It is a rule born of the schoolyard, and of Little Leagues, repeated by announcers and fans throughout the nation: if the ball and the runner tie, especially at first base, then the tie goes to the runner.
I myself believed it. But, it turns out, it is isn’t true. The Hardball Times has a good article about it, but it is basically this: there are no actual rules that say anything about ties. Therefore, a good reading of the rules would suggest that the ties don’t even exist, either a runner has clearly beaten the ball, or he hasn’t.
As Hardball Times notes, the rules that govern safe and out are these:
Rule 6.05 (j) A batter is out when, after a third strike or after he hits a fair ball, he or first base is tagged before he touches first base.
Rule 7.01 A runner acquires the right to an unoccupied base when he touches it before he is out. He is then entitled to it until he is put out, or forced to vacate it for another runner legally entitled to that base.
Rule 7.08 (e) Any runner is out when he or the next base is tagged before he touches the next base….
As you can see, there is nothing said about a tie. Basically, it depends upon what rule is followed. Veteran umpire Tim McClelland, for example, goes by the middle rule, and basically says that since the batter didn’t “beat” the throw to first, then he is out. This makes a sort of sense when you look at that rule (7.01): if there WAS a tie, then you couldn’t exactly say that the runner had acquired the base BEFORE he was out.
However, former umpire Jim Evans says that actually, the runner is safe, since he had gotten to the base before he was out. So, in other words, in the case of the tie it could be said that, during a “tie” the runner beat the ball to the bag.
In short, it depends on the umpire.