How a Minor League Hidden Ball Tricked Worked
The Carolina Mudcats (Brewers) executed the hidden ball trick, one of baseball’s oldest ruses, when they hosted the Buies Creek Astros of the Class A Advanced Carolina League on May 3, 2018.
In the top of the seventh inning, the Astros, with runners on first and second, pulled off a successful double steal when the Mudcats’ catcher fired late to Lucas Erceg, the Mudcats’ third baseman. Erceg faked throwing the ball back to pitcher Wuilder Rodriguez and kept the ball in his glove. Buies Creek runner, Kyle Tucker, held third base for a time. Unaware that Erceg had the ball, Tucker then stepped off the base and was tagged by Erceg while the ball was alive.
It did not appear that the field umpire, Austin Jones, knew where the ball was. But apparently, the plate umpire, Ryan Wilhelms, kept his eye on the ball. After Erceg tagged Tucker off the base, the two umpires met and Tucker was declared out since “Time” was never called and the ball remained alive and in play. Astros’ manager Omar Lopez argued the call and was banished by Wilhelms.
The question is whether or not Rodriguez should have been called for a balk because he was on the dirt portion of the mound when Tucker was tagged?
The answer is no.
For a balk to be called during a hidden balk trick situation, the pitcher must be standing on or astride (straddling) the rubber without the ball and the ball must be alive and in play. Rodriguez never did toe the rubber or straddle it. The umpires were correct in allowing the putout at third base.
Rule 6.02 (a) (9) reads, “ If there is a runner or runners (on base), it is a balk when the pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch.”
I recall a couple of years ago a TV analyst, who was a former player, incorrectly stated that the pitcher should be charged with a balk because he had stepped on the dirt portion of the mound without the ball in a hidden ball trick situation. I think the confusion arises because the high school and college rule is different and perhaps there is a long standing myth about the rule. Under high school rules, the pitcher cannot be within approximately five feet of the pitcher’s plate without having the ball. Playing under college rules, the pitcher may not stand with one or both feet on any part of the dirt area of the mound.
Video Clips of Hidden Ball Tricks
On August 10, 2013, in a Tampa Bay loss to the Dodgers, Rays’ third baseman Evan Longoria caught Juan Uribe sleeping in the fourth inning.
On September 19, 2013, Colorado Rockies first baseman Todd Helton caught the Cardinals’ Matt Carpenter for the final out of the first inning at Coors Field. Thanks to the hidden ball trick the Rockies went on to win 7-6 in a 15- inning game that was the second-longest in Coors Field history.
Defensively, the hidden ball trick can never be executed after “Time” has been called. Once “Time” is called, the pitcher has to have the ball in his possession and engage the rubber before the ball can legally be put back into play. Stepping onto the rubber without the ball is not a balk because the ball is dead when “Time” is called.
- Offensively, runners as well as the base coaches, must always be aware of where the ball is.
- Runners and base coaches should watch for fake throws on the part of infielders to the pitcher. This sometimes happens after an attempted pick at first base or after the ball has come in from the outfield.
- Pitchers must be aware of the balk rule regarding the hidden ball trick.
- Umpires must always know where the ball is.