Balk Talk

My blog topic today was inspired by the fact that I had seen a game recently where someone was called for a balk and I had no idea why.  Even when they did the instant replay, I didn’t get it.  So in order to learn something new about this game we love and to share that knowledge with you, the balk is today’s subject.

I started my research by looking up “balk” in the official MLB rules.  Thus, I had a headache within 5 minutes.  Have you ever tried to read that thing??  So I looked for some other sources on the internet to get the explanation in laymen’s terms, and then went back to the definition and it made more sense.  Here are the basics, and I’ll try to explain it like I would have liked someone to explain it to me.

The basic baseball definition of a balk is “to stop in the middle of the action of throwing the ball to the player who is trying to hit it.”  Seems easy enough, right?  You act like you are going to pitch the ball, you do something else instead (like throw to a base), then you get called for a balk.  Well, of course, as it usually is in baseball, it’s never that simple.

First, let me explain the point where you are committed to a pitch.  If you remember from a previous blog, there are two positions from which pitchers pitch – the windup (usually when no one is on base) and the set or stretch position (usually when someone is on base, unless you are Timmy who has been pitching out of the windup due to problems with his stretch lately).  In both the windup and the stretch, one foot must be in contact with “the rubber” (the pitcher’s plate).  That foot is called the pivot foot.  You’ll notice when a guy goes up to pitch, first he has his arms at his sides and gets the signal from the catcher (sometimes while bending over).   Then he brings both hands up and holds the ball in his glove in front of him.  I never realized that he has to do this.  This is called the set position, and once you are in this position, you are committed to do one of three things:  pitch the ball, pick off a runner, or disengage the rubber.

Let’s take the first option: The pitcher can pitch the ball. If he gets into set position but doesn’t pause for a second before pitching, it’s a balk. The reasoning is that you give the batter time to get ready for the pitch and the runners time to get ready to steal if they wish.  You have to admit, the game would be a lot less interesting if you couldn’t steal, and stealing would be almost impossible if not for this pause.  If there are no runners on base, however, you don’t have to pause.  If he starts to pitch and stops, it’s a balk.  If from the set position, he goes to pitch and drops the ball, either intentionally or accidentally, it’s also a balk.  Here’s a great example of this type of balk.  If his hands come apart and he doesn’t pitch, it’s a balk.  If he is not in contact with the rubber and he pitches, it’s a balk.  If the pitcher pitches before the batter is ready, it’s called a quick pitch, and it’s a balk if runners are on base or called a ball if not.  If the pitcher pitches to the batter while not facing the batter (like if he’s making it look like he is throwing to a base) it’s a balk.  If you pitch and the catcher is not inside the catcher’s box, it’s a balk.  This could potentially happen when a pitcher is intentionally walking someone.  My favorite balk rule is if you pretend to pitch without the ball in your hand, it’s a balk.  This could be done to pick a guy off base when he goes to steal and realizes the baseman has the ball, not the pitcher like he assumed.  I wonder if some pitcher’s actions inspired this one!  Ah, the history of baseball!

The second thing the pitcher can do after the set point is pick off a runner.  But again, there are strict rules about how this must be done.   Once you are in the set position, you can only move your head to look at a base runner.  If you move your shoulders, midsection, or legs, it’s a balk.  If you decide to throw to a base to pick off a runner, you must take a step toward that base before releasing the ball, otherwise it’s a balk.  If you decide to throw to first base, take the step, and then don’t throw it’s a balk.  This same rule does not apply to throwing to second or third, but I’ve heard that they may be changing the rule for next season so that if you fake a throw to third it will also be a balk.  If you throw or pretend to throw to an unoccupied base, it’s a balk.

The last option the pitcher has once he’s in the set position is to disengage from the rubber.  This might come in handy if a fly lands on your nose and you need to itch (remember – you can’t separate your hands!), if a seagull drops it’s load in your face and you want to wipe if off before pitching, if someone in the stands yells, “Timmy, I love you!” and distracts you, or for any other imaginable reason you might not want continue with the pitch.  In this case, you can’t simply walk of the rubber any way you want.  Again, there are specific rules governing how you disengage the rubber.  You have to leave with your pivot foot (the one touching the rubber) first.  If you leave with your free foot, it’s a balk.  Once you disengage the rubber, you have to drop your hands to the sides or you can be called for a balk.

