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In baseball, a pitcher can commit a number of illegal motions or actions that constitute a balk. Most of these violations involve a pitcher pretending to pitch when he has no intention of doing so. In games played under the Official Baseball Rules, a balk results in a dead ball or delayed dead ball. In certain other circumstances, a balk may be wholly or partially disregarded. Under other rule sets, notably in the United States under the National Federation of High Schools (Fed or Federation) Baseball Rules, a balk results in an immediate dead ball. In the event a balk is enforced, the pitch is generally (but not always) nullified, each runner is awarded one base, and the batter (generally) remains at bat, and with the previous count. The balk rule in Major League Baseball was introduced in 1898.
A pitcher is restricted to a certain set of motions and one of two basic pitching positions before and during a pitch; if these regulations are violated with one or more runners on base, an umpire may call a balk.
Balk rules under other rule sets vary.
The pitcher's acts of spitting on the ball, defacing or altering the ball, rubbing the ball on the clothing or body, or applying a foreign substance to the ball are not balks; however, it will result in the pitcher's ejection from the game if caught.
A pitcher was allowed to feint toward third (or second) base, and then turn and throw or feint to first base if his pivot foot disengages the rubber after his initial feint. This is called the "fake to third, throw to first" play. However, Major League Baseball classified this as a balk beginning with the 2013 season.
If no runners are on base and the pitcher commits an otherwise balkable action, there generally is no penalty. However, delivering a quick return or pitching while off the rubber (which constitute balks when runners are on base) results in a ball being called with the bases empty. If the pitcher should commit an act confusing to the batter with nobody on, or if he stops his delivery or otherwise violates because the batter steps out or otherwise acts confusingly, time is called and the play restarted without penalty (whether or not runners are on base). If a pitcher repeatedly commits illegal actions without runners on base, he may be subject to ejection for persistently violating the rules.
If, during an attempt to execute the "hidden ball trick" (where the defensive team deceives the runner(s) as to the ball's location while the play is live), the pitcher stands on the rubber prior to the fielder revealing the ball and applying the tag, the runner is not out. Instead, it is a balk, with all runners on base being awarded their next base.
A "catcher's balk" occurs when the catcher does not stay in the catcher's box until the pitcher delivers the ball. The rule is rarely enforced, though. However, a catcher's balk is still charged to the pitcher. This is because the pitcher is deemed to have illegally delivered a pitch while the catcher was out of position.
While the purpose of the balk rule is to prevent the pitcher from deliberately befuddling the base runner (per comment to Rule 8.05, OBR), or occasionally the batter, there are many legal ways for pitchers to deceive runners: pickoff attempts, look-backs, and speeding up the pitching motion all are efforts at deception. Only actions that violate the balk rules, however, may be penalized with a balk.
Another misconception occurs when in the set position, a pitcher must step off the rubber before attempting a pick-off or appeal play. Rule 8.01(c) allows a pitcher to pitch, throw to an occupied base, or step off while in contact with the rubber. The pitcher may also throw to an unoccupied base if appealing that a runner missed a base or left too early on a fly ball.
Additionally, there is no "fielder's balk" for a player other than the catcher being in foul territory during a pitch. It is also not a balk for a pitcher to take a sign from a catcher while not in contact with the rubber. These are listed in the rule book as infractions without penalties. The umpire shall call "time" and correct the issue without penalty.
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