Calling Balks

After going around to a few games thus far this season, I feel that it is necessary to post some common situations in which a balk can occur during a game and what to watch for. Below, you will see video examples with explanations on the more common types of balks we may encounter on the field. If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact one of us with your questions. Credit goes to HBUA Alumni and current MiLB Umpire Chris Marco for finding the video and doing the write up on the examples provided.

Procedure for Calling a Balk

Point at the pitcher (unless it is the plate umpire calling a no-stop balk) and verbalize “that’s a balk”. DO NOT call time. Once continuous action has ceased, or the batter or any runner has been retired before reaching their advance base, call time, repeat “that’s a balk” while pointing at the pitcher, and place runner(s) appropriately. If a pitch was delivered, the plate umpire should give the count prior to the next pitch – remember that the count will not change unless the pitch was ball 4 or strike 3, where the batter and all runners advanced at least one base (players are not necessarily always aware that the result of the pitch is typically nullified by the balk).

ALL umpires on the field are responsible for balks. While it is true that certain umpires have much more advantageous sight lines with specific types of balks, if you are certain you see a balk, call a balk.

Echoing a Balk Call

ALL balk calls should be echoed by ALL umpires on the field, regardless of whether or not you had a balk. It immediately adds credibility to the balk call and makes it less likely to be argued. At the same time, if you see a balk and a partner calls it quicker than you, call it anyway! To this end, the failure of an umpire to call an obvious balk may be viewed as incompetence by players, coaches, and managers. As an advanced mechanic, the calling umpire(s) should at some point state the reason for the balk (i.e. “no stop”; “no step”; etc) loud enough for all players, both dugouts, and most importantly, all umpires to hear.

Arguing a Balk

As you will hear in some of the videos below, there is a myth among those in baseball that balks cannot be argued. This is incorrect. At the Major League Level only, managers may not leave the dugout to argue no-step balks, exclusively; arguing all other types of balks is permissible. At every other level, there is no prohibition of the arguing of balks.

If you have called a balk, are echoed by your partner and you see a player or manager approach a partner asking for an explanation, unless you are absolutely positive your partner also called the balk, do not hang them out to dry! Intercept them and provide the explanation yourself.

If questioned regarding a balk call, keep the explanation as simple as possible. Most balks can be summed up in four words or less: “he started and stopped,” “no step,” “no stop,” etc. The less you say, the less the defensive manager has to argue.

Common Types of Balks

No Step

A right handed pitcher must make a clear and direct step towards first base when executing this particular type of move. In this instance, once the pitcher turns to throw, no part of his free (left) foot is permitted to land in the spot occupied by the same foot prior to the pick-off move. This concept was demonstrated by the “footprints” at the Level 3 SuperClinic.

No Stop

This balk was originally called by U2. Note the echo by PU.

Feint to First / Third

When throwing to first or third base, the defensive fielder must be in reasonable proximity (a step and a reach) from the base. If a pitcher throws the ball directly to the base, regardless of the fielder’s position, it is NOT a balk.

Although this pitcher’s pivot (right) foot appears to have disengaged the rubber, this particular move (the jump turn) is not considered a legal disengagement of the rubber. The jump turn is a legal move, however the pitcher is still considered to be in contact with the rubber and therefore is required to complete a proper throw to first base.

Start / Stop

When pitching from the set position, any movement by the pitcher while in the stretch consistent with his normal movement of coming to the set position requires him to bring his hands together.

Please note that while in the stretch, a pitcher is permitted to momentarily bring his hands together one time in order to adjust his grip on the baseball; should this occur, this is not considered to have been a move to the set position.

Once in the set position, any movement by the pitcher associated with his pitch (or throw to a base) commits him to either deliver the pitch or throw to a base.

An example of natural movement from a pitcher in the set position would be movement of the shoulders and glove as a result of a deep breath. Likewise, any movement of the glove, throwing hand, and / or either arm deemed to be the result of changing the grip on the baseball is not considered movement associated with the pitch.

From the windup position, a pitcher may not begin with his hands at his side, begin to bring his hands together, and then return them to his side.

On the other hand, from the windup position, once a pitcher brings his hands together, he may not separate them for any reason, unless he disengages the rubber.

Some right handed pitchers will intentionally buckle or flinch their left knee prior to making a pick-off to first base in order to “freeze” the runner. Any movement by the left leg commits the pitcher to pitch. In real time, it is extraordinarily difficult to determine which leg moved first however, umpires should not allow, under any circumstance, a move where the left leg clearly moves first, followed by the initiation of a pick-off, as seen here.

Rule Violations Commonly (Incorrectly) Believed to be Balks

– A pitcher taking signs while off the rubber
Simply ask the pitcher to take his signs from on the rubber

– A pitcher disengaging the rubber and failing to separate his hands
This is not a balk. If the pitcher should re-engage still without separating his hands, call time, have the pitcher step off, ask him to separate his hands, and start over.