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What is a balk in baseball? What is the record for number of balks in an inning?

With the Marlins’ Richard Bleier having recently drawn level with an MLB record, it’s as good a time as any to take a look at his ‘achievement.’

What is a balk in baseball? What is the record for number of balks in an inning?
Sarah StierAFP

Among the varying nuanced aspects of baseball that make it such a fascinating game, the “balk” has got to be up there with the best of them. What does the term mean and why is it not always clear when it’s called?

What is a “balk” in baseball?

In its simplest form, A balk occurs when a pitcher makes an illegal motion with at least one runner on base. Once called, any baserunners are automatically advanced one base. Why is this a thing? The rule itself was implemented to prevent pitchers from trying to trick baserunners. Understandably, the call can only be made when there is a runner on base. This, however, is where things get interesting. Balks as they are, can constitute a whole array of things. From a small flinch at the wrong time, to a supposedly suspect movement of the head.

Is there a concrete definition? In principle yes. When a pitcher makes any kind of motion, that can lead to a runner’s movement, without directly taking a step towards the base which the runner is occupying, then it is counted as an attempt to deceive the baserunner and a “balk” is called. As mentioned above, a “balk” can only occur when someone is on base. That’s to say that batters can’t advance to first base on a balk. What happens if the pitcher makes an action that would qualify as a balk while no runners are on base? It is typically counted as a “no-pitch,” but can be registered as an illegal pitch, depending on the circumstances. It should be said, that while that all seems pretty straight forward, there are no less than 13 official ways in which a pitcher can commit a balk according to MLB’s rulebook.

What’s the “balk” record in a single inning

While pitchers have most definitely worked out the kinks when it comes to “balking” it wasn’t always so. Indeed, there are some who managed to notch up quite a few during their time in the league, even in a single inning. Until earlier this week, when Miami Marlins pitcher Richard Bleier equaled the record, it had been standing since 1988. With that said, let’s take a look at how the numbers measure up:

Most Balks in a MLB game

John DopsonBoston41989
Rick HoneyCuttOakland41988
Vic RaschiNew York41950
Gene WalterSeattle41988
Bobby WittTexas41988
Bob ShawMilwaukee51963
Bob FriendPittsburgh41963
Joe MargraneSt. Louis41988

Most Balks in a single inning

Don HeinkelDetroit31988
Milt ShoffnerCleveland31930
Richard BleierMiami32022
Jimm GottPittsburgh31988
Jim OwensCincinnati31963
Bob ShawMilwaukee31963

Incidentally, if you’re interested in who has the all-time record for “balks” in a career, that ‘honor’ belongs to Steve Carlton. Across six teams, which included, St. Louis, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Chicago, Cleveland and Minnesota, the pitcher racked up an eyebrow raising 90 balks.


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