QUESTION: How do you enforce the outcome of a balk? At what point is the play called dead? What happens if the pitch is delivered? If the pitcher hasn’t released the ball yet when the balk is called but the pitch delivered, is the pitch dead? If the pitch has been released and the batter doesn’t swing, then does the ball or strike count against him? If runners are on second and third and the balk occurs on the fourth ball, then how is it ruled? Is it any different if there are runners on first and second when the ball four balk is called? If the balk occurs and the runner hits a double and the runner on third fails to come home because of the balk call, thinking the play was dead, then how is it ruled?
ANSWER: This is my fifth article on balks due to the fact that it has got to be one of the most misunderstood and misinterpreted rules in baseball by the players, fans, coaches, and the umpires. You can read my other articles regarding what constitutes a balk. This article deals with what the outcome of different scenarios should be when the balk occurs... Why? Because I am finding no consistency amongst my fellow umpires. You would think the MLB rule book would be complete with explanations on the enforcement of the ruling, but it is really very brief. After conveying the 13 specific ways to balk the MLB rules say...
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.
This short paragraph is what leads many to believe that the ball is dead, and it is if the pitcher stops his delivery. However, under MLB rules the ball is still live if the pitch is delivered. Note the penalty statement refers to “unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise”
- FIRST ON A HIT - This means that the ball can be hit and he can get a single or more.
- ERROR - This too would mean a batted ball with a wild throw. It could also mean a dropped third strike where the catcher is unable to complete the out on the batter-runner.
- BASE ON BALLS - This means that ball four could count and the batter awarded a walk.
- HIT BATTER - Getting hit by the balked pitch could get the batter to first base.
- OR OTHERWISE - Very vague, and there must be other ways to get to first not described in this penalty clause.
NOTE: All of the above would count as long as the batter got to first and any runner advanced at least one base on the play. If the batter makes it to first safely and all runners have advanced, then the balk is ignored... But what do you do when that does not happen?
7 CONFUSING BALK SCENARIOS
#1 SCENARIO - From Hardball Times “Every once in a while, the pitcher still throws the pitch if the call is late. In a 1977 Blue Jays-Yankees game, right after the third base umpire called Toronto pitcher Jerry Garvin for a balk, Garvin delivered a pitch that Lou Piniella hit for a double. Yankees baserunner Jimmy Wynn thought the ball was dead due to the called balk and remained on third base while Piniella ran out his hit to second. The umpires eventually awarded Wynn home due to the balk, but Piniella lost his double because not every runner advanced one base. He had to go back to bat, and he struck out.”LINK TO ARTICLE
RULING - Since the runner on third did not advance, then the hit was waived off. The batter was put back at the plate with the same count as before the balked pitch and play resumes.
#2 SCENARIO - The field umpire calls the balk before the pitcher released the pitch, is the ball dead?
RULING - There is nothing in MLB rules that makes a distinction between a balk called before the pitch is released and after the pitch is released. Instead, there is only reference to a balk called with a pitch delivered and a pitch not delivered. If the pitch is not delivered, then, “The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out...” If the pitch is delivered, then all havoc and confusion may ensue by the fans, players, and coaches, but the umpires can clearly follow the guidelines on this page and make the correct ruling.
#3 SCENARIO - Runners are on second and third and the balk occurs on the ball 4 pitch,
RULING - The walked batter runner did not advance the runners on second and third so the pitch does not count. The batter returns to the box and play continues with the original count.
RULING - Ball four walks the batter runner and the two runners on base advance because of the walk, thereby waiving the balk. The pitch counts and play continues with the next batter and bases loaded.
#5 SCENARIO - Balk occurs on a dropped third strike with one out and runners on first and third.
RULING - Normally the batter would be out on the dropped third strike because there was less than two outs with first base occupied. Therefore the pitch is negated, the out is negated, and the batter gets a do-over.
#6 SCENARIO - Runner on first, balk called on pitch and the runner hits a double. The runner goes for third and is thrown out on the play.
