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MLB to ban the fake-to-third pickoff play?

May 10, 2012, 2:00 PM EDT

Baseball rule book

I didn’t see this one coming, did you?

Major League Baseball is poised to pick off the much-maligned move, the fake-to-third, throw-to-first ploy that often succeeds only in getting the whole ballpark to shout “Balk!” …

… The Playing Rules Committee has approved a proposal to make it a balk, too, with MLB executives and umpires in agreement. The players’ union vetoed the plan for this season to discuss it further. MLB is allowed to implement the change after a one-year wait … Under the new wording, a pitcher could not fake to third unless he first stepped off the rubber.

It doesn’t work all that often, but really, I’m not sure what the impetus is here. Do we care that a handful of fans think it’s a balk all the time even if it isn’t?  Is anyone really animated about this?  Seems to me you shouldn’t change rules without a compelling reason.

  1. The Dangerous Mabry - May 10, 2012 at 2:09 PM

    I know I’m a part of the group that knows that it isn’t a balk, but screams “BALK!” anyway, because, you know, that’s just what you do. It’s just like claiming that a pitch was clearly a strike when sitting in the upper deck in left field.

    We fans have obligations.

  2. bigleagues - May 10, 2012 at 2:10 PM

    As I always say, you need ‘bud’ to #ThinkLikeBud.

    Let’s eliminate a perfectly legal fake to 3B that hasn’t been a perceivable issue at all – ever. Just because . . . we can.

    And while we’re at it, can we take a vote on the “Pitch Clock”? I understand Tag Heuer is eager to sponsor it.

    • nothanksimdriving123 - May 10, 2012 at 2:22 PM

      And no NHL-style replay system for close plays at the bases, ever, because improving the integrity of the sport by ensuring the fairest possible outcomes would be horrible, and the game must never, ever change, ever, or it will die. That’s why we we will never have night games under electric lights, or a harder ball than we had in 1880, or racial integration, or split the leagues into divisions, or have a DH or interleague play, or, or or…

      • bigleagues - May 10, 2012 at 6:13 PM

        Some of what you listed are good, fair, practical improvements and enhancements.


        I just made up the idea of a ‘pitch clock’ a few weeks ago to illustrate how absurd the tidal wave of changes have become (maybe someone has seriously put this forth previously? If so please point him out so I can openly ridicule them).

        Baseball has NO clock. It’s again one of the few remaining original qualities of the sport that keeps separates it from America’s other team sports.

        But if you #thinklikebud – there is nothing about the game that isn’t changeable.

      • mcsnide - May 10, 2012 at 6:57 PM

        Hmmm, pitch clock. You mean like Rule 8.04?

        When the bases are unoccupied, the pitcher shall deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds after he receives the ball. Each time the pitcher delays the game by violating this rule, the umpire shall call “Ball.” The 12-second timing starts when the pitcher is in possession of the ball and the batter is in the box, alert to the pitcher. The timing stops when the pitcher releases the ball.
        The intent of this rule is to avoid unnecessary delays. The umpire shall insist that the catcher return the ball promptly to the pitcher, and that the pitcher take his position on the rubber promptly. Obvious delay by the pitcher should instantly be penalized by the umpire.

      • bigleagues - May 10, 2012 at 9:52 PM


        Please dude, I originated the snarky comment. And definitely don’t quote the rule book to me. I’ve read it start to finish more times than you’ve cared to cut and paste it as the body of your “comment”. And next time, do some editing – we don’t need the full text of the rule.

        Right off the top – when I make a satirical statement about MLB instituting a ‘Pitch Clock sponsored by Tag Heuer’, it should be clear by sardonic implication, that I’m fully aware of Rule 8.04 and that I’m satirizing Bud’s inexplicable endless desire to fix whats not broken. When I state “Pitch Clock” it should be obvious to even the average sports fan that I’m referencing basketball’s ‘Shot Clock’ in to make the point that there is very little that is sacred about the game of baseball to CEO Selig – except, of course, for the paycheck he draws as the ‘False Flag Commissioner’.

        Now allow me to enlighten you my brother. Umpires do not enforce that rule because it is downright absurd. Jason Vargas is the exception – not the rule.

        Pitching is disrupting the hitter’s timing. A hitter stepping out of the box and asking for time? That’s the act of a hitter disrupting the pitcher’s timing. Its a part of the game that is as old as the game itself.

        Although we often have disdain for the men in blue, Umpires ignore that rule because they actually have respect for the game. Umps also understand that balls and strikes should be decided by pitched balls and not as the result of an ill-conceived penalty.

