There are a large number of rules that apply only to the pitcher, and nearly all of them apply only when the pitcher is in contact with or astride the pitching plate (the "rubber"). When there are runners on base, these actions result in a balk. When there are no runners on base, most (but not all) of these actions result instead in an illegal pitch.

The penalty for a balk is that all base runners are awarded one base. The penalty for an illegal pitch is awarding one ball to the batter (unless the batter reaches first base safely on the pitch).

A balk is a delayed dead ball. When you call a balk, verbalize it loudly. If the pitch is delivered, wait until the catcher receives the ball and then call time, announce the balk, and award bases. If on the pitch the ball is put in play, allow play to conclude.

Important: If the ball is put in play on a balk and all runners, including the batter-runner, advance at least one base, then wave off the balk and play on. If all runners do not advance one base safely, wait for action to conclude and then enforce the balk.

Note: High school (NFHS) rules differ in that balks are an immediate dead ball, regardless of the outcome of the pitch. For reference, see FED Rules 6-2-4 and 6-2-1.

The rules covering balks, 6.02(a)(1-13), lists thirteen infractions that result in a balk if runners are on base. Rules 6.02(b) and (c) deal with illegal pitches (infractions with the bases unoccupied) and with "pitching prohibitions." Rule 6.02(d) outlines penalties and remedies.

Following are summaries of the thirteen sections of 6.02(a), along with brief commentaries.

(1)  The pitcher, while touching the plate, makes any motion naturally associated with the pitch and fails to make such delivery;

(2)  The pitcher, while touching the plate, feints a throw to first base or third base and fails to complete the throw;

(3)  The pitcher, while touching the plate, fails to step directly toward a base before throwing to that base;

(4)  The pitcher, while touching the plate, throws, or feints a throw, to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play;

(5)  The pitcher makes a "quick pitch"; umpires will judge a quick pitch as one delivered before the batter is reasonably set in the batter's box.

(6)  The pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while not facing the batter;

(7)  The pitcher makes any motion naturally associated with the pitch while not touching the pitcher's plate;

(8)  The pitcher unnecessarily delays the game;

(9)  The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher's plate or, while off the plate, feints a pitch;

(10)  The pitcher, while touching the plate, accidentally or intentionally drops the ball;

(11)  The pitcher, while giving an intentional base on balls, pitches when the catcher is not in the catcher's box.

PENALTY: The pitch shall be called a ball. If a play follows the illegal pitch the manager of the offense may advise the plate umpire of a decision to decline the illegal pitch penalty and accept the play. Such election shall be made immediately at the end of the play. However, if the batter hits the ball and reaches first base safely, and if all base-runners advance at least one base on the action resulting from the batted ball, the play proceeds without reference to the illegal pitch. NOTE: A batter hit by pitch shall be awarded first base without reference to the illegal pitch.

(12)  The pitcher, after coming to a legal position, removes one hand from the ball other than in an actual pitch, or in throwing to a base;

(13)  The pitcher delivers the pitch from the set position without coming to a stop.


Penalties for balks

Penalty for a balk: 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 the play proceeds without reference to the balk. When a balk is called and the pitch is delivered it will be considered neither a ball nor strike unless the pitch is ball four (4) awarding the batter first base and forcing all runners on base to advance.

Note: Umpires should bear in mind that the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately deceiving the base runner. If there is doubt in the umpire's mind, the "intent" of the pitcher should govern. However, certain specifics should be borne in mind:

  1. Straddling the pitcher's plate without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive and ruled a balk.
  2. With a runner on first base, and the runner attempting to steal second, the pitcher may make a complete turn, without hesitating toward first, and throw to second. This is not to be interpreted as throwing to an unoccupied base.

Approved Ruling 1: In cases where a pitcher balks and throws wild, either to a base or to home plate, a runner or runners may advance beyond the base to which he is entitled at his own risk.

Approved Ruling 2: A runner who misses the first base to which that runner is advancing and who is called out on appeal shall be considered as having advanced one base for the purpose of this rule.

Note:   On any play on which a balk occurs, if action advances the batter-runner to first base and also advances all runners at least one base, the balk is nullified. Also note that if the pitch is delivered, it counts against pitch count, even if the balk is nullified.


The "catcher's balk"

In addition to the thirteen sections of Rule 6.02(a), you should also pay attention to the related issue of the "catcher's balk":

Rule 5.02(a). If a catcher leaves the catcher's box before the pitcher delivers the pitch (as when giving an intentional walk), the pitcher shall be charged with a balk (with runners on base), or with no runners on, an illegal pitch (ball to the batter).

Rule 6.01(g). If, with a runner on third base and trying to score by means of a squeeze play or steal, the catcher or any other fielder steps in front of home base without possession of the ball, or touches the batter or the bat, the pitcher shall be charged with a balk ("catcher's balk"), the batter shall be awarded first base on the interference ("catcher's interference") and the ball is dead.