While the solid curse and jeer never balk the waiting ear.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
And I fear that the politics of protest is shutting out the process of thought, so necessary to rational discussion.
—Spiro Theodore Agnew
Just the other day I wrote on the Phils' protest of a ground-rule double call in a one-run ballgame in the bottom of the ninth on a ball resting in a recess in the wall. The Phils lost and the protest was denied. I agreed with the rejection but felt that the game umpire had handled the play incorrectly by making the call too peremptorily.
Well, in all fairness, I have to point to the umpire Rick Reed's evenhandedness in Saturday's Pads-Mets game, which the Mets ended up playing under protest. With the Padres leading in the top of the eighth, major-league rookie but Japanese-league vet Akinori Otsuka threw one pitch to Shane Spencer which brought Mets manager Art Howe on to the field. He took exception with Otsuka's delivery, which consists of a high knee kick with his pitching hand in the glove, a hesitation during which his pitching hand separated from the glove, and then a normal follow through after the hands come back together (like Satchel Paige's legendary hesitation pitch). Some, including Howe apparently, would call that a balk. I see it as a timing thing and probably not the most efficient delivery. Howe apparently was chomping at the bit to contest the delivery after Otsuka registered his first major-league save the previous night against the Mets. There were no runners and the pitch was a called ball, so the balk call was moot.
However, very quietly and quickly Howe registered his complaint and then brought crew chief into the dugout to officially protest the game. The Mets lost and as far as I know the protest has yet to be reviewed by MLB. Typically, an unusual delivery (such as Luis Tiant's) is exempted from the balk rule because it is the normal delivery of the pitcher and therefore, not meant to deceive the hitter or runner. I can imagine that the delivery would throw off the hitter's timing, but I'm not sure that makes it a balk. I wanted to review the rule and determine if the delivery is illegal.
From the rulebook, the definition of a balk is as follows:
A BALK is an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base, entitling all runners to advance one base.
And the following is the balk rule (8.05) in its entirety:
If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when (a) The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery; If a left-handed or right-handed pitcher swings his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher's rubber, he is required to pitch to the batter except to throw to second base on a pick off play. (b) The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first base and fails to complete the throw; (c) The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base; Requires the pitcher, while touching his plate, to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base. If a pitcher turns or spins off of his free foot without actually stepping or if he turns his body and throws before stepping, it is a balk. A pitcher is to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base but does not require him to throw (except to first base only) because he steps. It is possible, with runners on first and third, for the pitcher to step toward third and not throw, merely to bluff the runner back to third; then seeing the runner on first start for second, turn and step toward and throw to first base. This is legal. However, if, with runners on first and third, the pitcher, while in contact with the rubber, steps toward third and then immediately and in practically the same motion "wheels" and throws to first base, it is obviously an attempt to deceive the runner at first base, and in such a move it is practically impossible to step directly toward first base before the throw to first base, and such a move shall be called a balk. Of course, if the pitcher steps off the rubber and then makes such a move, it is not a balk. (d) The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play; (e) The pitcher makes an illegal pitch; A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter's box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted. (f) The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter; (g) The pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher's plate; (h) The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game; (i) The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher's plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch; (j) The pitcher, after coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base; (k) The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally drops the ball; (l) The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher's box; (m)The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop. PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first 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. APPROVED RULING: In cases where a pitcher balks and throws wild, either to a base or to home plate, a runner or runners may advance beyond the base to which he is entitled at his own risk. APPROVED RULING: A runner who misses the first base to which he is advancing and who is called out on appeal shall be considered as having advanced one base for the purpose of this rule. 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. However, certain specifics should be borne in mind: (a) Straddling the pitcher's rubber without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive and ruled a balk. (b) With a runner on first base the pitcher may make a complete turn, without hesitating toward first, and throw to second. This is not to be interpreted as throwing to an unoccupied base.
