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April 13, 2011

Prospectus Q&A

YOU Make the Call! Part II

by David Laurila

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Most baseball fans feel they know the rules, but many of them are actually misunderstood, at least their nuances and technical definitions. Even you are fairly well-versed in the rulebook, a primer never hurts, so BP asked the MLB Umpiring Department about 10 of them. Major League Baseball umpire supervisor Charlie Reliford, a 19-year major-league umpire, and Major League Baseball umpire supervisor Larry Young, a 23-year major-league umpire, provided the definitions and clarifications.

Today, we’ll delve into what is ruled a catch and a balk. You can view Part I here

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The Definition of a Catch

The definition of catch from Rule 2.00 in the Official Baseball Rules:

2.00 A CATCH is the act of a fielder in getting secure possession in his hand or glove of a ball in flight and firmly holding it; providing he does not use his cap, protector, pocket or any other part of his uniform in getting possession. It is not a catch, however, if simultaneously or immediately following his contact with the ball, he collides with a player, or with a wall, or if he falls down, and as a result of such collision or falling, drops the ball. It is not a catch if a fielder touches a fly ball which then hit’s a member of the offensive team or an umpire and then is caught by another defensive player. If the fielder has made the catch and drops the ball while in the act of making a throw following the catch, the ball shall be adjudged to have been caught. In establishing the validity of the catch, the fielder shall hold the ball long enough to prove that he has complete control of the ball and that his release of the ball is voluntary and intentional.

Rule 2.00 (Catch) Comment: A catch is legal if the ball is finally held by any fielder, even though juggled, or held by another fielder before it touches the ground. Runners may leave their bases the instant the first fielder touches the ball. A fielder may reach over a fence, railing, rope or other line of demarcation to make a catch. He may jump on top of a railing, or canvas that may be in foul ground.

No interference should be allowed when a fielder reaches over a fence, railing, rope or into a stand to catch a ball. He does so at his own risk. If a fielder, attempting a catch at the edge of the dugout, is “held up” and kept from an apparent fall by a player or players of either team and the catch is made, it shall be allowed.

Charlie Reliford: There is no time frame such as number of steps following the catch or how long the player held the ball. If, following a catch, the fielder falls, runs into a wall, or anything else during the momentum of the catch and drops the ball, it is “no catch.” If, however, the fielder drops the ball in the act of making the throw, it will be ruled a catch. This transfer to the throwing hand may be almost instantaneous, such as the double play at second. The umpire must judge whether the fielder dropped it before the attempt to throw or after.

A catch must be made in hand or glove. A player trapping a ball in flight under his arm would not be a catch yet. It would become a catch when he finally holds it in his hand or glove. A ball is still in flight if it rebounds off one defensive player to another before it touches the ground. It is no longer in flight if it touches an umpire or offensive player. A player using any of his equipment detached from its proper place would not be a catch, as well as a ball going into a player’s uniform is not a catch.

A runner who does not retouch his base after a catch may be put out on appeal under Official Baseball Rule 7.10:

7.10 Any runner shall be called out, on appeal, when—(a) After a fly ball is caught, he fails to retouch his original base before he or his original base is tagged; Rule 7.10(a) Comment: “Retouch,” in this rule, means to tag up and start from a contact with the base after the ball is caught. A runner is not permitted to take a flying start from a position in back of his base

The runner may retouch his base as soon as the fielder attempting the catch touches the ball, even though at this point the fielder has not completed the catch by the definition above. So if a fly deflects off one fielder and touches another, or a fielder juggles the ball and finally holds it, a runner may retouch as soon as the fly ball is touched by the defense. The fielder may reach over any line, fence, railing, etc. to make a catch. If, after making a catch, he falls into those areas, each runner will get one base.

5.10(f) When a fielder, after catching a fly ball, falls into a bench or stand, or falls across ropes into a crowd when spectators are on the field. As pertains to runners, the provisions of 7.04(c) shall prevail.

If a fielder after making a catch steps into a bench, but does not fall, the ball is in play and runners may advance at their own peril.

7.04 Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when —Rule 7.04(c) Comment: If a fielder, after having made a legal catch, should fall into a stand or among spectators or into the dugout or any other out-of-play area while in possession of the ball after making a legal catch, or fall while in the dugout after making a legal catch, the ball is dead and each runner shall advance one base, without liability to be put out, from his last legally touched base at the time the fielder fell into, or in, such out-of-play area.

If the fielder goes into the dead-ball area, such as the stands or dugout, before he catches the ball, it would be no catch. The rules were changed a decade ago to prevent a catch in the dugout as a safety measure. Before the rule change, a player would have been allowed to make a catch in the dugout.

