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Balk or no balk? That is the question.

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As an avid baseball fan for the last eight years, I like to think I have a pretty firm grasp on the rules and how the game is played.  One of the things that I love about baseball is it’s easy of understanding but there is one rule that still continues to boggle my mind; the balk.  I have seen them multiple times and they have looked different each time.  I can’t be the only fan that is confused by the balk rule, can I?

A balk is a illegal action or motion made by a pitcher when runners are on base.  If a motion is made by a pitcher that could mislead the runner into thinking he is taking one action when he is taking another it can be called as a balk.  If a balk is called, the ball is ruled “dead” and the runner(s) advance.  

Sounds easy right? Not so much.  The closest thing I can relate it to is a false start in football.  Sometimes crossing the line of scrimmage before the snap is obvious; when a player jumps the line of but other times it’s just a flinch.  In a false start or a balk the officials make the call and they are unchallengeable.

The interesting thing about the balk is that unlike the false start, the other players on the field are not trying to call the pitcher out for making an illegal move.  The call being called totally depends on the judgement of the umpire crew on the field, typically the first base umpire since he has the best line of site for infractions.  Each umpire’s opinion of that a balk is can vary and that adds more complication to the calling of the penalty.  There is even one umpire that is particularly notorious for calling balks, “Balking Bob” Davidson.  

The balk; a one of the more obscure rules in America’s pastime.  An infraction that can be called on a pitcher for making a move one game, then the same move can be overlooked the next.  Former pitchers have they have modified their behavior in order to be able make balks and not have them called on them because those slight moves become part of their routine on the mound.  I guess it’s true what they say; don’t hate the player, hate the game.  

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