Balk or Bullshit?

Yesterday's Cardinals/Cubs Game was epic. Back-to-back home runs by the Cardinals to take the lead in the 9th Inning was incredible! But there was one play -- before the heroics -- which could have left a indelible mark on the Cardinals had they lost the game. Yesterday's play (at the time) was so controversial that Tim McCarver referenced Don Denkinger's infamous "Safe Call" from the 1985 World Series during the television broadcast.


The Play in Question: During the bottom of the 7th Inning, Cardinals pitcher Giovanny Gallegos pitched an apparent Third Strike against Tony Kemp. Kemp was declared "out" by the Home Plate Umpire. However, as Kemp was dejectedly walking to the dugout, the Third Base Umpire, called Kemp back to the plate. To the surprise of everyone, the Umpire was ruling that Gallegos had pitched a “Balk.” And therefore, the Third Strike against Kemp did not stand and Ben Zobrist (previously on Second Base) was awarded Third Base. The Cardinals announcers were stunned. Even Kemp truly looked surprised. This Balk decision became even more critical when – after Kemp had already been called out on strikes – Kemp hit a home run off Gallegos for the Cubs to take the lead in the game on the very next pitch.


The question remains: Was this a Balk?

Under MLB Rule 6.02(a) a Balk can be called in many situations. In one situation, under Rule 6.02(a)(13), a Balk is called when: “The pitcher delivers the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop.”


Does Gallegos come to a “stop” in his Third Strike pitch to Kemp? How long of a stop is needed? The rules do not clarify how long of a stop is required. However, one could interpret Gallegos as failing to come to a full and complete complete stop before delivering the pitch to Kemp.


Regardless though, I cannot recall a pitcher called for a Balk under Rule 6.02(a)(13) alone, and I could not find a recent Rule 6.02(a)(13)-Alone Balk. It is important to note that different rules -- Rules 5.07(a) and 6.02(a)(5) -- addresses “quick pitches”, like the ones that Pedro Strop throws. Quick pitches are meant to deceive the batter. But Rule 6.02(a)(13) is meant to prevent deceit of the runner. This is rarely called. Why? Perhaps the answer is in the Rule 6.02’s Official Commentary:


Rule 6.02(a) Comment: 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.


The reason Gallegos’s Pitch to Kemp wasn’t viewed a Balk by anyone other than the Third Base Umpire (and why Rule 6.02(a)(13) alone is very rarely used) is because the pitch action used by Gallegos here was clearly – to anyone who was watching – not done to “deliberately deceiving the base runner.” Gallegos’s delivery is the same for every pitch. His “micro-stop” is not long, but this exact delivery (1) is not a "quick pitch" and (2) it happens before every pitch – whether runners are on or not.

Bottom line: Gallegos’s pitch may be properly and strictly interpreted as a Balk through Rule 6.02(a)(13) because he could be seen as having delivered “the pitch from Set Position without coming to a stop.”


However, considering (1) the Official Commentary, (2) the apparent lack of “intent” of Gallegos to deceive the base runner, and (3) the rarity of the use of Rule 6.02(a)(13) alone to call a Balk, the Gallegos pitch should not have been ruled a “Balk.”

Adam Van Grack is an attorney at the law firm of Longman & Van Grack, LLC practicing litigation, business law, and sports law. Adam is a fan of the St. Louis Cardinals having attended Washington University in St. Louis for college and law school. Adam has been previously appointed as the Chair of a U.S. Olympic National Governing Body.