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In baseball, a pitcher may commit a number of illegal motions or actions which constitute a balk. In games played under Official Baseball Rules, a balk results in a delayed dead ball, and the balk is ignored under specified circumstances. Under other rule sets, notably the National Federation of High Schools (Fed) Baseball Rules in the United States, a balk results in an immediate dead ball. In the event a balk is enforced, the pitch is nullified and each runner is awarded one base while the batter remains at bat with the previous count. The balk rule in Major League Baseball was introduced in 1898.[1]

Contents

History of the balk rule

The first mention of a balk, but with no definition provided, appeared in Alexander Cartwright’s 1845 Knickerbocker Rules. At a 1857 baseball rules convention, a balk was defined as occurring when a pitcher stepped over a line 45 feet away from home plate while delivering a pitch. All baserunners advanced a base.

Section 7 of the 1864 Rules and Regulations of the National Association of Base-Ball Players stated: "The ball must be pitched, not jerked nor thrown to the bat; and whenever the pitcher draws back his hand, or moves with the apparent purpose or pretension to deliver the ball, he shall so deliver it, and he must have neither foot in advance of the front line or off the ground at the time of delivering the ball; and if he fails in either of these particulars, then it shall be declared a balk."

Rule 25 of the 1884 Playing Rules of the American Association of Baseball Clubs defined the balk:

A motion made by the Pitcher to deliver the ball to the bat without delivering it, except the ball be accidentally dropped, or The ball he held by the Pitcher so long as to delay the game unnecessarily, or Any motion to deliver the ball, or the delivering of the ball to the bat by the Pitcher when any part of his person is upon ground outside the lines of his position. When after being once warned by the Umpire, the Pitcher continues to deliver the ball with his hand passing above his shoulder.

The first balk rule dealing with runners on base was inserted into the rule book in 1898. It stated a pitcher was compelled to throw to a base if he made a motion in that direction. In 1899, the rule was refined to say a pitcher could not fake a pickoff throw. In 1940, a throw or faked throw to an unoccupied base was made a balk. In 1968, the rules said if a pitcher "goes to his mouth" with men on base, it’s a balk.

Balk actions

Most basically, a pitcher is restricted to a certain set of motions and one of two basic pitching positions before and during a pitch; if these are violated with one or more runners on base, a balk is called.

With a runner on base and the pitcher on or astride (with one leg on each side of) the rubber, it is a balk[2] when the pitcher:

  • switches his pitching position from the windup to the set (or vice versa) without properly disengaging the rubber;
  • while on the rubber, makes a motion associated with his pitch and does not complete the delivery;
  • when going from the stretch to the set position, fails to make a complete stop with his hands together before beginning to pitch;
  • throws from the rubber to a base without stepping toward (gaining distance in the direction of) that base;
  • throws or feints a throw from the rubber to an unoccupied base, unless a play is imminent;
  • steps or feints from the rubber to first base without completing the throw;
  • pitches a quick return, that is, delivers with the intent to catch the batter off-guard or defenseless;
  • pitches or mimics a part of his pitching motion while not in contact with the rubber;
  • drops the ball while on the rubber, even if by accident, if the ball does not subsequently cross a foul line;
  • while intentionally walking a batter, or at any other time, releases a pitch while the catcher is out of his box with one or both feet; this is rarely called, though, especially on an intentional walk;
  • unnecessarily delays the game;
  • pitches while facing away from the batter;
  • after bringing his hands together on the rubber, separates them except in making a pitch or a throw;
  • stands on or astride the rubber without the ball, or mimics a pitch without the ball; or
  • throws to first when the first baseman, because of his distance from the base, is unable to make a play on the runner there.

It should be noted that the pitcher's acts of spitting on the ball, defacing or altering the ball, rubbing the ball on the clothing or body, or applying a foreign substance to the ball, are not balks.

Clarifications

A pitcher is allowed to feint toward third (or second) base, and then turn and throw or feint to first base if his pivot foot disengages the rubber after his initial feint. This is called the "fake to third, throw to first" play.

If no runners are on base and the pitcher commits an otherwise balkable action, there generally is no penalty. However, delivering a quick return or pitching while off the rubber (which constitute balks when runners are on base) results in a ball being called with the bases empty. If the pitcher should commit an act confusing to the batter with nobody on, or if he stops his delivery or otherwise violates because the batter steps out or otherwise acts confusingly, time is called and the play restarted without penalty (whether or not runners are on base). If a pitcher repeatedly commits illegal actions without runners on base, he may be subject to ejection for persistently violating the rules.

If during an attempt to execute the "hidden ball trick" (where the defensive team deceives the runner(s) as to the ball's location while the play is live), the pitcher stands on the rubber prior to the fielder revealing the ball and applying the tag, the runner is not called out. Instead, the proper call is a balk, with all runners on base being awarded their next base.

Common misconceptions

While the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately befuddling the base runner (per comment to Rule 8.05, OBR), or occasionally the batter, there are many legal ways for pitchers to deceive runners: pickoff attempts, look-backs, and speeding up the pitching motion all are efforts at deception. Only actions that violate the balk rules, however, may be penalized with a balk.

A common misconception is that when in the set position, a pitcher must step off the rubber before attempting a pick-off. This is incorrect; rule 8.01(c) allows a pitcher to pitch, throw to an occupied base, or step off while in contact with the rubber.

Major League balk records

Famous balks

Perhaps the most famous balk came in the 1961 All-Star Game, when heavy winds at Candlestick Park caused pitcher Stu Miller to sway erratically and be called for a balk. This story is often exaggerated in retellings of baseball lore, with Miller being literally blown off the pitching mound.[5]

References

External links

  • [1] - Stu Miller recalls his balk in the 1961 All-Star Game







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