The Balk Rule

Charlie Reliford: Most fans want a blanket opinion of a pitcher’s “move” to first. Each pickoff attempt at a base made by the pitcher may not violate one of the 13 balk rules in the Official Baseball Rules. We often hear one crew calls things that other crews don’t. Only one crew works a game at a time. The umpiring department does offer guidelines to promote consistency on balks from crew to crew. For example, the rule states a pitcher must step directly to a base. We define for the umpires that a step must have distance and direction to the base. The 13 ways to balk are defined by the rulebooks as:

8.05 If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when—(a) The pitcher, while touching his plate, makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch and fails to make such delivery;

Rule 8.05(a) Comment: If a lefthanded or righthanded pitcher swings his free foot past the back edge of the pitcher’s rubber, he is required to pitch to the batter except to throw to second base on a pickoff play.

(b) The pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first base and fails to complete the throw;

(c) The pitcher, while touching his plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base;

Rule 8.05(c) Comment: Requires the pitcher, while touching his plate, to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base. If a pitcher turns or spins off of his free foot without actually stepping or if he turns his body and throws before stepping, it is a balk. A pitcher is to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base but does not require him to throw (except to first base only) because he steps. It is possible, with runners on first and third, for the pitcher to step toward third and not throw, merely to bluff the runner back to third; then seeing the runner on first start for second, turn and step toward and throw to first base. This is legal. However, if, with runners on first and third, the pitcher, while in contact with the rubber, steps toward third and then immediately and in practically the same motion “wheels” and throws to first base, it is obviously an attempt to deceive the runner at first base, and in such a move it is practically impossible to step directly toward first base before the throw to first base, and such a move shall be called a balk. Of course, if the pitcher steps off the rubber and then makes such a move, it is not a balk.

(d) The pitcher, while touching his plate, throws, or feints a throw to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play;

(e) The pitcher makes an illegal pitch; Rule 8.05(e) Comment: A quick pitch is an illegal pitch. Umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter’s box. With runners on base the penalty is a balk; with no runners on base, it is a ball. The quick pitch is dangerous and should not be permitted.

(f) The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter;

(g) The pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with his pitch while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate;

(h) The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game; Rule 8.05(h) Comment: Rule 8.05(h) shall not apply when a warning is given pursuant to Rule 8.02(c) (which prohibits intentional delay of a game by throwing to fielders not in an attempt to put a runner out). If a pitcher is ejected pursuant to Rule 8.02(c) for continuing to delay the game, the penalty in

Rule 8.05(h) shall also apply. Rule 8.04 (which sets a time limit for a pitcher to deliver the ball when the bases are unoccupied) applies only when there are no runners on base.

(i) The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch;

(j) The pitcher, 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;

(k) The pitcher, while touching his plate, accidentally or intentionally drops the ball;

(l) The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher’s box;

(m) The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop.

PENALTY: The ball is dead, and each runner shall advance one base without liability to be put out, unless the batter reaches first on a hit, an error, a base on balls, a hit batter, or otherwise, and all other runners advance at least one base, in which case on play proceeds without reference to the balk.

One of the issues facing umpires occurs when players, managers, and fans add language to the rules. A good example is that many people think there is a 45-degree line that divides half the mound toward first and half toward the plate. That was an experimental rule tried some 25 years ago, but it was not adopted as a rule because a player could fail to step to a base yet still land in his 45-degree line toward first. Another example is that we often hear a pitcher must come set one second before delivering the pitch. The rule states that the pitcher must come to a complete stop with his foot on the ground before delivering the ball.  

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Next up: hit-by-pitches, boundary calls, and the ways to safely reach first base.

17 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

ScottyB

The balk rules still confuse me. I think Andy Pettite broke every one of them every time.

Apr 13, 2011 05:00 AM
rating: 1
 
herron

Hahaha. I was thinking the same thing. The idea was nice, but I'm at about the same understanding (or worse) than before I read this.

The 45 degree rule was best guideline that ever made sense to me, and I find out it's not even real!

"A good example is that many people think there is a 45-degree line that divides half the mound toward first and half toward the plate. That was an experimental rule tried some 25 years ago, but it was not adopted as a rule because a player could fail to step to a base yet still land in his 45-degree line toward first."

I'm not sure how you can land on the 45 degree line to first and not "step to a base".

I think this whole write up pretty much proves that no one has any idea, including literally the most qualified people on earth to determine one, exactly what a balk is.

Apr 13, 2011 07:44 AM
rating: 0
 
kmbart

The 45-degree line was an ABSOLUTE delineation of the boundary on the "step directly toward a base" requirement. Personally I prefer a 30-degree boundary, but since plenty of major-league umpires fail to call the 45-degree area, that's just wishful thinking on my part.

Apr 13, 2011 06:20 AM
rating: 0
 
BrownianNotion

Didn't this just state that there was no rule involving a 45-degree line for balks?

Apr 13, 2011 06:41 AM
rating: 1
 
kmbart

I was umpiring at the time they "tried out" this rule and I can tell you that 45-degrees is a LONG way from stepping towards the base. Much like having any part of your foot in contact with the batter's box line, the 45-degree line was overly generous in terms of allowing pitchers to step.

