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February 13, 2017 6:00 am

Flu-Like Symptoms: The Year of the Balk


Rob Mains

It turns out that 1988 was more than the year of Kirk Gibson's home run and the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan.

You may have seen that Chris Carter’s agent, Dave Stewart, threatened that the 2016 National League co-home run leader might play in Japan this season. (He wound up taking his two-and-a-half true outcomes to The Bronx.) That story made me think of something I’ve wanted to write about Dave Stewart. But before I can do that, I need to tell you about something else.

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Watching 50 balks to get a read on an imprecise rule, arbitrarily applied.

“I never called a balk in my life. I didn't understand the rule.” Ron Luciano, former major-league umpire

For all the talk about how complicated the infield fly rule is, it’s got nothing on the balk. The balk is, as I’ve always heard it said, more of a philosophy—“Don’t deceive the runner”— than a strict set of rules. Which is nuts, because deception is part of the game and always part of the pitcher’s attempt to hold a runner on. Varying how many looks a pitcher takes at the runner is deceptive, for instance, but certainly no balk. So “don’t deceive the runner in particularly defined ways” is more appropriate, but if these ways are particularly defined … well, now we’re out of philosophy and into a strict set of rules, after all. Do the rules make sense? Are they understandable, identifiable? Can we understand them and identify them? Let’s GIF* it a shot.

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Former teammates become foes in a tremendous battle of rising young arms in this week's GotW.

NOTE: If you downloaded TINSTAAPP Ep 8 on Monday or Tuesday, the file was messed up and it's now fixed.

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