I remember a when a young umpire who was attending an umpiring school with the goal of becoming a professional arbiter asked me, “What is the strike zone?”
At the time, I was working the Clint Hurdle Big League Experience baseball camp and we were on break. A number of youngsters were standing around, wondering what the strike zone really was. I told the umpire that it was different at different levels, but “It’s a strike if you call it a strike.”
He asked me again, and I told them what our zone was at the community college level, but he wasn’t satisfied that I repeated “It’s a strike if you call it a strike.” He was trying to get it perfectly right, and I appreciated the effort. There is far too much individuality with the zone.
Finally, one of the directors of the umpiring school came by and asked what we were talking about. The young ump repeated his question and my answer. And the old pro umpire said, “The coach is right.” For whatever reason, including the “human factor,” umpires have their own zone, no matter book rule.
The balk, which is the questions for today, is not quite so personalized.
When reading the MLB.com Official Info, or the MLB rule book, the balk is specific.
There are umpteen types of balks, but the book is technical in nature with 13 separate ways to commit a balk listed. Quite often on television or the radio they speak of the “intent to deceive” the base runner constituting a balk. That would seem to imply the umpire must attempt to read minds, thus leaving at least some balks open to interpretation, and subjective. In fact, the book rule is 8.05(c), which discusses “intent to deceive,” also explains what to look for.
All-in-all, the balk is technical in nature. There is, of course, the human element, which leads some umpires to look for a balk at every opportunity. Otherwise, we wouldn’t have “Balkin’ Bob” Davidson, who sees the evil of the balk more than anyone in the game.
From observation, both as a coach and a fan, I have noticed that most balks are innocent mistakes, due to lack of focus. While many pitchers will attempt to test the boundaries of the law, most tend to be called on a flinch at the big league level.
You can take a look at the rule book on balks here.
Have a baseball question you would like a coach’s opinion on? Leave it in the comments or send it via Twitter to @Aerys_MLB or @WayneTyson11.
Our coach is Wayne Tyson, who was a high school and community college baseball coach for 26 years including six years at Florida Air Academy. His FAA team won the Florida Class 3A State Championship in 1998 and was runner-up in 1999, when the team included freshman Prince Fielder. Wayne currently writes for Cowbell Clankers, the Aerys Sports home of the Tampa Bay Rays.