walk-off balk

Off-day baseball fun facts from BBST: history of the walk-off balk

When the Los Angeles Dodgers defeated the Texas Rangers 1-0 on a ninth inning walk-off balk by Keone Kela, it got a lot of people talking about balks.

What constitutes a balk? A balk can happen if the pitcher is in the windup position they may not disengage from the rubber on the mound unless he pitches the ball, takes one step in an attempt to pick off a runner or if he disengages from the rubber he must drop his hands to his sides. According  to the Official Rules of Major League Baseball, in the windup position:

“A pitcher must step off with his pivot foot and not his free foot first
He may not go into a set or stretch position —if he does it is a balk”

The rules go on to say that when in the stretch position

“The pitcher shall have one hand on his side; from this position he shall go to his set position without interruption and in one continuous motion. The pitcher, following his stretch, must (a) hold the ball in both hands in front of his body and (b) come to a complete stop. This must be enforced. Umpires should watch this closely. Pitchers are constantly attempting to “beat the rule” in their efforts to hold runners on bases and in cases where the pitcher fails to make a complete “stop” called for in the rules the umpire should immediately call a “Balk.”

There are a number of slight movements that can be called also, but often aren’t either seen and caught or called because they are so slight.

Of course balks can happen at any time and they do, but not all that often. As you can imagine walk-off balks are even more rare which got me thinking. How many walk-off balks have their been in baseball history?

The balk rule was instrumented in MLB circa. 1900 but records that have been kept about walk-off balks all seem to seem to start around 1914, according to a study done by Harvard Sports Analysis. Balks were called laxly during the 1930’s through the 1950’s.  Called more often after that, MLB began strictly calling balks in 1988  which became known as “the year of the balk.”

I personally found records for 11 walk-off bunts through my own research however I think we’ll go with the Harvard Study as they certainly have more resources.

Here’s the list of recorded walk-off balks in baseball history,

1942 Philadelphia Phillies beat Atlanta Braves 6-5 on Johnny Sain balk
1943 New York Yankees beat Boston Red Sox 4-3 on Andy Karl balk
1965 Cincinnati Reds beat Chicago Cubs 3-2 on Ernie Broglio balk
1965 Pittsburgh Pirates beat Houston Astros 7-6 on Hal Woodeshick balk
1973 Houston Astros beat Montreal Expos 4-3 on Tom Walker balk
1978 Pittsburgh Pirates beat Phillies 2-1 on Warren Brusstar balk
1986 Boston Red Sox beat California Angels 8-7 on Todd Fischer balk
1989 Los Angeles Dodgers beat New York Mets 4-3 on Roger McDowell balk
1993 Atlanta Braves beat Florida Marlins 4-3 on Matt Turner balk
2000 Baltimore Orioles beat Texas Rangers 4-3 on Jeff Zimmerman balk
2000 Florida Marlins beat Braves 3-2 on John Rocker balk
2004 Seattle Mariners beat Oakland Ahtletics 2-1 on Justin Duchscherer balk
2005 Milwaukee Brewers beat Washington Nationals 4-3 on Mike Stanton balk
2008 Atlanta Braves beat Colorado Rockies 5-4 on Taylor Buccholz balk
2010 Los Angeles Dodgers beat Arizona Diamondbacks 5-4 on Esmerling Vasquez balk
2011 Chicago White Sox beat Kansas City Royals 5-4 on Aaron Crow balk
2014 Cleveland Indians beat Detroit Tigers 11-10 on Al Alburquerque balk

This 18th walk-off balk of 2015 between Dodgers and the Rangers is only the third walk-off balk that scored a pinch-runner. The other two pinch-runners to score both occurred during the 2000 season when Danny Bautista scored off a John Rocker balk and the Mark Lewis scored on a Jeff Zimmerman balk. Also, a walk-off balk has never occurred in the postseason.

In this year’s Dodgers and Rangers’ game, Yasmani Grandal walked to lead off the bottom of the ninth inning but was replaced by pinch-runner Enrique Hernandez and Andre Either drew the second walk of the inning to put men on first and second.

Either’s efforts were erased when Alberto Callaspo grounded out into a double play, moving Hernandez to third. With Jimmy Rollins at the plate on a 1-2 count, Ranger’s pitcher Keone Kela was just a strike away from taking the game into extra innings.

Kela started his delivery and then suddenly stopped. A balk was called and Hernandez score the only run in the entire game to lift the Dodgers over the Rangers by the score of 1-0.

It was a bizarre game but most of the walk-off balk variety are. I clearly remember the walk-off balk of 2004 in which the A’s Justin Duchscherer committed a balk in extra innings to allow the Mariners’ Quinton McCracken to score.

I know how being on the losing end of a walk-off balk can be devastating as a fan, especially in extra innings. They must be even harder losses to take for the losing teams.

Hope you enjoyed and/or learned something today from BBST’s Off-day fun fact! Have a great day! 🙂

*I know I’m posting this a day late as the A’s didn’t play yesterday but for anyone whose team doesn’t play today I hope it entertains you! 🙂

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