What You Don’t Know About the Hidden Ball Trick
One of baseball’s rarest plays, the hidden ball trick, is simultaneously gratifying and embarrassing. If you’re the fielder who pulls off this bit of defensive magic, it becomes one of the more satisfying moments of the season. If you’re the embarrassed runner, well, there is no hole deep enough to hide from the humiliation of being called out for not paying attention.
The hidden ball trick is when a play has ended and the fielder fakes giving the ball back to the pitcher. The fielder goes back to his position with the ball and the pitcher head toward the mound. The hidden ball trick requires somewhat of a team effort and the cooperation of the umpire crew. Here are some of the components of the hidden ball trick:
- Time must not be called after the previous play. This takes the cooperation of the umpire crew. Most often the home plate umpire will call “time” after a play so he can get reset for the next pitch.
- The pitcher must be in accordance with league rules regarding his position on or near the mound. One universal rule regarding the pitcher is that he may not feint a pitch, nor may he put the rosin bag in his glove in an attempt to make it appear like it is a baseball. Here are four different league interpretations.
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.
It is also a balk if a runner or runners are on base and the pitcher, while he is not touching the pitcher’s plate, makes any movement naturally associated with his pitch, or he places his feet on or astride the pitcher’s plate, or positions himself within approximately five feet of the pitcher’s plate without having the ball.
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.
PENALTY FOR A BALK: The balk applies only to Intermediate (50-70) Division/ Junior/ Senior/ Big League.
(1) Straddling the pitcher’s plate without the ball is to be interpreted as intent to deceive and ruled a balk.
How the Hidden Ball Trick Works Best
Most often the hidden ball trick works best right after a play at a base – after a pick-off attempt is the most common time. The pitcher throws to the base, runner dives back to the base, and the fielder fakes a throw back to the pitcher but actually holds on to the baseball. Some fielders have hidden the ball by holding it under their arm, so that their glove is empty. However, placing it in their pocket is no longer legal. The runner doesn’t realize the fielder kept the ball and he wanders off the base and is tagged out.
Matt Williams, a former third baseman for the San Francisco Giants and Arizona Diamondbacks had an interesting strategy. On more than one occasion, Williams would politely ask the runner if he would move off the base so Williams could sweep the dirt off. He would then tag out the obliging runner.
Ted Barrett explains the Official Baseball Rules regarding the pitcher who is in on the hidden ball trick attempt.
Here are is an example of a successful hidden ball trick play: