Does anyone actually understand balks?

A balk is a funny thing.  It doesn’t happen too often and when it does it often leaves fans – and sometimes even players, managers and umps – confused.  This season we have already seen several balks, the most notably from Justin Verlander.  His balk was incredibly unusual and it took both teams’ coaches and all 4 umps to figure it out!  He was going to throw to first base but didnt turn his body enough, so in hopes of slipping his mistake past the umps, he lobbed it towards home, bouncing it and hitting the batter.

The batter went to first base assuming he’d been “hit-by-pitch”.  Unfortunately for him it was (after several lengthy on field conversations) ruled a balk – meaning the ball is dead, the pitch is neither ball nor strike, the at bat continues, and any base runners advance one base.  (Last year I believe there was a bases loaded, bottom of the 9th, tie-game balk….aka a “walk-off balk”)  At any rate, a balk can even be ignored if there are no runners, because calling the balk effects nothing and no one.

So what makes a balk a balk?  Well outside of the guys on Baseball Tonight and a collaboration of umpires on any given diamond….I’m guessing no one really knows.  It has something to do with the specific motions a pitcher can and cannot make before he commits to throw either to home plate or to a base.  Check out the wikipedia on balks – every last confusing detail is there.  And if you can manage to make sense of it all, do you think you can explain it to me?


One Comment on “Does anyone actually understand balks?”

  1. Phil says:

    Balk –

    When a pitcher is in motion to throw a pitch and has completed his reverse motion, the pitcher is then committed to home plate and must throw there or else commit a balk. A pitcher can throw to a base without a balk penalty if he has not yet completed his reverse movement.

    There is no real set line on when the reverse movement ends and the forward movement to the plate begins. This all depends on the home plate umpires interpretation of the pitcher’s wind-up motion.


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