RULING - Since the runner advanced at least one base, the balk is waived and the BR is safe at second and the runner is called out at third.
#7 SCENARIO - Runners at first and second with one out. Batter hits high pop fly and a balked pitch to the shortstop who drops the ball. The runner from second scores and the runner from first makes it to second base.
RULING - The infield fly rule is called and the batter is called out. This means that any other action is negated. The runners are reset and the batter gets a do-over with the same count from before the balked pitch.
I just love reading the umpire advice written by Carl Childress, Papa “C”. Carl’s advice to amateur umpires to to call the balk loudly while trying to scare the bejeebers (not his word) out of the pitcher so that the pitch is NOT delivered. This resolves all of the confusion that can come from a delivered pitch with a balk call. You do this by pointing at the pitcher with the left hand and loudly declaring, “That’s a balk!”
BATTER & RUNNER ADVICE
While researching I also found this great advice from Rule Book Edge to batters and runners on what to do when a balk is called...
What I will focus on are some specific points that apply to all balks. In particular the penalty clause of the rule. Contrary to popular belief, the play is NOT dead on a balk.
It IS a dead ball only in certain situations. For example if a pitcher fakes a throw to 1st and then doesn't throw the ball. But if a throw is a made, or a pitch is made the play may not be dead.
Specifically, it is not dead if the batter reaches first base and all other runners advance at least one base, or if the pitcher makes a wild throw on a pickoff attempt.
What does this mean to the players? The offense should be alert because they may be able to get more than the single base awarded on a balk, but careful because if they get greedy they can still get thrown out. The defense should also be alert and not assume the play is dead while runners happily run around the bases.
What Should Players do in this Situation?
If the batter hits the ball, run like you would on a regular base hit. If it's a routine grounder and you get thrown out at first, the balk will be enforced and you will in essence get a "do-over" for the pitch, except all the baserunners get to advance one base. (Note to Coaches in leagues with pitch counts: If the balk is enforced, the pitch is declared a no-pitch, and does not count towards the pitch count total). But if the defense makes an overthrow or other error, you may end up getting 2 or more bases. As well the baserunners ahead of you may get more than one base.
Do not get too greedy. If you try stretching a long single into a double and get thrown out, the out will stand. As long as you make it to first safely, and all runners advance one base, the balk is waived off.
Always(*) try to advance at least one base. Even if it's obvious you are going to be out, you have nothing to lose. For example, if you're on 2nd base and there's a routine grounder to shortstop, go ahead and try to get to 3rd base. If you're put out, the balk is enforced and you will be awarded 3rd base anyways. But if they try to make a play on you and make an error (e.g. they throw the ball to the dugout trying to get you out at 3rd base), then you may end up with more than just the one base. Do not just stand on your base, and cost your team a hit, as a Yankee player once did, turning a Lou Piniella double into a strike out.
However, just like with batters, do not get too greedy. If the batter makes it to 1st base safely and you've advanced one base, the balk no longer applies. If you're on 2nd base, and the batter gets a clean base hit to the outfield, you can try to score but you do so at your own risk. If you're out, you're out.
This also applies on an attempted pickoff throw where a balk is called. If as you dive back to 1st base, the ball gets away from the 1st baseman and goes down the rightfield line, get up and run to 2nd. If you're out, the balk is enforced. If you're safe, nothing happens, and if the rightfielder makes a bad throw... well you may wind up on 3rd base if you're lucky. (Again, don't be greedy.... if you try pushing it to 3rd and get thrown out, you are OUT!)
And then there is the great advice to the defensive team...
Finish the play! Remember the ball is not necessarily dead. If you don't hustle after the ball, the offense can take more bases than they would have had with the balk, and if they get greedy, you can get them out trying to go for more bases.
I hope that this helps to clear up the confusion as to how the balk rule should be enforced when using MLB rules. If you are playing with high school rules then the balk call kills the pitch and the ball is immediately dead. For all other balk related questions, please refer to my other “Making the Right Call” articles related to balks.