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NFHS Balk: pitcher TAKING A POSITION within 5 feet of plate - seeking understanding


Tog Gee

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a) This last year a young pitcher pulled the hidden ball trick, but he just went about a foot to the side of the plate and stood there. Maybe took a step or two around. He kept glancing at 2 to see what was going to happen. F6 had the ball. I balked it.

b) In a game I coached, I saw a silly HBT unfolding during a conference with the entire infield at the mound and I had my two runners stay on their bases. Even when everyone returned to their positions. Then the opposing pitcher stood a foot or less behind the plate and just kinda looked around and adjusted his glove. F5 had the ball. I have another question about this but it could completely derail the discussion.

I was convinced that both these actions were balks but I'm still reading the rules and studying, so questions arise.

When the HBT is on and the pitcher walks to the mound, what constitutes "taking a position within 5 feet"? Previously I thought it might be a balk to approach the plate and get within 5 feet of the plate without the ball. Period.

But, without the ball, is it a balk only if the pitcher without the ball kinda stands there upright within 5 feet? Do they have to be still or perhaps "act like a pitcher"?

Obviously, pitcher without ball, taking a sign or coming set off the plate is a balk, but I am curious when being within 5 feet becomes illegal.

 

 

6-2-5   It is also a balk if a runner or runners are on base and the pitcher,
while the pitcher is not touching the pitcher's plate, makes any movement naturally
associated with the pitch, or the pitcher places the feet on or astride the pitcher's
plate, or takes a position within approximately 5 feet of the pitcher's plate without
having the ball.

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29 minutes ago, Tog Gee said:

This last year a young pitcher pulled the hidden ball trick, but he just went about a foot to the side of the plate and stood there. Maybe took a step or two around. He kept glancing at 2 to see what was going to happen. F6 had the ball. I balked it.

In a game I coached, I saw a silly HBT unfolding during a conference with the entire infield at the mound and I had my two runners stay on their bases. Even when everyone returned to their positions. Then the opposing pitcher stood a foot or less behind the plate and just kinda looked around and adjusted his glove. F5 had the ball. I have another question about this but it could completely derail the discussion.

I was convinced that both these actions were balks but I'm still reading the rules and studying, so questions arise.

When the HBT is on and the pitcher walks to the mound, what constitutes "taking a position within 5 feet"? Previously I thought it might be a balk to approach the plate and get within 5 feet of the plate without the ball. Period.

But, without the ball, is it a balk only if the pitcher without the ball kinda stands there upright within 5 feet? Do they have to be still or perhaps "act like a pitcher"?

Obviously, pitcher without ball, taking a sign or coming set off the plate is a balk, but I am curious when being within 5 feet becomes illegal.

 

 

6-2-5   It is also a balk if a runner or runners are on base and the pitcher,
while the pitcher is not touching the pitcher's plate, makes any movement naturally
associated with the pitch, or the pitcher places the feet on or astride the pitcher's
plate, or takes a position within approximately 5 feet of the pitcher's plate without
having the ball.

If the picture is on or astride the rubber, It's a balk if he does not have the ball.

That part is easy.

Taking position within five feet of the rubber... To me this takes effect when the tag is placed on the runner. If the picture is within five feet of the rubber at the time that the hidden ball trick takes effect, Then it's a balk. Just being within five feet of the rubber and not having the ball doesn't make sense to me to automatically calling a balk.

And if the pitcher is pretending to take signs from the catcher behind the rubber, That's also a balk.

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Going to try an answer my own question so someone can just vote on whether I'm on track.

Maybe same spirit as NCAA rules: While not in possession of the ball, the pitcher stands with either foot or both feet on any part of the dirt area (circle) of the mound during a hidden-ball-play attempt;

So perhaps yes, standing within 5 feet is "taking a position" and a balk? Pitcher can walk past the mound and step on dirt without the ball, without balking?

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2 minutes ago, Tog Gee said:

Going to try an answer my own question so someone can just vote on whether I'm on track.

