings, who was hit 51 times during the 1896 season. Ron Hunt of the 1971 Montreal Expos was hit 50 times during that year. The single-game record is three, held by many players.
On May 1, 1974, Pittsburgh pitcher Dock Ellis, believing that his team needed motivation, decided to hit every batter in the Cincinnati Reds lineup. Ellis hit Pete Rose, Joe Morgan, and Dan Driessen, tried to hit Tony Perez but ended up walking him, and threw two pitches at Johnny Bench's head before he was removed from the game.
It is possible, however, to suffer serious injuries as a result of being hit by a pitch, even when wearing a helmet. On August 18, , Red Sox batter Tony Conigliaro was hit almost directly in the left eye by a fastball thrown by Jack Hamilton of the California Angels. His cheekbone was shattered, he nearly lost the sight of the eye, was unable to play for over a year, and never regained his earlier batting ability. (Batting helmets at that time were not required to have an "ear flap"; indeed, it was not until that all major league batters were required to wear helmets with side protection.) On September 28, , Kirby Puckett, the superstar outfielder of the Minnesota Twins, was struck in the cheek by a Dennis Eckersley fastball, breaking his jaw and loosening two teeth. It would be his last game; during spring training the following year he developed a glaucoma that ended his career. Most recently, Mike Piazza, then of the New York Mets, was hit in the head by a pitch from Julian Tavarez of the St. Louis Cardinals on September 10, 2005. His helmet shattered, and he suffered a concussion. Other relatively minor injuries that are possible include broken fingers or hands, broken feet, broken ribs, injuries to the knee, or groin injuries.
On April 26, 2008, umpire Kerwin Danley was behind home plate umpiring a game between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Colorado Rockies, when Danley was hit in the head by a 96 mph Brad Penny fastball that went over the head of catcher Russell Martin. Danley was carried off the field in an ambulance, but play would resume. Danley's mother was at the game sitting in the box seats where Frank McCourt and his wife usually sit. She rode in the ambulance with him. During the 6th inning Vin Scully reported that Danley was doing well.
Since inside pitching is a legitimate tactic in baseball, courts have recognized that being hit by a pitch is an inherent risk of the game, so that players cannot sue for any resulting injuries. On April 6, 2006, in a case arising from a game involving community college baseball teams, the Supreme Court of California ruled that baseball players in California assume the risk of being hit by baseballs even if the balls were intentionally thrown so as to cause injury. In the court's words: "For better or worse, being intentionally thrown at is a fundamental part and inherent risk of the sport of baseball. It is not the function of tort law to police such conduct."