So what are the consequences if you aren’t super careful and get called for a balk?  If runners are on base, all base runners advance one base, and the ball is dead once the umpire announces the balk.  As you can see, these consequences are pretty rough, and there have actually been cases where walk-off wins have occurred due to balks.  One rather comical balk (probably not comical to the pitcher, though!) was the balk attributed to Stu Miller during the 1961 All-Star Game.  Strong winds at Candlestick Park caused him to sway erratically on the mound and he was called for a balk.  We can all relate to those crazy Candlestick winds!

What’s the point of all these strict rules?  Basically you aren’t allowed to deceive the runner and you aren’t allowed to quick pitch to the batter.  Knowing all this now just gives me so much more respect for pitchers.  How do they keep all this stuff straight??  I would be afraid to move on the mound!  I also wonder how the umpires can keep all these specific rules straight and actually watch carefully for all these things at once.  Former major league umpire Ron Luciano even claims he never called a balk during his career because he never understood the rule.  One MLB umpire, however, has a reputation for calling balks quite often.  His name is Bob Davidson, and he’s been given the nicknames “Balkin’ Bob” or “Balk-a-day-Bob” due to his frequent balk calls.

The record-holders for the most balks committed in a single season are Dave Stewart of the Oakland A’s with 16 balks in 1988 and Steve Carlton of the Philadelphia Phillies with 11 balks in 1979.  The record for the most balks in a single game is held by Bob Shaw of the Milwaukee Brewers, who was charged with 5 balks during a game in 1963.

Now that you are a balk expert, let’s move on to the spit counts!  I have 2 for you today:

June 19th

Giants:

–          Cabrera 15

–          Sandoval 7

–          Theriot 6

–          Arias 5

–          Kontos 4

–          Pagan 4

–          H. Sanchez 3

–          Posey 2

–          Belt 1

–          Righetti 1

–          Hensley 1

–          Schierholtz 1

Angels:

–          Trout 9

–          Hunter 4

–          Callaspo 4

–          Wilson 3

–          Aybar 1

–          Downs 1

–          Bourjos 1

Misc.:

–          Umpires 3

Game Spit Master General = Cabrera with 15 (ties his personal best and season record)

That’s a total of 76 spits during a 3 hour and 20 minute game for an average of 1 spit every 2.6 minutes.  One heavy-spitting game right there!  Melky, Pablo, and Buster have been the season leaders for spitting to date.  And I’ve noticed that every new kid who comes up from the minors has the nasty habit.  So far I think Ginny’s boy, Brandon Crawford, is the only one who hasn’t been caught spewing his oral contents yet this season.

June 22nd

Giants:

–          Lincecum 9

–          Casilla 4

–          Sandoval 3

–          Theriot 3

–          H. Sanchez 3

–          Kelly 2

–          Cabrera 2

–          Posey 2

–          Burriss 1

–          Bumgarner 1

–          Christian 1

–          Zito 1

A’s:

–          Parker 7

–          Davis 3

–          Unidentified A’s guy with glasses 3

–          Cespedes 3

–          Inge 2

–          Reddick 2

–          Smith 1

–          Moss 1

–          Cowgill 1

–          Gomes 1

–          ? 1

Game Spit Master General = Lincecum with 9

That’s a total of 57 spits during a 3 hour and 35 minute game for an average of 1 spit every 3.8 minutes.

My brothers and I took a mini baseball road trip to Anaheim last week to watch the Giants play the Angels.  We drove down Monday, went to Hollywood and watched the game on Tuesday, then drove home Wednesday.  We are so dedicated we didn’t even do Disneyland while we were down there!  The park (called Angel Stadium) was very similar to AT&T except for the lack of a spectacular view.  They had a cool water feature in the outfield – it’s called “California Spectacular” or “The Rocks” for short.  It’s a mountain of rocks with water cascading down it.  I would hate to be an outfielder in that park – I would have to run to the restroom every 5 seconds!   Fireworks shoot out of it at the start of games, after every Angel home run, and after every Angel win.   Fortunately, we didn’t have to experience the later first-hand because we won!  Matt Cain pitched, and it was the first game after his perfect game.  I have to admit I was a bit let down when he gave up his first hit.  We met some guys before the game that do the exact same thing my brothers have been doing.  They go to about 5 ball parks every year and they also go to Man vs. Food restaurants along the way.  One guy said that he would rather chat with us than go into the game!  The three of us had a great time, and I was so happy to spend more quality time with my bros.  My baseball park count now stands at 9!

