Basically, some pitchers are preparing to wind up with the non-pivot foot in front of (and not in contact with) the pitcher’s plate.
Some umpires fail to address this with no runners on base but will wait until there is a runner at third to call this an illegal pitch. In my opinion, that is not doing the job at hand and cherry-picking the opportunity to make an impact on the game.
Federation rules are specific:
ART. 1 . . . The pitcher shall pitch while facing the batter from either a windup position (Art. 2) or a set position (Art 3). The position of his feet determine whether he will pitch from the windup or the set position
ART. 2 . . . For the wind-up position… The pitcher’s non-pivot foot shall be in any position on or behind a line extending through the front edge of the pitcher’s plate.
ART. 3 . . . For the set position…he shall stand with his entire non-pivot foot in front of a line extending through the front edge of the pitcher’s plate and with his entire pivot foot in contact with or directly in front of the pitcher’s plate.
PENALTY (Art. 1, 2, 3): The ball is dead immediately when an illegal pitch occurs. If there is no runner, a ball is awarded the batter. If there is a runner, such illegal act is a balk. In both situations, the umpire signals dead ball.
Frequently we see amateur pitchers with their non-pivot foot in front of the pitcher’s plate for their natural wind up with no runners on base. This is still considered an illegal pitch. If this occurs with no runners on base, a ball is awarded to the batter. If this occurs with runners on base, (and it is usually with a runner on third) this is a balk.
The fact that a pitcher will only wind up with runners on base, specifically a runner on third, second and third or bases load, is exactly why this improper foot position must also be addressed with no runners on base. I am sure a coach would much rather prefer a ball awarded to a batter with no runners on base to a balk call with a runner on third. Also, if it is not going to be called with no runners on base, how can one justify calling it with a runner on third?
Winding up from the stretch/set position could be considered as deceiving a runner from third base who is maybe going to steal or squeeze. Some would argue that there is no deception of the runner if no runner is on base.
Too many umpires use the “spirit of the rule” argument when discussing how and when they call balks. Some pitching infractions that occur are mechanical infractions. This has nothing to do with deception and is a mechanical balk.
The issue of improper foot position from the mound is a mechanical issue. It is an illegal pitch based solely on the definition and rule describing the wind up and stretch/set. When ruling, first and foremost, this is an illegal pitch and should be addressed as such every time it occurs.
Let’s get it right!
Gordon “Gordy” Glaze has been the President of the Cen-Tex Umpire Chapter since 2011. In addition to working High School baseball he’s also on staff for the NCAA’s Lone Star and Heartland Conferences. In 2012 he was a guest instructor for the South Texas Umpire Clinic.