Apr 13, 2011 14:48 PM
rating: 0
 
bmmillsy

I find this nearly physically impossible:

"However, if, with runners on first and third, the pitcher, while in contact with the rubber, steps toward third and then immediately and in practically the same motion “wheels” and throws to first base, it is obviously an attempt to deceive the runner at first base, and in such a move it is practically impossible to step directly toward first base before the throw to first base, and such a move shall be called a balk."

Who pulled that one off that they had to make a rule about it?

This would also be impressive:

"(f) The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter;"

Apr 13, 2011 06:39 AM
rating: 0
 
T. Kiefer

Could you explain a catcher's balk?

If I remember right, I saw one: I was watching a Tiger's game, I believe last year, and the catcher, Alex Avila, scooped up a ball in the dirt after a pitch with his mask and a balk was called on *him*, not the pitcher. I was very confused, and still am!

Apr 13, 2011 07:02 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Clay Davenport
BP staff
(7)

There is no such thing as a catcher's balk, since only a pitcher can balk.

From rule 2: A BALK is an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base, entitling all runners to advance one base.

What you saw was simply an illegal act by the fielder, defined by rule 7.04e:

7.04 Each runner, other than the batter, may without liability to be put out, advance one base when— (e) A fielder deliberately touches a pitched ball with his cap, mask or any part of his uniform detached from its proper place on his person. The ball is in play, and the award is made from the position of the runner at the time the ball was touched.

7.04 (a) is for a balk, (b) covers being forced to advance because the batter was awarded first, (c) is when a fielder falls into the stands with the ball, and (d) is from a catcher interfering with a batter during a stolen base attempt.

Since it is covered by the same rule which covers a balk, the name confusion is understandable, but it isn't unique to a catcher - any fielder can do it - and it isn't a balk.

Apr 13, 2011 08:02 AM
 
Behemoth

What would make this even more useful would be to have clips showing examples of what is and isn't OK in the various situations. I know there may be copyright issues, but, if these could be overcome, it would help to make things more real.

Apr 13, 2011 07:31 AM
rating: 1
 
Doom Service

Monday night's Tuscon at Salt Lake City game ended in the 13th inning when Tuscon catcher Guillermo Quiroz was called under 7.04(e) for using his mask to corral a loose ball. Yes, a walkoff catcher's mask corral.

http://web.minorleaguebaseball.com/news/print.jsp?ymd=20110412&content_id=17675980&vkey=news_t549&fext=.jsp&sid=t549

Apr 13, 2011 08:44 AM
rating: 0
 
Flynnbot

there was a dodgers game several years ago where they won when a catcher named Encarnacion picked up the ball with his mask

Apr 13, 2011 11:01 AM
rating: 0
 
Drungo

Can anyone explain part f?

(f) The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter;

How is that even possible? Why would anyone want to do this? Is this a bizarre leftover from the pitcher's box days, pre-1893? Or maybe a Max Patkin trick, throwing the ball through his legs or something? Why would that be illegal?

Also, why is there a penalty for dropping the ball? If a pitcher wants to devise some crazy feint where he drops the ball, goes and recovers it, and tricks the runner into running himself into an out, I say good on 'em.

Apr 13, 2011 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
gjhardy

David, it would be great if you could get them to explain this obscure rule: The STRIKE ZONE is that area over home plate the upper limit of which is a horizontal line at the midpoint between the top of the shoulders and the top of the uniform pants, and the lower level is a line at the hollow beneath the kneecap. The Strike Zone shall be determined from the batter’s stance as the batter is prepared to swing at a pitched ball.

Apr 13, 2011 09:38 AM
rating: 1
 
Dan W.

David,

The use of the term "retouch" may be complicating matters some, but I think you've answered a longstanding question of mine, which is: Tie game, man on third, one out, fly ball deep enough that the OF can't throw the runner out at home. Am I right that the OF can't intentionally bobble the ball so as to delay the runner on third from breaking for home (or deceive him into breaking and having to then go back once the "catch" is actually made)?

Apr 14, 2011 07:45 AM
rating: 0
 
R.A.Wagman

Yes - from Charlie Reliford: "The runner may retouch his base as soon as the fielder attempting the catch touches the ball, even though at this point the fielder has not completed the catch by the definition above. So if a fly deflects off one fielder and touches another, or a fielder juggles the ball and finally holds it, a runner may retouch as soon as the fly ball is touched by the defense." As soon as the fielder touches the ball, the runner can tag and take off.

Apr 14, 2011 08:23 AM
rating: 0
 
BrewersTT

The catcher's mask corral - how is that scored? Error? Interference? Or just "advanced on 7.04(e) (catcher)"?

Apr 14, 2011 12:28 PM
rating: 0
 
drawbb

I've seen literally dozens of fielders make catches while diving or falling into the stands, but never once seen baserunners awarded an extra base because of it as 7.04(c) states they should.

I can only conclude that it's treated as a gentlemen's agreement not to enforce, like the failure to cite catchers for obstruction when blocking the plate without having possession of the ball.

Apr 20, 2011 13:42 PM
rating: 0
 
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