Big League Stew

MLB moves to eliminate third-to-first pickoff trickery, but no one has any idea why

Kevin Kaduk
Big League Stew

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(AP)

Those ballpark loudmouths who don't know what they're talking about when they see a pitcher fake a pickoff throw to third base and then yell "BALK!" when the pitcher turns and throws to first base instead?

Yeah, there's a good chance they will soon actually know what they're talking about.

Ben Walker of the Associated Press reports that Major League Baseball is looking into classifying that old Pony League trick as a balk for the 2013 season. So if a right-hander wants to pick off a guy at first, he'll have to do it with straight-up skills and not deception that rarely works anyway. As Walker notes, this pickoff play could be picked off itself.

From the Associated Press:

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 — no telling whether that would happen if players strongly object.

Under the new wording, a pitcher could not fake to third unless he first stepped off the rubber. If he stayed on the rubber ... it would be a balk.

Of course, it's worth asking the question why the rules committee is spending time on this and not others like instant replay. Was this move really such a big problem that it needed extra attention? Do they think taking away part of the pitcher's control of the running game — and it's debatable just how much control this move really creates — will produce more offense?

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I guess the best argument out there is that left-handed pitchers can't attempt the same move without being called for a balk. Yankees lefty Boone Logan makes this very claim in Walker's article. But equality and fairness simply don't exist in the pickoff game and I can't remember hearing many right-handers complain that left-handers get a special advantage by facing toward first when pitching out of the stretch — giving them a full view of the runner's lead until he starts his delivery.

Also, if it's something that's designed to speed up the game, it seems like a token move, at best. After all, if Bruce Chen can still throw 1o regular pickoff  attempts in one at-bat, what good does getting rid of an occasional gimmick pickoff attempt do?  (Outside of giving us the pleasure of yelling "BALK!" with the previously misinformed, of course?)

Seriously, with no previous controversy surrounding this age-old play, I wouldn't be surprised to find that the playing rules committee came around with this idea while wearing shirts that said "Here comes Selig! Look busy!"

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