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In many cases, not much happens after a balk. The runners get to advance one base, a defensive coach may squawk, but all playing action ceases. The latter is guaranteed in a high school game because the ball is immediately dead on all balks. Under NCAA and pro rules, the ball is also immediately dead if the pitcher hesitates and retains possession of the ball when he hears an umpire say, “That’s a balk.” However, if the pitcher continues and pitches or throws to a base after a balk, the ball remains live until playing action has ended and runners may advance beyond the base to which they are entitled at their own risk (NFHS 5-1-1k; NCAA 9-3 Pen. (1); pro 6.02a Pen.).

A balk, of course, is simply an illegal act by the pitcher with a runner or runners on base. Umpires must not only know when to keep the ball live, but they must also understand allowing the ball to remain live can create a variety of scenarios with some tricky interpretations.

When a balk causes the ball to be immediately dead, any count on the batter remains the same. The batter can never be awarded first on a balk (NCAA 9-3 Pen.; pro PBUC 8.9-1).

Pickoff.

If the pitcher balks and continues by throwing to a base and the ball is caught, that is the end of playing action; the ball is dead and any out is voided. In NCAA and pro, if the ball is overthrown and all runners advance at least one base, the balk is ignored. Runners may advance beyond the base to which they are entitled at their own risk. The umpire will call the balk in the usual manner, but should not call time until all play has ceased (runners have stopped trying to advance and/or a fielder is in possession of the ball in the infield). If all runners do not advance one base, the balk penalty is enforced (NCAA 9-3 Pen. (2); pro PBUC 8.9-7).

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Play 1:

With runners on first and second, F1 attempts a pickoff at first base. He balks prior to his release of the ball as R1 and R2 run on his first movement. F3 catches the pickoff throw and then throws wildly into left field in an attempt to retire R1. R2 scores on the continuation and R1 advances to third base. Ruling 1: The ball is dead when F3 catches the ball and the balk is enforced.

Play 2:

With R1 on first, F1 attempts a pickoff. He balks prior to his release of the ball and throws wildly to F3. R1 touches second and continues to third. F3 recovers the ball and throws to F5, who tags R1 sliding into the base. R1 is (a) safe, or (b) out. Ruling 2: In either case the play stands. R1 may advance beyond the base to which he is entitled at his own risk.

In a high school game, the balk was called as the pitcher overthrew to first. The lone runner made it to third and was returned to second because the ball was dead by rule. The defensive coach came out to argue the balk and would not accept the explanation. Finally, the umpire said, “OK, Coach, you’re right. That wasn’t a balk.” The umpire then let the play stand and allowed the runner to retain third base.

A runner who misses the first base to which he is advancing and who, prior to the next pitch, is later called out on appeal is considered as having advanced one base for the purpose of the balk rule (NCAA 9-3 Pen. (1) AR; pro 6.02a AR 2).

Pitch.

If the pitcher continues as the balk is called and the ball is batted and all runners (including the batter-runner) advance, the balk is ignored and the play stands. If the pitch is batted and not all runners (including the batter-runner) advance, the pitch is canceled and the balk is enforced. There are no options for either team. The results of the play determine whether the balk is enforced or ignored (NCAA 9-3 Pen. (1); pro PBUC 8.9-2).

If such a pitch is not batted, there are two possibilities. First, if the batter either swings and misses or he doesn’t swing and the pitch is caught by the catcher with no advance, the balk is enforced (NCAA 9-3 Pen. (1); pro PBUC 8.9-3).

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Next, if the pitch is not caught by the catcher and the result is ball four or strike three and all runners advance (including the batter-runner), the balk is ignored and play proceeds without reference to the balk; the result of the play stands. If the pitch is not caught by the catcher and only the runners advance (not the batter), the balk is “acknowledged,” the pitch is canceled and any play on the runners, who may advance beyond the base to which they are entitled at their own risk, stands (NCAA 9-3 Pen. (3) AR 2; pro PBUC 8.9-8).

Play 3:

With a runner on second and a 2-2 count, F1 balks but pitches wild. B1 swings for strike three and (a) makes it to first, or (b) is out at first base. R2 advances to third. Ruling 3: In (a), the balk is ignored. Both R2 and the batter-runner advanced one base. In (b), the balk is enforced. The batter-runner did not advance one base. R2 is awarded third and B1 is still at bat with a 2-2 count.

Play 4:

With a runner on first and a 1-1 count on B1, F1 balks and throws a wild pitch that allows R1 to advance to second. Ruling 4: The pitch is nullified and the balk is enforced because the batter did not advance. B1 remains at bat with a count of 1-1. R1 remains at second.

Play 5:

With a runner on first and a 2-0 count, F1 balks but pitches wild and B1 swings for strike one. R1 advances to second and continues to third where he is (a) out, or (b) safe. Ruling 5: The pitch is nullified and B1 remains at bat with a count of 2-0. In (a), R1’s out stands and in (b), he remains at third.

On the surface, the balk rule simplifies matters in NFHS, but if the pitcher continues his delivery after the balk and a home run follows, it might very well be the offensive coach who will argue the balk was not to be.

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