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Rules of Disorder
2005-10-09 20:58
by Mike Carminati

Yesterday there were two plays in otherwise forgettable games that both dealt with the rulebook. I thought it would be fun to revisit them before looking at today's action

First, in Atlanta Roy Oswalt appeared to be cited for a balk and then wasn't or at least not technically…Hey, Lady! Pandemonium ensured.

Oddly, I agree with the ruling or rather the more controversial half of it.

Adam LaRoche was at the plate. Andruw Jones was at first. Houston led 2-0 with none out in the top of the second. LaRoche worked a 3-1 count, and then on the next pitch, the umpire pointed at the mound as Oswalt completed the pitch.

The ball was called a ball, and both Braves took a base as what passes for Psycho Lyons' brain started to melt like something from "Scanners". Lyons couldn't understand, even as it was explained to him later that inning, that a balk isn't necessarily a balk.

Homeplate ump Jeff Nelson, apparently, signaled a balk, but according to the rules, the ball is not dead if the batter walks, among other things. MLB explained the call, somewhat misleadingly, thusly:

Nelson immediately made a signal that had many in the press box thinking a balk was called. Instead, what actually happened was since the pitch was ruled a ball, LaRoche technically walked, advancing Jones to second.

Well, yeah, that was the ruling, but it definitely looked like Nelson called for the conditional balk, which MLB may or may not be conceding. Ask their lawyers.

I think they are trying to skit the issue of the crappy balk call in the first place. Oswalt did appear to come to a set position before coming home though he did it with his hands above his waist which appeared to elicit the call from Nelson.

Let's take a look at the rules to determine what the frig happened here. Let's start with 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.

OK, that's clear as mud. Let's on to the more detailed rules…

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."

If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when… (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…(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.

Look, it states the issue very clearly in the PENALTY section. The idea is not to disadvantage a batter because a pitcher does something illegal. The penalty was applied correctly.

However, it is clear that Oswalt did nothing wrong in the first place. What should have been an uneventful walk became an interesting one. Maybe Nelson was bored.

Rich Marazzi elaborates on this in "The Rules and Lore of Baseball":

Nick Bremigan discusses the thinking behind the rule (8.05m). "back in 1971, the Rules Committee felt pitchers weren't coming to a complete stop before delivering the pitch to the batter. So they amended the rule for the 1972 season to read that a pitcher had to stop for one full second before delivering. This led to so many balks being called during the first month of the season, that they amended the rule to read as it does now.

"What is a stop? According to the laws of physics, any moving object must stop before it can reverse direction. Applying this law to pitching, it is considered a stop if a pitcher's arms are coming down to complete his stretch, and then start his delivery. The stop may not be noticeable, but a complete stoppage of all motion is not required. A mere change of direction is all that is required."

The following play illustrates this aspect [i.e., that the ball is not necessarily dead] of the rule. The odd play occurred on May 6, 1957, in a game between the Tigers and the Orioles. Connie Johnson was pitching for the Orioles. The Tigers had runners on second and third with the score tied, 1-1. As Johnson began his delivery to Charlie Maxwell, Tigers coach Billy Hitchcock rushed to the plate demanding umpire Ed Runge call a balk. At this point, Maxwell hit the pitch for a single to score two runs.

Runge raised his left arm to indicate the balk, but the ball was not dead. Since all runners, including Maxwell, the batter, advanced at least one base, the balk call was nullified.

Marazzi goes on to explain that all runners including the batter must advance to nullify the balk. He illustrates the point with the example of a double in 1977 by Lou Piniella that was nullified when the runner at third, Jim Wynn, failed to advance. Piniella was forced to bat again, but Wynn was awarded home (4/19/1977).

As for the second call, it involved Robert Fick, no stranger to postseason controversy he. Yesterday, with the Padres trailing 5-0 in the bottom of the second, the first two men (Klesko and Hernandez) walked. The next batter, Robert Fick, attempted to bunt them over.

Fick made a running start and appeared to foul the ball off, but when he went to return to the batter's box, the ump (Bruce Dreckman) called him out for making contact with the ball outside of the batter's box.

The call was out on batter's interference and catcher "It's" Yadier Molina was credited wit the putout. The Padres failed to score that inning and didn't score at all until they were down 7-0 in the fifth.

Let's dissect that one:

The BATTER'S BOX is the area within which the batter shall stand during his time at bat.

OK, that ones straight enough, that is until the lines are completely obliterated by the second or third inning. But the concept's there.

The batter's legal position shall be with both feet within the batter's box. APPROVED RULING: The lines defining the box are within the batter's box.

Got it? The lines are in the batter's box. Stepping on the lines means that you are still in the batter's box.

A batter is out for illegal action when (a) He hits a ball with one or both feet on the ground entirely outside the batter's box. If a batter hits a ball fair or foul while out of the batter's box, he shall be called out. Umpires should pay particular attention to the position of the batter's feet if he attempts to hit the ball while he is being intentionally passed. A batter cannot jump or step out of the batter's box and hit the ball.

The part that troubles me is "one or both feet on the ground…" The camera crew initially blew this play. The had about three angles, including the original one, and none of them showed anything about his feet or the batter's box that was helpful. Then about five minutes later they pulled a replay out of an unmentionable orifice. They showed that Fick did indeed step out of the batter's box but it was after he hit the ball. They froze the replay and allowed Joe Morgan to doodle all over the screen, but it clearly showed that he stepped out after he hit the ball.

By the wording of the rule, he should not have been called out.

It would be interesting to hear what Marazzi has to say about the play, but unfortunately he has no examples or insights into the rule. Perhaps it was too rarely invoked to make the book.

In any case, without a ruling that contradicts the wording of the rule as it is written, I'm saying the ump got it wrong. So what's the net effect? The balk play mattered not one iota in the first game and the bunt looked like it would have been fielded in fair territory and the lead runner at third would have been out. So, it's much ado about not so much. However, in the box score of life, the umps got the initial balk call wrong and the batter's box call wrong. They did get the secondary balk call right (that the ball was not dead). So they're batting .333.

2005-10-09 21:16:18
1.   Icaros
I got robbed of a hit in high school when a single was waived off due to a balk that was called on the pitch.

I tried to explain to everyone that the batter isn't supposed to be penalized in that situation, but even my own coaches wouldn't back me up.

I had to go back to the plate, and I made an out.

It was around this time in life when I started to feel like everyone around me was stupid.

2005-10-10 11:27:36
2.   rbj
Remember that one year in the 1980s, when they had balk lines? I still don't understand how balk lines worked. There was one pitcher who's career balk stats looked like: 0 0 0 0 21 0 0 0

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