Friday, February 3, 2023

Rick Cleveland on Sports – On A Balk Call

images-1So, we were watching Game One of the Lafayette Super Regional on TV. UL Lafayette was two runs up on Ole Miss when Rebel relief pitcher Jeremy Massie was called for a balk, allowing another run to score.
That’s when I made a critical mistake.
“Where was the balk?” I asked to no one in particular.
They showed the pitch again, and I asked again:
“Where the (devil) was the balk?”
And then came these words from my wife: “Honey, what’s a balk?”
Instantly, I was reminded of what Leo Durocher once said about baseball. Said Leo the Lip, “Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand.”
Fewer, still, understand a balk.
My wife does not understand. She appreciates the beauty of a well-groomed baseball diamond. She knows left field from right. Most times, she knows a hit from an error. She definitely knows the home team bats last. She loves the fact you can watch a baseball game and work a crossword puzzle at the same time. She thinks Chipper Jones is “really cute.”
But she does not know what constitutes a balk (and neither, apparently, did the home plate umpire at UL Lafayette).
So, you tell me: How does one explain a balk?
Well, it’s like this….
Only, it isn’t.
Better to keep it simple. Balks occur when the pitcher tries to deceive a base-runner. When that happens, the umpire calls a balk and the base-runners advance one base.
Pretty good explanation, or so I thought.
“You got to be more specific than that,” my wife said.


Now seems the right time to point out that the official rules of baseball contain a lengthy treatise on what constitutes a balk. When I say lengthy, I really mean interminable. Baseball’s rule book uses precisely 3,302 words to explain all the ins and outs of what constitutes a balk. In other words, if you really want to explain a balk to the uninitiated, you can do so in about the time it takes to play a doubleheader with several rain delays.
A balk is really complicated, because if you really want to explain a balk, you must first explain such intricacies as a pitcher’s set position vs. a wind-up and the importance of whether or not a pitcher’s foot is in contact with the rubber.
Try it sometime….
“Rubber? Why do they call it a rubber?”
You also have to also explain why it’s OK to fake a pick-off throw to second base or third base, but not to first base.
So, it’s OK to deceive a runner on second base or third base, but not first base?
Just because.
See, the problem is, you would have to know why it’s OK to fake a throw to second base and not to first, and I don’t. Do you?
That makes no sense, she said.
And she’s right.
She usually is.
I don’t have a clue how they came up with the rules for a balk. But those rules date back to 1898 and I do understand them for the most part. I just do not understand how some umpires interpret said rules. Neither did Steve Carlton, the great left-hander. He balked 90 times, a Major League record.
By the way, the official explanation from the umpire in Lafayette was that Massie, the Ole Miss lefty, did not come to a pause.
But Massie did pause. He paused and he in fact paused pregnantly, which is something my wife does understand much better than I.


Rick Cleveland ( is the executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum.