Controversial Balk Call
The Phils and Braves met in Philadelphia on April 22. In the top of the fourth inning, the Braves had Brandon Phillips on second base and two outs when Phils’ right-hander Jerad Eickhoff was called for a balk by umpire Tripp Gibson.
After Phillips broke for third base, Eickhoff, a right-hander, made an inside move with a quick step toward third base then continued with a second step and threw to third baseman Maikel Franco, who tagged Phillips going from second to third. But the tag was for naught because Phillips was awarded third base because of the balk call. Before reading further, take a look at the play on the link below.
The question is, do you agree or disagree with the call? And why do you agree or disagree?
- Rule 6.02 (a) (2) reads, “If there is a runner or runner on base it is a balk if a pitcher feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw.”
(see pg. 71 in the 2017 Official Baseball Rules)
Rule 6.02 (a) (4) reads, “If there is a runner or runners on base it is a balk when the pitcher, while touching the plate, throws or feints to an unoccupied base, except for the purpose of making a play.”
(see pg. 72 in the 2017 Official Baseball Rules)
Because rule 6.02 (a) (4) draws a distinction between an occupied base vs. a non-occupied base, in my opinion rule 6.02 (a) (2) tacitly covers situations where a base is occupied whereas 6.02 (a) (4) covers situations where a base is not occupied. In the above play, third base was not occupied at the time of the pitch. Therefore, by rule, I would not have called a balk based on the language in 6.02 (a) (4).
“Purpose of Making a Play”
Because Phillips made what appeared to me to be a strong move to third base, I think Eickhoff was within his rights to make the feint toward the unoccupied third base because his intent was to make a play based on the progress and intent of the runner. That of course is umpire judgment and from my perch, it appeared that Phillips’ intent was to go to third base.
I thought I had made a reasonable analysis of the rule until I learned the MLB interpretation which is not consistent with rule 6.02 (a) (4). According to MLB, since 2013, any feint to third should be ruled a balk regardless of whether third base was occupied or not. The only base now (since 2013) that a feint can be made legally for the purpose of making a play is second base.
I respect the opinion but that is a flagrant contradiction of the rule book. If a runner is breaking for third, why shouldn’t a pitcher be able to feint there to get the runner to go back or to start a rundown? What competitive advantage is he gaining as long as he is making a play? Directives are supposed to clarify rules, not supplant them. And if it was illegal to make a feint toward third base since 2013, why has rule 6.02 (a) (4) continued to exist for the last three years?
Rule 6.02 (a) (4) needs to be amended or scrapped. It’s not worth the paper it’s written on.
BTW- This whole thing could have been averted if Eickhoff had simply stepped back off the rubber and ran at the runner to initiate a rundown.