There’s so much to talk about this week regarding my boys.  Have you noticed that first base coach, Roberto Kelly, has been replaced with Hensley Meulens for the last few weeks?  I noticed it during one of the games and didn’t really think about it until it happened several times.  It must be a hot topic because I keep getting hits on my blog from people searching for “Why is Roberto Kelly not the first base coach?”  Kruk and Kuip mentioned during a game that he had had his appendix removed, and he is still recovering and won’t be back in that capacity until the doctor clears him to be on his feet longer.  I have spied him in the dugout recently, though.  He even made it into the last spit count!

Have you noticed that when guys slide, they tend to collect a lot of dirt above their belt?  I wonder if when they try to get rid of it, some slides down into their pants.  That would not be comfortable!  Can’t they design the uniform to avoid this??

There have been a bunch of new Andrew Baggarly commercials on Comcast SportsNet, and some of them are kind of cute.  There’s one where he’s looking at the hat stretcher and he lists the settings as small, medium, large…and Bochy!  If you didn’t already know, The Boch has the reputation of having an extremely large cabeza.  But why did they have to blow it and include Ray Ratto in one of them???  Baggs and Ratto are both in the locker room, and at one point Ratto pats Baggs on the butt and it is EXTREMELY awkward.  I’ve only seen it once, and I’m praying they’ve taken it off due to fan upheaval.  Take home lesson – Keep Ray Ratto out of your ads!!

Ever wonder how many baseballs they go through in an average MLB game?  I have, as well as several people I know.  I looked it up, and according to the Pirate’s equipment manager, the average is about 120.  That is much higher than I expected.  And what an expense that is every game!  Just hoping that one of the balls from a Giants game will make it into my hot little hands one day!

During a game the other night, I learned from Kruk and Kuip that you can actually have a lower on base percentage than your batting average.  The reason is that sacrifice flies don’t count toward your BA (I love typing that!), but they do toward your OBP.  Now you know!

Have you noticed how Gregor Blanco will quite often pretend to bunt and then back away?  He did this the other night, and the catcher actually passed the ball.  Is this legal, because it looks like when he does it, he is blocking the catcher’s line of sight?  And is he doing it on purpose just for this reason?  Just thought someone out there might know.

The other night, Jon Miller had an “I love this guy” moment for me when out of the blue he mentioned that one of the A’s pitchers, Jerry Blevins, “does not suffer from triskaidekaphobia.”  If you don’t know, triskaidekaphogia is the fear of the number 13.  Blevins’ number is 13.  How does he come up with this stuff???

I’ve made an interesting observation lately.  I would much rather watch a game on Comcast SportsNet than NBC Bay Area.  Comcast’s broadcasts are just so much smoother and more professional, and they don’t cut off players at bat.  However, one benefit of the NBC broadcasts is that they have the ability to cut guys off right before they are about to spit.  Believe me – I notice these things!  Hats off to you for that!

Congrats to Brandon Belt on his 11-game hitting streak!  It seems like he sure has come to life lately.  Everyone who has been behind him has something to celebrate.  Keep it up, Brandon!

I noticed the most adorable thing the other night when Timmy was pitching and had that horrendous first inning against the A’s (with a pitch count of 43!), and I’m sure most of you did, too.  They showed him in the dugout talking to Ryan Vogelsong, and Ryan was patting him on the back and giving him a pep talk.  I had never seen anything like this before.  Usually guys will go into the dugout and sulk and want to be alone.  I heard Mike Krukow discussing this on KNBR this morning, and he mentioned that Timmy actually called him over and said he was ticked about how things were going.  Ryan told him he should be ticked and to use that anger.  He told him that the team needed him.  Guess it worked because the rest of the game he pitched fabulously.  After the game, Timmy found him and thanked him.  Ryan (being the awesome guy that he is) said, “What did I do?  YOU did it!”  I love that kind of stuff!  Just shows the importance of having veteran players in the dugout, something that seems to be taken for granted a lot.  They are starting to call Vogelsong “The Freak Whisperer!”  But I have a message for you, Ryan – THAT’S MY JOB!!

Barry is pitching against the Dodgers tonight, and I am kind of dreading it.  I’m keeping my fingers crossed that he can get the mojo back that he had at the beginning of the season.  Maybe the rivalry will spark something.  I can dream, can’t I?  We’re only 3 games back, and if we can sweep the Dodgers , we’ll be tied for first.  Again, I can dream, can’t I??  But seriously, I have faith in my boys and I’m excited to watch these next 3 games, plus I’m going to the game on Tuesday night with my sister.  That should be so much fun.  We’ll be sitting in the sky between home and first.  Look for us – we’ll be wearing matching Giants pashminas!  Until next time, GO GIANTS!!

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