Volume 7, No. 1 - January 2012
Explaining the Definition and Applications of the “Balk” Call
Just the mention of the word, ”Balk” sends shivers up and down the spine of pitchers, managers and even some umpires. This is usually a result of not understanding the rule on balks; misinformation concerning balks, or just plain fear, because they do not understand what is, and what is not, a balk.
In the next several editions of the Little League Coaches Box, we’ll discuss the balk rule and its interpretations. This is Part One of the series.
To understand the balk rule, we must first understand why there is a balk rule. The balk rule was put into place to prevent the pitcher from having an unfair advantage over the base runners. If there were no balk rule in place, the base runners would be severely handicapped in their ability to take leads, steal bases or generate runs.
So first we need to examine Rule 2.00 – Definition of Terms for a definition of what a balk is. In Rule 2.00 it states that A Balk is an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base, entitling all runners to advance one base. The key being that to have a balk called there MUST be a runner(s) on base, if not all the provisions under Rule 8.05 with the exception of 8.05 (e) and (g) are nothing or what is called a “do over.” At the Little League (Majors) Division and below, If the pitcher commits a violation of 8.05 (e) or (g) with no runners on base it will be called an Illegal Pitch and will be a ball on the batter.
A balk is defined as a play under the rules, especially when the defensive team is trying to make an appeal.
In my early years, I was instructed that balk was an illegal act by the pitcher to “deceive” a runner. As I have since learned, the word “deceive” or “deception” does not appear in any rule but if you go to a game you will always hear “the pitcher deceived the runner, that a balk.” Actually it is the pitcher’s job to try and deceive the runner, within the confines of the rules, to prevent the runner(s) from getting an unfair advantage on the bases.
In essence there are 13 basic ways that a pitcher can commit a balk, but there are several variations or acts throughout the rulebook that will cause a balk to be called. The umpires will be using their knowledge of the rules in helping them to call and understand the balk rules, but a lot of times it comes down to their judgment and what was the “intent” of the pitcher.
There are really two types of balks that will be called, the technical balks (things that the pitcher may not be aware he is doing) and the elephant balks (something that is obvious to everyone, i.e., dropping the ball while in contact; stepping off with the wrong foot, etc.).
Under Rule 8.01, there are two legal pitching deliveries (The Windup and the Set) and either one can be used at any time. The pitcher, especially with a runner(s) on base, should take his position on the pitcher’s plate by approaching the pitcher’s plate from the rear of the mound with his hands separated. This is to allow the runner(s) to be able to pick up the location of the ball, and prevent the pitcher from throwing a “Quick Pitch” by quickly walking through the pitching motion.
There is a misconception of the pitcher having his hands separated and when he must separate his hands when disengaging the pitcher’s plate. Nowhere in the rule book does it say that the pitcher MUST immediately separate his hands after disengaging the pitcher’s plate. What it does say in the rulebook is that the pitcher must separate and drop his hands to his side before stepping back onto the pitcher’s plate.
When the pitcher is in contact with the pitcher’s plate, in either pitching position, the pitcher may do one of three things: 1. Deliver the ball to the batter; 2. Step and throw to a base in an attempt to pick off a runner; or 3. Disengage the pitcher’s plate.
In disengaging the pitcher’s plate, the pitcher MUST step off (backwards, away from home plate) with the pivot foot and not with the free foot (non-pivot foot) first. Any movement of the free foot (which would simulate the starting of a pitch) and then stepping back with the pivot foot is an illegal move and a balk. The pivot foot must also touch the ground before the hands are separated, or any pick off movement is attempted, if not this is a balk. The pitcher cannot go into a Set or Stretch position from the Windup position without properly disengaging the pitcher’s plate first; if not this is a balk.
When the pitcher goes into his ‘set’ position - Rule 8.01 (b) - it must be in one fluid motion without any interruption or delay to try and deceive or confuse the runner(s), if not, this is a balk. The pitcher, in either pitching motion, shall not raise either foot from the ground, except that in the actual delivery of the ball to the batter. Said pitcher may take one step backward and one step forward with the free foot, providing the pitcher does not step directly towards first or third base.
Any violation of this would be a balk.
When the pitcher assumes his position on the pitcher’s plate and prior to assuming his legal pitching position, the pitcher will be allowed to momentarily adjust the ball in his glove and then separate his hands. For this to be a legal move, the adjustment must be momentary. If in the umpire’s judgment, the pitcher has held his hands together long enough that it appears that he has come set or assumed the windup position, this will be a balk.
If the pitcher goes into his windup position with the heel of his free foot off the ground, then drops the heel of his free foot before disengaging the pitcher’s plate with his pivot foot, this will be a balk.
If the pitcher, after coming set, shows any movement towards home plate, such as leaning his body toward home plate or beginning (moving) his free foot towards home plate, this will be a balk.
Anytime that a pitcher has properly disengaged the pitcher’s plate, that pitcher there by becomes an infielder and then comes under any rules that pertain to fielders.
END - Part 1