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You Make the Call: How and When to Verbalize a Balk

Situation: Intermediate (50-70), Junior, Senior, Big League Baseball Divisions -- With a runner on second base, the left-handed pitcher is in the “set position.” He begins his motion by bringing his hands together at his waistline and stops. He checks the runner at second base and then proceeds to go into a windup to deliver the pitch. Seeing this, both the field umpire and the plate umpire immediately and simultaneously yell, “That's a balk!” The pitcher stops before delivering the pitch, the plate umpire calls and signals “time,” and enforces the penalty for the balk by awarding the runner on second base, third base. Was the umpire correct in calling the balk?

To assist us with this ruling, we reference the Official Playing Rules in Section 2.00 -- Definitions of Terms -- on Page 59; and rules 8.01 and 8.01b on Pages 90 and 91 of the 2014 Little League Baseball® Rulebook.

The definition of a balk -- A balk is an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base entitling all runners to advance one base (Intermediate (50-70) Division/Junior/Senior/Big League).

Rule 8.01 -- Legal pitching delivery. There are two legal pitching positions, the Windup Position and the Set Position, and either position may be used at any time.

Rule 8.01b -- The Set Position. Set Position shall be indicated by the pitcher when that pitcher stands facing the batter with the pivot foot in contact with and the other foot in front of the pitcher's plate, holding the ball in both hands in front of the body and coming to a complete stop. From such Set Position the pitcher may deliver the ball to the batter, throw to a base or step backward off the pitcher's plate with the pivot foot. Before assuming the Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as "the stretch." But if the pitcher so elects, the pitcher shall come to the Set Position before delivering the ball to the batter.

In the situation described, the pitcher established the Set Position, and elected to make the preliminary motion known as “the stretch.” After coming to a complete stop, the pitcher proceeded to go into the Windup Position thereby balking. At that moment, the umpires where correct in announcing the balk, but not calling “time.” When the pitcher did not deliver the pitch, the umpires where correct in calling “time” and enforcing the penalty for the balk; that being the award of one base for the runner on second base.

As an umpire it is important to watch the pitcher’s movements. It is also important to remember that a balk is not an automatic call for “time.” Allow the play to continue unless and until you have decided that the pitcher has not or will not deliver the pitch. Only then will you call for “time” and enforce the penalty for the balk.

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Fairball | November 2014 | URC | Registry