Maybe same spirit as NCAA rules: While not in possession of the ball, the pitcher stands with either foot or both feet on any part of the dirt area (circle) of the mound during a hidden-ball-play attempt;

So perhaps yes, standing within 5 feet is "taking a position" and a balk? Pitcher can walk past the mound and step on dirt without the ball, without balking?

Dirt circle/ within 5 feet,  yes,  but the hidden ball trick has to happen or it's nothing,  just being there does not Constitute a balk.

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To me, the key words are "takes a position". 

What is a position

Since it is not defined, then it is up to my understanding as the play is happening before me.  Any position within 5 feet of the rubber is a balk. 

If F1 is camping 3 feet from the rubber, without the ball, then I'm calling a balk if any attempt on the runner is made.  If they never try a tag on the runner, then play on.  No harm, no foul.

 

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I went ahead and lettered the two scenarios. And I think I worked it out.

I am convinced scenario A is a balk. Fake throw from F6, live ball, HBT. Doesn't matter if the HBT worked or if a tag was even attempted.

Scenario B is not a balk because time was called for the conference. Ump needs the pitcher to engage the plate with the ball in order to call "PLAY". Pitcher never even engaged. Still dead ball. (our young umpires rarely say "PLAY" or even point to F1 though)

If umpire was tricked as well when F5 ended up with the ball and called "PLAY" only to find out that the ball aint with F1, then there's no tag out at a base. Umpire then needs to get/request the ball to F1, so that they can engage and then properly put the ball in play?

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41 minutes ago, Tog Gee said:

If umpire was tricked as well when F5 ended up with the ball and called "PLAY" only to find out that the ball aint with F1, then there's no tag out at a base. Umpire then needs to get/request the ball to F1, so that they can engage and then properly put the ball in play?

Correct.  You can't balk with a dead ball.

 

On the OP -- the wording is to prevent some sort of "accidental balk" where F1 happens to cross (or be on) the mound within 5' without the ball.  Play" F1 throws to F3.  F3 fakes a throw back to F1 while F1 is still within 5'.  If R1 (nearly)  immediately moves off the base and is tagged out, it's an out.  If f1 move farther away from the rubber, not a balk.  If F1 pretends to catch the ball and stands near the rubber, it's a balk.

 

As always, dont' be a plumner on this (don't go looking for s***).  Make this balk call itself.

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3 hours ago, Ump242 said:

Dirt circle/ within 5 feet,  yes,  but the hidden ball trick has to happen or it's nothing,  just being there does not Constitute a balk.

I may be misunderstanding your post, but I think your post is saying there has to be a play on a/the runner for this flavor of HBT to be a balk. I respectfully disagree with that.

The rule says nothing about a play being made. Assuming the ball is live, the only conditions mentioned are (1) whether F1 has the ball and (2) whether F1 is within 5 feet of the pitcher's plate.

  1. No to the first, yes to the second:  balk.
  2. No to the first, no to the second:  nothing.
  3. Yes to the first, yes to the second:  nothing.
  4. Yes to the first, no to the second.  nothing.
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2 hours ago, Tog Gee said:

our young umpires rarely say "PLAY" or even point to F1 though

This needs to change. Below Major League Baseball games, the Plate Umpire is the only entity that can make a dead ball Live, and the only way they can do that is to either point and/or (audibly) call "Play". Umpires must understand this is very much a requirement. 

2 hours ago, Tog Gee said:

If umpire was tricked as well when F5 ended up with the ball and called "PLAY" only to find out that the ball aint with F1, then there's no tag out at a base.

Exactly. We (umpires) don't call a Balk because we were mistaken, or deceived, or embarrassed for feeling negligent in our job of knowing the location of the ball. For a more thorough discussion of this, check out this topic: 

To reiterate... you/we/any umpire cannot Balk this. It is simply "No Play". Because the conditions / requirements to make the ball Live were not met, then the act of making the ball Live was never valid. 
 

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I balked situation A. I was umping that game. I was also disappointed because the offense had a 25-0 lead. I think coach was inexperienced and just didn't know that he should call it off. Next year perhaps I will call my own time to dust off the plate in that scenario.

