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

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.  

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