You have probably heard the saying, “If something walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, then it is probably a Billy-Goat.” Well that is what happened to me on the ball field last evening...
SCENARIO: The pitcher is on the rubber with R2 and R1 leading off to steal. He comes to set, starts his motion by raising his foot to the front edge of the rubber, and then twists his body and turns toward second and steps directly in that direction but does not throw. Is that a balk?
MORE DETAILS: The pitcher does not step off the rubber with his back foot and quickly pivot and rocket fire. Instead, he goes through this very deliberate, slow motion movement to get the runner thinking he is delivering the pitch. The entire motion looks awkward, it looks slow, and it looks like it is wrong. I was left standing just about 15 feet away wondering if what I was seeing was a balk or a Billy-Goat.
OTHER OPINIONS: I obviously do not call the balk, but in my head I was running through all the rules, through all the videos I had seen, through all of my past memory with baseball, hoping that my partner behind the plate would call the balk, but he seemed completely content. Now all of this thought processed happened within mere seconds. But then the third base coach, who has had years of experience with the local high school team wants to know why that was not called a balk and his player on third get to go home.
BRAIN FREEZE: It is at that moment, that time slowed down, and just like drinking a Slurpee too fast, my brain just started to freeze and nothing was coherent. I can’t explain it, but I certainly did not want to look like a deer in the headlights, and I hadn’t given away any tell-tale signs that I was not sure of the non-call. But inside I was totally flustered. The rest of the inning, as the bases became loaded, I was just hoping for a huge hit that would score a couple of runs (getting his runner home safely), so that if I have made a blunder the offended team would not be penalized and possibly lose a one run game. Luckily the line drive came and two runners got home before the inning was ended.
PARTNER HUDDLE: As the half inning ended I went to my partner and I said I think I missed a balk and rehearsed the scenario. He also became unsure. He was confident before, but when I expressed why the move looked like a duck, he also agreed, but we were both unsure. As fate would have it, two more pitchers (one from each team) did exactly the same fake pick-off move to second base in the same game. That was three fakes to second, from the rubber in the same game. This means that I had either opened Pandora’s box and was now allowing a flagrant balk multiple times in a game, or I was mistaken and this was a perfectly acceptable move. After the half inning each time I would re-huddle and apologize knowing that I needed either divine intervention or we needed to get this game over and get my head back in the rule book.
AFTER GAME DISCUSSIONS: I immediately went to the League President and explained the move in question, and all he could say was, “What, Leavitt doesn’t know a rule?” and then he confessed he did not know for sure either. I went to the Assistant Coach of the team who’s head coach squawked and he confessed he did not know, but that he had seen a variation in a tournament this past weekend where the pitcher did that fake to second and then threw to third, and it left him wondering about the rule. What I found funny was that nobody had a firm grasp as to how the balk rules should have been applied to this move. But I assured everybody that before I went to bed I would research my the answer, and I did. If I hadn’t, then it would have been a long horrible night of sleep.
I guess the point is this, sometimes the ability to recall the correct rule interpretation totally flees from one’s grasp.
DID I BLOW THE NON-CALLED BALK?: Nope. This fake to second move is perfectly legal, albeit as ugly as a Billy-Duck!
MLB BALK DEFINITION: “A BALK is an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base, entitling all runners to advance one base.”
MLB BALK RULES:
MLB Rules8.05 - BALK RULES - Official Rules of Major League Baseball
8.05 If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when—
(a) The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery;
Rule 8.05(a) Comment: If a lefthanded or righthanded pitcher swings his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher’s rubber, he is required to pitch to the batter except to throw to second base on a pick-off play.
(b) The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first base and fails to complete the throw;
(c) The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base;
Rule 8.05(c) Comment: Requires the pitcher, while touching his plate, to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base. If a pitcher turns or spins off of his free foot without actually stepping or if he turns his body and throws before stepping, it is a balk.
A pitcher is to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base but does not require him to throw (except to first base only) because he steps. It is possible, with runners on first and third, for the pitcher to step toward third and not throw, merely to bluff the runner back to third; then seeing the runner on first start for second, turn and step toward and throw to first base. This is legal. However, if, with runners on first and third, the pitcher, while in contact with the rubber, steps toward third and then immediately and in practically the same motion “wheels” and throws to first base, it is obviously an attempt to deceive the runner at first base, and in such a move it is practically impossible to step directly toward first base before the throw to first base, and such a move shall be called a balk. Of course, if the pitcher steps off the rubber and then makes such a move, it is not a balk.
(d) The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play;
(e) The pitcher makes an illegal pitch;
Rule 8.05(e) Comment: A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.
(f) The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter;
(g) The pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate;
(h) The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game;
Rule 8.05(h) Comment: Rule 8.05(h) shall not apply when a warning is given pursuant to Rule 8.02(c) (which prohibits intentional delay of a game by throwing to fielders not in an attempt to put a runner out). If a pitcher is ejected pursuant to Rule 8.02(c) for continuing to delay the game, the penalty in Rule 8.05(h) shall also apply. Rule 8.04 (which sets a time limit for a pitcher to deliver the ball when the bases are unoccupied) applies only when there are no runners on base.
(i) The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch;
(j) The pitcher, after coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base;
(k) The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally drops the ball;
(l) The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box;
(m) The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop.
PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case the play proceeds without reference to the balk.
APPROVED RULING: In cases where a pitcher balks and throws wild, either to a base or to home plate, a runner or runners may advance beyond the base to which he is entitled at his own risk.
APPROVED RULING: A runner who misses the first base to which he is advancing and who is called out on appeal shall be considered as having advanced one base for the purpose of this rule.
Rule 8.05 Comment: Umpires should bear in mind that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the base runner. If there is doubt in the umpire’s mind, the “intent” of the pitcher should govern. However, certain specifics should be borne in mind:
(a) Straddling the pitcher’s rubber without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive and ruled a balk.
(b) With a runner on first base the pitcher may make a complete turn, without hesitating toward first, and throw to second. This is not to be interpreted as throwing to an unoccupied base.
WHAT I LEARNED - I learned two things from my focus on the balk rules...
- A pitcher can turn to second from the rubber and NOT have to make the throw - 8.05(c).
- A pitcher can be in his wind-up moving his free foot passed the pitcher’s plate and not have to deliver the pitch to home, if he continues with his pick-off move to second. I was always taught that a pitcher had to go home if his foot passed the plate, but read the comment of 8.05 (a) again “Rule 8.05(a) Comment: If a lefthanded or righthanded pitcher swings his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher’s rubber, he is required to pitch to the batter except to throw to second base on a pick-off play.”
OVER-THINKING AGAIN: I know that I am straining at a gnat here, but does that say that if a pitcher raises his foot past the back edge of the pitcher’s rubber and turns to throw the runner out at second and does not make the throw that it is a balk?... Thinking... Thinking... Smoke coming from my ears... This is what happens when you over think a scenario. The answer is that a pitcher can bring his back foot across the back edge and pivot to throw and not make the throw and everything is fine. This is not a balk. Why? Because the first part of the scenario is the exception in 8.05(a) to not have to deliver the pitch to home when making your pick-off move to second, and the not making the throw to second is spelled out in 8.05(c) that allows for the move to second to be a fake pick-off.