On a double-play, why is the force play at second base considered an automatic out, as long as the fielder makes an “attempt” to retire the runner at second base. There was recently a play where the fielder was in the “vicinity” of second base (approximately 3-4 feet away) on the front end of a double-play, and the out was recorded. Is this the rule, or an unwritten umpire interpretation?

While this kind of play occurs often, it is not legal under baseball rules. Officially, an out cannot be recorded on a force play at second unless the fielder touches the bag while holding the ball. In the need to make a quick relay throw, many fielders just sweep their feet near the bag before tossing the ball to first. At some point, umpires began calling these plays as outs, and “vicinity” plays are now quite common. Like the low strike, they have become an accepted part of the game, and managers don’t usually bother to protest them.