In my rec league we have a lot of newer, younger umpires. Which is a good thing. But they often miss or don't get OBS, they rarely say "play" nor do they point. And as a coach, I have to be a little accommodating and roll with it. At least this year we only had one game with no umpire, so it's all good.

In situation B, I was coaching, and I strongly suspected F1 had no baseball, and once the pitcher got near the plate there and the umpire kinda squatted down behind the catcher... in my league that's implied "play". Maybe he pointed (probably not). So once defense gave up and threw the ball back to pitcher, I asked for time (and a balk). Asking for balk was incorrect but I'm certain if the ump saw my runner tagged by F5 he would have called an out. So on offense I have to play defense against misunderstandings and misinformation. Thank goodness my runners held on their bases.

 

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On 11/30/2023 at 2:06 PM, Tog Gee said:

 what constitutes "taking a position within 5 feet"?

Tog, The Brethren have a saying...Sometimes you just have to umpire.

There exist many, many instances in the rules of nearly every sport specific measurements. In basketball, the jump ball circle is 4 feet in diameter and the foul line is 15 feet from the backboard. As "Coach Norman Dale" famously said after measuring the height of the rim and winding up the tape measure at the gym for the state championship in Indianapolis said, "...same as our gym back in Hickory."

So, in some cases in some sports like basketball when the rules state the jump ball circle is 4 feet...they also actually require that circle to be marked on the playing surface! The referee must still exercise their judgement, "Was the player fully outside the circle prior to the ball being touched by those participating in the jump ball?" but, I think we can all agree that having the circle marked on the playing surfaces makes life easier for everyone. Same for the face-off circle in ice hockey...

Baseball has a number of these situations in the rules where specific measurements are in the rules, but there are no visual aids to assist the umpires in using their judgement. What constitutes taking a position within 5 feet? Well...it's like my old ball coach used to tell us about what constitutes a foul ball..."The umpire will let us know. And that ball might be fair today and that same ball foul tomorrow and that's baseball."

Another one in baseball is calling a balk if the pitcher steps to the plate but throws to a base instead. What constitutes "being committed to going to the plate"? The umpire's judgement...now, internally, umpires are trained to draw an imaginary 45 ray line from the pitcher's back foot to the baseline. We then watch the plant foot. If he plants on the plate side of that imaginary line, he must go home. But, that's only internally amongst umpires. If we were ever talking to a coach about it, which we shouldn't be because it's judgement, we would never say, "Coach, he stepped on the plate side of the imaginary 45 degree line..." We would say, "Coach, in my judgement, he stepped towards the plate and needed to deliver home. He threw to first and by rule that's a balk." I've always thought it would be helpful to have a visual aid but, if it's chalk, it's going to get wiped out. Additionally, the ray line would move as pitchers setup back and forth across the rubber...

~Dawg 

 

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On 11/30/2023 at 11:38 AM, Ump242 said:

Just being within five feet of the rubber and not having the ball doesn't make sense to me to automatically calling a balk.

If you intend to enforce the rules as written, you'll call a balk if the ball is live and there are runners on base!   Also, FYI, the reason the rule says "within approximately 5 feet," is because many high school fields do not have a grass infield.

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2 hours ago, BigBlue4u said:

If you intend to enforce the rules as written, you'll call a balk if the ball is live and there are runners on base!   Also, FYI, the reason the rule says "within approximately 5 feet," is because many high school fields do not have a grass infield.

This is your second post recently that does not make any sense.

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The phrase "within approximately 5 feet" first entered the rule book in 1971 and the reason given for the new text didn't have anything to do with whether a school's diamond had a grass infield. The reason stated in the 1971 rule book was to clarify the rule's language.

I posted all that to refute this very same assertion about grass infields made in a thread that can be found in the Situations forum with the following title and date 

Hidden ball trick ... we got it! June 26, 2022

Perhaps someone could copy and paste my post in that thread dated July 2, 2022 to this thread please.

