Calling all umpires: Knotty balk question

In Saturday’s White Sox-Angels game, a balk was called on Jose Quintana. Here’s the clip; here’s the situation:

Men on 2nd and 1st, lefty Quintana in the set position. First baseman Paul Konerko plays in front of the runner, Chris Iannetta, and seems to ignore him. Iannetta has a normal lead. Quintana begins a motion; then Konerko breaks towards the bag, receives the throw on the run, a few feet from the base, and tags Iannetta just before he gets back to the bag. Umpire Ed Hickox calls a balk. ChiSox manager Robin Ventura argues vehemently, and is ejected.

The White Sox announcing crew, whom I heard live on MLB-TV, said the balk was called on the grounds of “throwing to an unoccupied base.” The story on MLB.com says the balk was called because “Konerko was unable to make a play on Iannetta because of his distance from the bag on the throw.” No authority is cited for either claim. The AP story just says that Konerko “was playing way off the bag” and that “Quintana led Konerko to the bag with his throw.” The announcers on the video clip talk in more specific terms, but none of what they say can I confirm in the rule book.

MLB Rule 8.05(d) says it is a balk when: “The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play.” I can find no comment that bears on the present situation.

For all I know, the balk was called for one of the ordinary reasons, e.g., Quintana’s foot crossed behind the rubber, so he had to make a pitch. But if 8.05(d) was the reason for the call, I’m puzzled. How could you say first base was unoccupied? And even if it was, Quintana’s throw clearly was for the purpose of making a play.

Is it a general “attempt to deceive the runner” balk simply because Konerko didn’t move towards the base until Quintana started his motion? If so, what rule obligates Konerko to move? The play began with the runner within Konerko’s reach; if the runner is there, why should the fielder have to go somewhere else to make a play on him? What if the runner had fallen down?

Anyone?

P.S. The balk had no effect on the outcome. Quintana got out of the jam with no runs scoring.

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49 Comments on "Calling all umpires: Knotty balk question"

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Voomo Zanzibar
Guest

Here’s the ump’s explanation:

Quintana threw “not directly to first base, but eight to 10 feet toward the second baseman,” Hickox said. “And Konerko was not breaking until after the pitcher threw the ball, and then he was just trying to catch the ball. So in my judgment, there was no attempt to retire the runner.”

nightfly
Guest

Voomo’s got it. The pitcher has to throw his pickoff to the bag, not to the first baseman. Nothing specifically says that Konerko has to start at the bag, but if he breaks late, then Quintana has to lead him better than that. It seems pretty clear that Konerko has to stop his progress and reach back to get the ball – he backhands it rather than catching it in stride.

The rule may make no sense, but that’s the rule.

SocraticGadfly
Guest

It horribly doesn’t make sense. If a balk is going to be called on these grounds, hell, let’s outlaw the hidden ball play next.

Doug
Guest
It seems more than a little curious for the umpire to call a balk on the ground that there was no attempt to make a play on the runner. Clearly, not only was the attempt made, the tag was applied in time. I wonder what the call would have been had Konerko been on the bag and the throw was several feet towards second base obliging Konerko to come off the bag and just try to catch the ball. Would that also have been a balk because there could be no attempt to retire the runner? Does making a poor… Read more »
Dave
Guest

Konerko was actually started bending to get into fielding position then realized the throw was coming over. I think this is clearly a case of a pitcher not “seeing” what he was looking at.

Dave
Guest

“I wonder what the call would have been had Konerko been on the bag and the throw was several feet towards second base obliging Konerko to come off the bag and just try to catch the ball.”
***
That would’ve been fine because Konerko was occupying the bag. No foul there.

Jim Bouldin
Guest

Good question John–I also fail to see where the rules say anything about this situation. I assumed he was calling it for failure to step directly towards first, but not the case.

Dan McCloskey
Editor
I went to Brinkman/Froemming Umpire School back in 1994 and have had subsequent conversations about rules issues with Rick Roder, one of my former instructors who is also widely considered a rules interpretation expert. He and one of his colleagues, Chris Jaksa, have produced a rules interpretation manual for years that, while not official, is what many umpires trained by Brinkman/Froemming and the Jim Evans school use.  Basically, Jaksa and Roder claim that the major league rule book is so vague and incomplete that an entire manual of interpretations is necessary.  If I can dig out my outdated copy of… Read more »
RichW
Guest
What is the threshold to determine if the throw is close enough to the base? It seems a bit much to mandate that a throw be directly over the base. In the video the 3B side view shows that the throw would have been 2-3ft to the left of 1B if Konerko did not catch it. In order to make the catch Konerko has to move sharply to his left while taking several steps towards 1B. That alone indicates that the throw was not “to” Konerko. I’m a little confused (in post 12) about the logic behind preventing LHP from… Read more »
Dan McCloskey
Editor
@RichW: if the pitcher steps off, he’s no longer considered a pitcher. He can throw the ball wherever he darn well pleases and the balk rules don’t apply. What I was trying to say, and I was only guessing, is one thing the rule is trying to prevent is the lefty pitcher using the “balk move,” where he kicks his right leg then throws to first, when the runner isn’t even being held on. But, I suggested after that that I think the rule is trying to prevent pitchers from throwing over to first when the runner is not being… Read more »
RichW
Guest

@Dan McCoskey: Yeah I was nitpicking on “steal attempt”. Sorry.

If the rule is “must throw directly at or over 1B”, then the umpire got it right. I just wish the rule was clearly written.

