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In baseball, a pitcher may commit a number of illegal motions or actions which constitute a balk. A balk ordinarily results in an immediate dead ball and nullification of any pitch, and each runner is awarded one base. The batter generally returns to bat with the previous count. There are cases when a balk may be ignored partially or completely, though this is very rare. The balk rule in Major League Baseball was introduced in 1898. In certain seasons, there has been a flurry of balks as umpires tried to restrict certain pitching motions. The principal seasons in this regard were 1950, 1963, and 1988. Currently, Bob Davidson is known as the "balk umpire."
Most basically, a pitcher is restricted to a certain set of motions and one of two basic pitching positions prior to and during a pitch; if these are violated, a balk is called.
With a runner on base and the pitcher on or astride the rubber, it is a balk 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;
- delivers a pitch while not in contact with the rubber;
- 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. If done intentionally, these actions result in immediate ejection for the pitcher, the result of a rule change made prior to the 2008 season.
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, balks with runners on, 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.
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 RecordsEdit
- The Major league record for career balks is held by Steve Carlton with 90. The record in a single season is held by Dave Stewart, who had 16 balks in 1988 while pitching for the Oakland Athletics.
-  - Stu Miller recalls his balk in the 1961 All-Star Game