There's nothing there about it. How about in the section on the pitching delivery (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. Pitchers shall take signs from the catcher while standing on the rubber. Pitchers may disengage the rubber after taking their signs but may not step quickly onto the rubber and pitch. This may be judged a quick pitch by the umpire. When the pitcher disengages the rubber, he must drop his hands to his sides. Pitchers will not be allowed to disengage the rubber after taking each sign. (a) The Windup Position. The pitcher shall stand facing the batter, his entire pivot foot on, or in front of and touching and not off the end of the pitcher's plate, and the other foot free. From this position any natural movement associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without interruption or alteration. He shall not raise either foot from the ground, except that in his actual delivery of the ball to the batter, he may take one step backward, and one step forward with his free foot. When a pitcher holds the ball with both hands in front of his body, with his entire pivot foot on, or in front of and touching but not off the end of the pitcher's plate, and his other foot free, he will be considered in the Windup Position. The pitcher may have one foot, not the pivot foot, off the rubber and any distance he may desire back of a line which is an extension to the back edge of the pitcher's plate, but not at either side of the pitcher's plate. With his "free" foot the pitcher may take one step backward and one step forward, but under no circumstances, to either side, that is to either the first base or third base side of the pitcher's rubber. If a pitcher holds the ball with both hands in front of his body, with his entire pivot foot on or in front of and touching but not off the end of the pitcher's plate, and his other foot free, he will be considered in a windup position. From this position he may: (1) deliver the ball to the batter, or (2) step and throw to a base in an attempt to pick off a runner, or (3) disengage the rubber (if he does he must drop his hand to his sides). In disengaging the rubber the pitcher must step off with his pivot foot and not his free foot first. He may not go into a set or stretch position if he does it is a balk. (b) The Set Position. Set Position shall be indicated by the pitcher when he stands facing the batter with his entire pivot foot on, or in front of, and in contact with, and not off the end of the pitcher's plate, and his other foot in front of the pitcher's plate, holding the ball in both hands in front of his body and coming to a complete stop. From such Set Position he may deliver the ball to the batter, throw to a base or step backward off the pitcher's plate with his pivot foot. Before assuming Set Position, the pitcher may elect to make any natural preliminary motion such as that known as "the stretch." But if he so elects, he shall come to Set Position before delivering the ball to the batter. After assuming Set Position, any natural motion associated with his delivery of the ball to the batter commits him to the pitch without alteration or interruption. Preparatory to coming to a set position, the pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position as defined in Rule 8.01 (b) without interruption and in one continuous motion. The whole width of the foot in contact with the rubber must be on the rubber. A pitcher cannot pitch from off the end of the rubber with just the side of his foot touching the rubber. The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to "beat the rule" in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete "stop" called for in the rules, the umpire should immediately call a "Balk." (c) At any time during the pitcher's preliminary movements and until his natural pitching motion commits him to the pitch, he may throw to any base provided he steps directly toward such base before making the throw. The pitcher shall step "ahead of the throw." A snap throw followed by the step directly toward the base is a balk. (d) If the pitcher makes an illegal pitch with the bases unoccupied, it shall be called a ball unless the batter reaches first base on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter or otherwise. A ball which slips out of a pitcher's hand and crosses the foul line shall be called a ball; otherwise it will be called no pitch. This would be a balk with men on base. (e) If the pitcher removes his pivot foot from contact with the pitcher's plate by stepping backward with that foot, he thereby becomes an infielder and if he makes a wild throw from that position, it shall be considered the same as a wild throw by any other infielder. The pitcher, while off the rubber, may throw to any base. If he makes a wild throw, such throw is the throw of an infielder and what follows is governed by the rules covering a ball thrown by a fielder.
Ok, if you bothered to read both if those you have to agree that there is nothing that stipulates that you can't separate your hands in your normal delivery, unless you consider it going from a windup to a set position. I know that there is a great deal of interpretation involved in the balk rule as well as a heap of apocrypha. I don't know how MLB will rule, but I can’t imagine they will prohibit a pitcher from using his normal delivery based on an extremely loose interpretation of the rules.