        I am part of the video game, MTV short attention span generation and even I understand that the 12-second rule is a farce.

        Tune into a game tonight. Take out out your smartphone and open up the stopwatch app. Sample a couple of innings and time the pitcher receiving and releasing the ball with no men on base. I guarantee you few, if any catch the ball, toe the rubber and deliver the next pitch within 12 seconds.

        Heck most times it takes 12 seconds for the Catcher to flash the signs, adjust his cup and position himself to receive the pitch.

      • bigleagues - May 11, 2012 at 9:08 AM

        Wow, people really hate the truth.

    • rpink24 - May 10, 2012 at 2:23 PM

      I see your “Pitch Clock” and raise you a banning of the DH.

      • sabatimus - May 10, 2012 at 3:23 PM

        I totally think there should be at least some enforcement of a pitch clock (Beckett and Papelbon, I’m looking at you), but I’ll call the DH bid as soon as the NL taking pitchers’ hitting seriously. The pitchers routinely get told not to bust ass running down the first base like, for crying out loud.

      • rpink24 - May 10, 2012 at 3:35 PM

        I agree, but I’m used to watching the Phillies starters actually give effort at the plate. Lee legged out an infield single last night. Most don’t give effort though.

      • bigleagues - May 10, 2012 at 6:19 PM


        I see your banning of the DH and raise you a bowling style red-line Batter’s Box buzzer.

        Once the batter has stepped into the box for his At Bat – he may not step out. No more calling time. If he steps on or over the line (even inadvertently) anytime before or during a pitch the batter will automatically have a strike assessed to the count.

      • bigleagues - May 10, 2012 at 6:24 PM

        In the real world, when I do not #thinklikebud, I’m opposed to enforcing the time limit rule between pitches.

        In fact, I would have it stricken from the rule book, except I love it when some uber competitive manager gets a hair in his ass during a pennant chase and complains to the umpire that the pitcher who’s shut down his team for 7 Innings is taking too long to throw the next pitch.

        Men, baseball is all about timing and disrupting that timing.

    • 18thstreet - May 10, 2012 at 3:14 PM

      Ban the mound conference.

    • jwbiii - May 10, 2012 at 8:52 PM

      Is it legal to fake to first without stepping off the rubber and throw to third? No. Why should the converse be legal?

      The A’s tried a pitch clock some years ago. It was not well received and was discontinued.

      Can you name two other professional leagues which think having pitchers stand in the batter’s box improves the product? I’ll spot you the NPB Central League.

  3. marshmallowsnake - May 10, 2012 at 2:33 PM

    It annoys the hell out of me when fans boo at every pick-off attempt.

    • indaburg - May 10, 2012 at 3:52 PM

      Me too. I actually like them. It is an opportunity for the pitcher to make a lousy throw to 1st, thereby advancing our runner. I’m a glass half full kinda person.

  4. Jay Seaver - May 10, 2012 at 2:40 PM

    As near as I can tell, nobody likes balk calls. Even when they involve a run scoring for your team, you feel kind of dirty. Why on earth would baseball look for a way to call more?

    Also, I’ve never heard anyone in the stands yell “balk!” after one of these. Boo because they want the pitcher to stop screwing around and throw to the plate, yes, but nobody likes balk calls.

    • chumthumper - May 11, 2012 at 11:13 AM

      The late Ron Luciano said he never called a balk because he didn’t understand the rule.

  5. lew24 - May 10, 2012 at 2:46 PM

    I see this play work a few times every season in high school and in college. In the MLB, it rarely works because the bunts and hit and runs are lost arts. I really don’t see a reason to call this a balk though.

    • bloodysock - May 10, 2012 at 5:13 PM

      It worked at least once last season. Tim Wakefield pulled it off.

  6. RickyB - May 10, 2012 at 2:46 PM

    For those that always scream that this third-to-first move never works, think about how often a regular pickoff move “works.” Most pickoffs are designed to keep runners from getting good jumps on a steal attempt, or from getting an extended secondary lead after the pitch, thus possibly keeping a runner from taking an extra base on a hit. Which is the primary purpose of the third-to-first move. If they want to ban this move, then the natural extension is banning the spin move to second. Anyone remember Mitch Williams picking off Roberto Alomar in the ’93 World Series at second right after Alomar stole second? These pickoff moves are an important part of the cat-and-mouse game of holding runners on. It would be a shame to lose this aspect of the game.

