Ghost Runner

What is the Definition of Ghost Runner in Baseball?

In the sport of baseball, a ghost runner or invisible runner is a concept employed when a team is short of players, primarily in informal play such as schoolyard games or recreational leagues. The term refers to an imaginary player used to occupy a base when the player who would normally do so is required to bat. This allows the game to proceed without pause and recognizes the offensive potential of the absent runner.

At the professional level in Major League Baseball (MLB), a variation of the ghost runner rule came into effect as a tiebreaker procedure to expedite the end of games that extend into extra innings. Officially known as the extra-innings rule, it places a runner on second base at the start of each extra inning. This rule has been adopted to add strategy and to avoid excessively long games, attempting to bring about a quicker resolution while also conserving the stamina of the players.

Basic Concept of Ghost Runner

In the realm of baseball, a ghost runner is an innovative rule applied primarily to manage player shortages and expedite gameplay during extra innings.

Definition and Usage

A ghost runner, or sometimes referred to as an invisible runner, is an imaginary player that stands in for a physical runner on base when there are not enough players available, notably in informal games. In professional baseball, such as MLB, the rule has been adapted to place a runner on second base at the start of each extra inning. This rule aims to increase the potential for scoring, thereby, shortening the duration of the game.

Origin of the Term

The term “ghost runner” originates from casual play, particularly among children’s schoolyard games like stickball or kickball, where player counts are often limited. Its usage has been extended into formal settings like MLB games, where it plays a role in preventing lengthy extra innings. The adoption of the term in professional’s baseball vernacular sustains the connection between backyard sports and the professional arena.

Rules Involving a Ghost Runner

The concept of a ghost runner in baseball addresses specific game scenarios where a base runner is needed but not physically present. This rule facilitates the continuation of the game under certain conditions.

When to Use a Ghost Runner

The use of a ghost runner comes into play under circumstances where teams do not have enough players to continue a game normally. In informal games, such as schoolyard baseball, a ghost runner is an imaginary runner used when the player due to bat is already on base. In Major League Baseball (MLB), the concept is adapted as a rule that places a runner on second base at the start of each inning beyond the ninth. This rule was introduced in the 2020 season to expedite the conclusion of games that extend to extra innings and minimize player exposure during the Covid-19 pandemic.

  • Pre-2020 Informal Games: Imaginary runner represents a player who is the next at bat.
  • MLB Post-2020 Regulation Games: Runner placed on second at the start of extra innings.

Advantages and Limitations

The ghost runner rule presents distinct advantages and limitations in baseball gameplay.


  • Reduces the duration of games which otherwise might continue for numerous additional innings.
  • Increases scoring opportunities, thereby intensifying pressure and excitement in extra innings play.


  • The rule diverges from traditional baseball rules, which can affect the strategies teams would normally employ.
  • It could potentially influence the outcome of the game in a manner that does not reflect the overall play, as teams did not earn the runner on base through conventional offensive play.

Typically, the last player to make an out in the previous inning is the one designated as the ghost runner on second base, with no need for a prior hit or walk to achieve this position.

Strategic Implications of Ghost Runners

The introduction of ghost runners in baseball primarily impacts the late innings of a game, demanding astute tactical decisions and altering conventional game scenarios.

Tactical Considerations

A ghost runner on second base increases the likelihood of scoring, compelling teams to adjust their approach. Offensively, teams might prioritize contact hitting over power to advance the runner without risking an out. Sacrifice bunts become more enticing as they can move the runner to third base with less than two outs, setting up the opportunity for a sacrifice fly to score the runner. Managers must decide whether to preserve their lineup as is or perhaps pinch-hit to increase the chance of driving the runner home.

Defensively, teams need to consider infield positioning to prevent the runner from advancing—often playing with the infield in to cut off a run at home plate. Pitchers and catchers might be more inclined to prevent wild pitches and passed balls, as any small mistake could enable the ghost runner to advance.

Game Scenarios

The ghost runner rule alters typical extra-inning strategies. Teams leading off an inning with a ghost runner may play more conservatively, knowing that a single run could win the game. Conversely, the team at bat in the bottom of the inning knows exactly what is needed to either tie or win the game, potentially affecting their risk tolerance.

In tie games, both teams will approach their at-bats with the knowledge that any hit could be the deciding factor, leading to a potential increase in bunt or hit-and-run plays. The defensive team, aware of the heightened risk, must make precise plays and may opt for strategic intentional walks to set up force outs or double plays.