What is a Balk In Baseball? (Full Guide)

If you’re a beginner in baseball, you might be wondering what is a balk. Fans from the seats make this call, which often results in some jeering.

A balk is an illegal act committed by the pitcher. It’s a violation wherein the pitcher pretends to pitch without throwing the ball. This illegal move results in either a dead ball or a delayed dead ball. However, some cases can either be wholly or partially disregarded, depending on the decisions of the officiating staff.

Take note that pitchers can balk in different ways. Also, you might be wondering as to who has the most balks in MLB history. Here, you’ll take a deep dive into the main topic as you explore the balk term in baseball and other relevant information.

Balk in Baseball

A balk in baseball happens when a pitcher makes an illegal motion to fool runners. If the umpire calls a pitcher out for balking, the official will award players on bases with the next base. Moreover, if the pitcher throws the ball but doesn’t intend to throw it at the batter, this move is a dead ball.

Here’s a snippet from the official 2019 MLB rules about balks:

6.02 Pitcher Illegal Action

(a) Balks

If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when the pitcher:

1. While touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery
2. While touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw
3. While touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base
4. While touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except to make a play
5. Makes an illegal pitch
6. Delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter
7. Makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate
8. Unnecessarily delays the game
9. Without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch
10. After coming to a legal pitching position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base
11. While touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally has the ball slip or fall out of his hand or glove
12. While giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box
13. Delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop

3 Examples of a Balk in Baseball

Example 1

Balks can either be intentional or unintentional. In the case of the latter, an umpire can call a pitcher for balking if he flinches accidentally while touching the rubber. Umpires and other officiating staff can deem flinching as a deceptive move, which leads to base holders walking to the next bases.

Example 2

Another incident of unintentional balking can happen when a pitcher accidentally steps off the rubber. Furthermore, the player does this move with his throwing foot (the right foot for left-handed pitchers and the left foot for right-handed pitchers).

Example 3

The pitcher throws the ball to the catcher. However, the catcher isn’t in the catcher’s box. Take note that this area has dimensions of 43 x 8 inches. Stepping outside the box while catching the ball will result in a balk.

Furthermore, here’s a compilation of balks in MLB you can check out:

Who Has the Most Balks in MLB History?

Despite it being an illegal move, a balk can make (or break) a play in baseball. With that in mind, some players in MLB history seem to have a fondness for doing this illicit act.

Steve Carlton

Steve Carlton

Steven Norman Carlton holds the most number of balks in MLB history. He made 90 balks throughout his major league career. Some fans even call the 1988 season to be ‘The Season of the Balk,’ in which Carlton was one of the contributors to that moniker.

Despite his attachment to balking, many baseball enthusiasts can’t deny Carlton’s baseball skill. He’s even in the Philadelphia Phillies Wall of Fame. Plus, Carlton acquired the Gold Glove Award in 1981 and the Triple Crown in 1972.

Dave Stewart

Dave Stewart

Dave Keith Stewart is a baseball legend with a win-loss record of 168-129. Nicknamed ‘Smoke,’ Stewart has his fair share of highlights and awards during his time in the MLB. For instance, he was part of the teams that became the champions of the World Series in 1981, 1989, and 1993. Moreover, he became the World Series MVP in 1989.

However, Stewart would also balk as frequently as Carlton. In 1988, it took 17 innings for him to gain four balks. Although the number is reasonably low, many professional baseball players prefer not to have a balk in their records.

Spec Shea

Although Francis Joseph ‘Spec’ Shea doesn’t have as many balks as Carlton or Stewart, he has one of the most memorable balks in MLB history.

It was during the 1947 World Series match between the New York Yankees and the Brooklyn Dodgers. Here, Shea fumbled the ball as he attempted to put out Jackie Robinson at first base. Another failed attempt at putting out the 2nd baseman made the umpire call him out for balking, allowing Robinson to take 2nd base.

Final Words

A pitcher can intentionally or unintentionally balk, which leads to base holders walking to the next bases. Umpires will call pitchers out when they make this illegal move. Despite its illicitness, some players, like Dave Stewart and Steve Carlton, still committed to this move.

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