 

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In the 2016 BRD, Carl Childress wrote the following about FED rule 6-2-5

When the defense attempts a hidden-ball play, the pitcher may not stand "on or astride" or within "approximately five feet" of the pitcher's plate without the ball. Penalty:  Balk.

Nowhere in the section (pp. 269-270) about the way high school, college or pro ball rules on the hidden ball trick does it say that a tag attempt is required for a balk to be called on the pitcher for being on the mound near the rubber without the ball. Here's why--being near the rubber without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive.

I can't find anything that says that exactly for FED but I do have something for pro ball. From the 2021 Minor League Baseball Umpire Manual (section 6.30, p. 119):

"...Furthermore, the comment to Rule 6.02(a) stipulates that even in the absence of "a feint to pitch" in the above ruling, straddling the pitcher's rubber without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive and ruled a balk."

 

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On 12/1/2023 at 12:09 PM, Jimurray said:

Looking at the catcher, dugout, playcard while off the rubber is not a balk in any code.

It was in Texas (TASO) for some time between 2011–2018(?). I was exposed to this at a tournament, and a TASO umpire called it (a Balk), ironclad in the belief it was a Balk, based on his experience in Texas high school baseball that previous spring. 

The way that he explained it, or the way that TASO rationalized it, the receiving of signs off the rubber was both A) imitating a stance or movement associated with his F1's pitching stance, and B) compelling / influencing a Runner (R1, especially) from departing from the base and taking a lead, thwarting steal attempts. Of course, because of the advent of wrist-cards, and signals coming directly from the dugout, NFHS addressed this in 2021 by codifying that despite how the F1 gets the sign (and it's allowed), the F1 must look in at the F2 prior to coming set. 

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1 hour ago, MadMax said:

It was in Texas (TASO) for some time between 2011–2018(?). I was exposed to this at a tournament, and a TASO umpire called it (a Balk), ironclad in the belief it was a Balk, based on his experience in Texas high school baseball that previous spring. 

The way that he explained it, or the way that TASO rationalized it, the receiving of signs off the rubber was both A) imitating a stance or movement associated with his F1's pitching stance, and B) compelling / influencing a Runner (R1, especially) from departing from the base and taking a lead, thwarting steal attempts. Of course, because of the advent of wrist-cards, and signals coming directly from the dugout, NFHS addressed this in 2021 by codifying that despite how the F1 gets the sign (and it's allowed), the F1 must look in at the F2 prior to coming set. 

Yes, a welcome change. Not all TASO umpires balked a pitcher looking in at the catcher prior to the change but some literal umpires did. BTW the look in is required once the pitcher takes the rubber. The rationale for the balk previously didn't make sense. Looking in at the catcher while astride the rubber doesn't fool anyone and pitchers sometimes did it to be safe from any balk while the catcher may be giving extended defensive signals. If they then repositioned without any hint a coming set motion we allowed it.

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16 hours ago, Senor Azul said:

Here's why--being near the rubber without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive.

I can't find anything that says that exactly for FED but I do have something for pro ball. From the 2021 Minor League Baseball Umpire Manual (section 6.30, p. 119):

"...Furthermore, the comment to Rule 6.02(a) stipulates that even in the absence of "a feint to pitch" in the above ruling, straddling the pitcher's rubber without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive and ruled a balk."

 

Good point.  I just wish rule-makers would use the correct wordage: "..The intent to illegally deceive."

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1 hour ago, BigBlue4u said:

Good point.  I just wish rule-makers would use the correct wordage: "..The intent to illegally deceive."

Agreed. I've been know to pontificate about that exact point when discussing rules. Coaches and umpires alike many times say "it's deceiving the runner" when wanting a balk called or when calling a balk.

You can deceive the runner all you want. You just have to do it legally.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Thanks everyone for the input. I am not worried about whether a pitcher is 5 foot 3 inches away versus 4 feet 9 inches away from the plate, and I wasn't terribly concerned about precisely defining what "taking a position" means... I just wanted to educate myself further so I don't call a balk when there isn't one. I think I have it down now.

Edited by Tog Gee
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