    • proudlycanadian - May 10, 2012 at 3:00 PM

      I understand one reason for the move is that sometimes the hitter will telegraph whether a bunt is planned once the pitcher makes a move.

    • meteor32 - May 11, 2012 at 2:49 AM

      I don’t see how banning the spin move is the natural extension. There is no fake throw in that move and pitcher must disengage with the rubber before throwing to second.

      • RickyB - Jun 2, 2012 at 12:31 AM

        I should have clarified the move to second as the inside move. Pitcher picks up his leg and spins to his throwing arm side. That indeed is meant to deceive the runner as it initially looks like the pitcher will throw to the plate, but instead whirls around toward second.

      • meteor32 - Jun 3, 2012 at 7:37 PM

        Oh, I see. I thought you meant the jump turn move. I agree with you about the inside move where the front leg is picked up.

  7. SmackSaw - May 10, 2012 at 2:49 PM

    It hardly ever works. It would also cut down on my wife saying ‘Why did he do that?’ everytime she sees it.

  8. spudchukar - May 10, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    Hallelujah! Now get rid of the similar spin to second move, which also deceives the runner, and remove the silly box the runners are supposed to run in on their way to first and the game will be even more improved.

  9. icanspeel - May 10, 2012 at 3:15 PM

    It’s been part of baseball since forever? Sure it rarely works, but it was always fun the few times it did work. It is also used as part of strategy to catch a runner leaning or see if a suicide squeeze is on.. I don’t get, why change it?

  10. sabathiawouldbegoodattheeighthtoo - May 10, 2012 at 3:21 PM

    Are the Clemens prosecutors making the “priorities” lists for MLB now? No replay, no A’s in San Jose, DUI’s on the rise, hate crimes, homophobia, racist mascots, beanballs, PEDs and the death of the sport (at least according to some media outlets) and this is what they are working on?

    On the other hand, it would be totally worth banning it just so I never again have to hear Michael Kay explain that he likes to call it the “Old Jeff Nelson.” You know, because Jeff Nelson used to do it.

  11. jimmymarlinsfan - May 10, 2012 at 3:24 PM

    Baseball contains many quirks that help make it the game I love the most

    And this would be one of them, along with the ol hidden ball trick and tagging a guy with an empty glove in the hope of duping the runner into staying at the bag

    And a perfect example of the cat and mouse of it all was emilio bonifacio at 3rd last night and chasing the 3rd baseman down the line during a bunt attempt by the pitcher. The result of the play was a bunt back to the pitcher and the 3rd baseman chased bonifacio back to 3rd but had the bunt been good, EB is already half way down the line on the safety squeeze…another example why baseball is glorious

  12. rayburns - May 10, 2012 at 3:26 PM

    You would think that baseball had a few things higher on the priority list than this….

  13. sabatimus - May 10, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    This just makes the balk rules more and more stupid. Throwing to first isn’t a balk if you step toward first and there’s a baserunner there, same thing for throwing to second and third…so why arbitrarily ban a combination of two of these events? This is in a league that allowed Andy Pettitte to commit a balk every time he threw to first. We’ll see that again I’m sure once Sunday comes around.

  14. bigleagues - May 10, 2012 at 6:26 PM

    Hey Craig!

    I do believe this rule change qualifies as “DADAESQUE”!!!

  15. wetmorepsu12 - May 10, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    let’s be honest, if you’re stupid enough to get caught on the fake-3rd-to-1st move, you deserve to be out.

    also, tell me the last time you actually saw a RHP “disengage” from the rubber by stepping backwards, the legal way to do it, instead of sideways. this isn’t a “judgment” call such as a LHP’s leg breaking the plane, it’s blatantly obvious.

  16. redbirdfan81 - May 10, 2012 at 7:51 PM

    Just like the democrats in congress, over officiating something that doesn’t need regulations!

    • lostsok - May 11, 2012 at 12:14 AM

      Lamest post of the week.

      And just like a Republican to turn a baseball discussion into a needed political reference. GIVE IT A REST ALREADY.

    • lostsok - May 11, 2012 at 12:17 AM

      And just like a Republican to turn a baseball discussion into a pointless, lame and inchoate political reference. GIVE IT A REST ALREADY.

  17. bkl121 - May 10, 2012 at 8:45 PM

    i realize there is rarely, if ever, a pickoff attempt at third base, but what happens if the runner at third strays a little far, and the pitcher legitimately was going to make his pickoff attempt at third. the runner at first then takes off. does this mean the pitcher now would have to throw to third rather than reeling back around and throwing to first or second?

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