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From the Field: The Anatomy of a Balk

From the Field: The Anatomy of a Balk


In the 2015 Little League Baseball® Rulebook, the Definition of Terms (2.00) defines a BALK as 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). A balk is not called in the Little League® (Major) Division and those divisions below.

The definition then refers to Rule 8.05 and discusses 13 instances (a-m) involving an Illegal Pitch. I’ll let you study those on your own. Suffice to say that most, if not all, of the explanation of a balk can be boiled down to whether or not the action of the pitcher deceives the runner. A common definition of “deception” is “to mislead by a false appearance.” Sometimes balks are called incorrectly. To make the correct call, questions need to be asked: Did the action of the pitcher actually mislead the runner? Did the action of the pitcher make the runner do something or not do something based on that particular movement made by the pitcher?

Many of the questions related to the balk are actually answered in the Penalty for a Balk contained in Rule 8.05. First, it tells us that the balk penalty only applies to the Intermediate, Junior, Senior and Big League Baseball Divisions. It also states that once the balk is to be enforced, the ball is dead and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out unless the batter reaches first base 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. But, it is the Note that gives us the clues we need and the limits of the rule and what we as umpires should be looking for: 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.

So, before you make the call, ask yourself: Did you see a balk? What was the intent of the pitcher? Did the runner react? Was the runner deliberately deceived? Was there an unfair advantage gained by the pitcher by his action?

There is a lot to consider before making that call. First though, know the rule. While always learning as an umpire, the offseason, right now, is the best time to be spending time digesting the rules and studying the balk rule. Give yourself different scenarios, get together with other umpires and test each other. Sign up for one of the regional rules clinics put on by Little League so you can learn more about the balk. Ask questions of regional instructors. The balk has many moving parts (no pun intended) so the more you study the more comfortable you will be.

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Fairball | January 2015 | URC | Registry