The pitcher can still throw to 1B (the base) if the runner is not being held but the risk of a balk or an error makes it a questionable strategy.

Dan McCloskey
Editor

To reiterate, guys, I’m citing an unofficial and somewhat outdated rules interpretation manual, because the official rule book is pretty vague on a lot of rules. There could be a mucher clearer explanation in the most updated version of the manual. I don’t know. I was just trying to offer a little more insight, but I may have made this discussion even muddier.

Mark in Sydney
Guest

Without knowing what Ed Hickox was saying, it is a bit hard to work it out. Maybe he thought Quintana had crossed over and had to go home? Hard to tell from the video angle, but it wouldn’t be the first time that a pitcher had screwed up that play. If this was the case, it would be a pretty fine call. Given all the argument from Ventura was about 1B, I also suspect that it was about the throw-over…

RichW
Guest

I don’t know if this site has any credibility but it seems to have more than a few rules hounds.

http://www.closecallsports.com/

Dan McCloskey
Editor

Jay is right. The occupation of the base has to do with the runner, not the fielder. The rule referenced in the manual is 8.05b not 8.05d.

Phil Gaskill
Guest
It’s funny that the rule book is “vague,” “confusing,” whatever words are being used here; the reason I think that’s funny is because the *previous* rule book was not only vague and confusing, but also very illogically “organized,” to use *that* word very loosely. In other words, what I’m saying is that the rule book is not only vague and confusing, but it’s the fact that it’s *STILL* vague and confusing. I used to be very familiar with the old rule book (we’re talking 1950s, ’60s, and ’70s here; I had the whole thing practically memorized in junior high school… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest

Wow, I wouldn’t want to see the old one then, because the more I look at the current one, the less impressed I am. The thing is confusing to contradictory in several places just from reading a small part of it.

Phil Gaskill
Guest
There was an incident in about 1979 or so that caused this rule to be clarified, at least in an official ML memo if not in the rule book itself. I forget all the details, but I think it was on an “accidental” incident when a pitcher went to throw over to first, only to discover to his horror that the first baseman was playing well off the bag, not holding the runner. (The pitcher had obviously thought or assumed that the first baseman *was* holding the runner.) So, to avoid a real bad throw, the pitcher readjusted his motion… Read more »
mosc
Guest
You guys, you’re missing why the rule exists. Lets say you have a runner on second and the shortstop comes in behind him, between the runner and second base. The pitcher then spins around and throws to the shortstop (NOT at second base) and has caught the runner. This is unfair to the baserunner. As a result, the rule states that the pitcher must throw to an occupied base. This does not mean simply that there is a runner on the base. It means also that he throws to said base, quite literally. He MUST throw to a base. Not… Read more »
topper009
Guest

Exactly, without this rule the defense could play man-to-man defense, just stand next to the runner and the pitcher can throw it right at you(which they can still do if the pitcher just simply steps off the mound) mid windup, essentially eliminating the leadoff

mosc
Guest

Which is why we’re taught at such a young age to get the hell back to base whenever the pitcher steps off the rubber. You’re not protected by the rule anymore and the pitcher doesn’t have to throw to the base anymore. Particularly when you’re on second, you are a sitting duck.

Dan McCloskey
Editor

The play you describe here mosc is not a balk. The rule only applies on pickoff throws to first base.

Jim Bouldin
Guest
I think John’s point is that the rule is faaaaaaaaaaaar from clear in the way it’s worded. In you example, there’s nothing from preventing the runner from breaking back to the bag, and if the pitcher throws it to the fielder off the bag, he’s not going to get him in most cases. Plus you would run into the real potential for runner interference if somebody tried to step between the runner and the bag, not to mention the possibility of hitting the runner with the ball, or the complete train wreck where both things happen at the same time.… Read more »
RichW
Guest
@mosc; That just isn’t so. The only base a pitcher must throw to or over is 1B. A pitcher can twirl and fake to 2B or 3B or he can throw to the second baseman third baseman or SS even if they are not at the bag as long as it is an attempt to retire a runner. Now that being said the pitcher is subject to rule 8.05h unnecessarily delaying the game after he is warned under rule 8.02c for throwing to fielders other than the catcher when it is deemed by the umpire to not be a legitimate… Read more »
Jim Bouldin
Guest
Dan McCloskey
Editor

The fielder has 100% of the right of way as long he is attempting to field a batted ball. If Casilla hadn’t turned his back, he could have shifted to the shortstop side of the bag as Peralta came across the bag and got out of his way. The rule book is pretty unforgiving here, but that’s the rule.

Dan McCloskey
Editor

Speaking of interesting plays, as I was looking for more information on the play that inspired this post, I found this, from 2008:

http://mlb.mlb.com/video/play.jsp?content_id=3287297

Mike Tycksen
Guest
I think you guys have missed the relevant part of the equation and that is what is making a play. There is the vicinity part of making a play and you must throw to the base. Since F3 was not is position to make a play (he was in a fielding position and not in the proximity of the base) and not in position to make a play and the throw was not to the bag. The pitcher was engaged with the rubber, he has to throw the ball to 1st base. This is your elements of the balk. Pitcher… Read more »
oneblankspace
Guest

So if a runner takes a 45-foot lead off of first, and the second baseman sneaks up behind him, the pitcher could not throw to the second baseman to retire the runner because the 2b is not at a base?

Mike tycksen
Guest

You are correct, if the pitcher is in contact with the pitching plate. Now if he disengaged, he is a fielder and can throw to the 2nd baseman.

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