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August 21, 2018


              I had a Tweet about the Balk which got over a thousand likes and about 150 angry responses telling me that if you eliminate the Balk you eliminate the Stolen Base. 

              Obviously if you eliminate the Balk Rule you will need SOME rule to defend the base stealer’s right to break for second.   My point was not that there should be NO such rule; it was that the rule that we have now is an absolutely horrible rule.   I don’t want less base stealing; I want more.  With a better designed rule, there would be more.

              There is a syndrome here which interests me, which is the belief that the only alternative to the current bad situation is chaos, therefore we have to live with the current bad situation.   I never think that way, so I am constantly surprised that other people do—but lots and lots of other people do, so whenever I propose an idea I am always blindsided by these people who assume that the only alternative to the current bad situation is chaos. 

              I remember one time I argued—and I still believe—that America should have hundreds and hundreds of car companies, building a wide variety of cars.  This was early in the Obama Administration; one of the car companies was in danger of dying, and serious-minded analysts were debating "Can America still support four car companies?"  We sell 17 million plus automobiles in the United States each year; if we had 300 car companies they could be selling 55,000 automobiles apiece, which would make each one of them a billion-dollar company.  If we had 300 car companies building automobiles, innovation in that industry would run at many times the speed that it now does.   Cars would get cheaper, safer, more fuel-efficient, and would sprout a wide variety of designs, some functional and some beautiful.  To me, the idea that America can no longer support four car companies could not possibly be more asinine. 

              But when I suggested this, I got the same sort of answers:  we can’t do that, because the major car companies control critical patents without which you cannot make a competitive automobile.   Well, DUH.   FIX THE PATENT LAW, dipshit.  Patent law in many countries, and in the United States in many areas, requires that people who control patents create a licensing system to sell the rights to use them to others who need them. 

              It’s the same syndrome; we can’t do that because, well, there would be chaos.  110 years ago there were a large number of American car companies.  Whatever city you live in, 110 years ago there was a company in your city trying to compete with Henry Ford.   We have backed ourselves into a corner in which we have very few options, but rather than busting down the walls, we focus on protecting ourselves in the corner. 

              There’s a million ways to protect the baserunner.  Limit the number of throws to the base.   My suggested limit would be "one".   The pitcher gets one throw to the base; if he throws over a second time and doesn’t get the runner, all runners automatically move up a base.   Another way to do it would be to prohibit the pitcher from throwing to first base unless the baserunner was at least eight feet off the base.  The baserunner has a safe zone; stop the crap and let’s play ball. 

              Rules should be clear and specific. We have a terrible rule, a rule which is vague and unintelligible.  Sure, we need SOME rule, but we don’t need a terrible rule.   Fix it.  


COMMENTS (34 Comments, most recent shown first)

As to the balk rule, any attempt to deceive the base runner is a balk. This gives the umpire the discretion to call a balk whenever he, in his judgment, thinks a pitcher has done this. I don't think there is any objective rule by which a machine could call a balk. I don't see anything wrong with this, as long as the umpire can explain what he is doing, so that the pitcher can understand this, and keep from doing what the umpire doesn't want him to do.

Examples: not coming to a full stop, faking a throw, or throwing to first after committing to throw to the plate.

As for the car industry, yes, it would be better if there were more car companies - for the consumer, but not for the existing car companies. Despite all the rhetoric about free enterprise, large companies will do anything to discourage competition, including mergers, takeovers, buyouts, and price fixing. The US car companies have done, and continue to do, all of those things. And foreign car companies are no better.
5:52 PM Aug 27th
The reason full-size trucks and SUVs do not sell outside the US, Canada, and the Mideast are manifold and not due to protection [roads, gas prices, cost (both absolute and relative to value), fuel efficiency standards and culture]. The reason that the Detroit 3 dominate those segments in the US is partly due to protection (a 25% tariff imposed in the 60s on tracks in a trade war over chickens!). You do not see Chevys in Western Europe (but do see Fords) because GM's European brands were Opel and Vauxhall until they were sold last year to PSA. GM sells more vehicles in China than anyone else and than in the U.S. The vehicle market is by no means a fully level playing field around the globe, but some of the differences are due to preferences by consumers, not takes or government rules (by the way 77royals, the Ford Ranger is much smaller than the F-Series and the figures you quote are for the US not global)
8:24 AM Aug 24th
I have a question about 1988: why did the owners change the balk rules, anyways? I don’t recall a perceived need at the time, unlike the strike zone change made at the same meetings.
6:58 AM Aug 24th
i love it when the guy gets sent to 1B, but more important, everyone who screamed and carried on and soiled their shorts over the horrors instant replay would bring to the game is hereby DISQUALIFIED for life from opining on any other innovations ever suggested. Selah!

No, we still get an opinion. Instant Replay doesn't work.

So actually, our opinion is better than yours.
5:11 AM Aug 24th
as to bad candidates: Kerry was bad but Bob Dole came across very poorly. Talked about himself in the 3rd person ... and I still voted for him. I think there may have been studies where people are shown pictures of the two candidates and the one considered better looking most often wins, or the taller one wins...... maybe be there is a WAR or WINS formula: say Height (in meters) + Charisma+ Physical Attractiveness - (age-35) +/- ..... we could call it TPR (total presidential rating) .......
12:04 AM Aug 24th
Responding to Old Backstop. . .was in Rome I guess three years ago. The car market is almost nothing BUT Fords. Ford at that time had something close to 100% of the Italian market. Just observation. . .you could walk past a row of cars and they would all be Fords.
6:58 PM Aug 23rd
re FrankD and the intentional walk: Yes, the world didn't collapse, but who else besides me still has his equilibrium suspended when the guy just gets sent to first base.... :-)

I'd prefer them to still throw the 4 pitches, 1 of which occasionally went wild or got hit. But then again there's lots of things I'd "prefer"....
3:16 PM Aug 23rd
You're right, jwilt.

I should have said the world, not the UK.

Best-Selling Cars And Trucks Of 2017
Honda Civic: 377,286 Units. ...
Honda CR-V: 377,895 Units. ...
Toyota Camry V6. ...
Nissan Rogue: 403,465 Units. ...
Toyota Rav4: 407,549 Units. ...
Ram Trucks: 500,723 Units. ...
Chevrolet Silverado: 585,864 Units. ...
Ford F-Series: 896,764 Units.

Thanks for pointing out my mistake for me. I'll be sure to return the favor.
1:35 PM Aug 23rd
If a rule is so nebulous that even multiple reading of said rule leads to even more confusion, then FIX IT. As for the 'don't change it will be worse' meme: MLB went to just put the guy on first intentional walk vs. having to throw 4 pitches - well, the sky didn't fall, the baseball gods didn't bring down plagues and fire, and the new rule seems to working great.
12:28 PM Aug 23rd
77royals... the Ford Ranger sold 44,600 units in Europe in 2017.

The VW Golf sold 483,105.

According to that 2nd link the 25th-best selling car in Europe (the Audi A3) sold about four times as many cars as the Ranger.
10:10 AM Aug 23rd
Ford Ranger is the best selling vehicle in Europe.

They are all over London, the UK, and lots of parts of Europe that are rural.

You don't seem them in many cities, because the roads are too small for them.

But they are everywhere else.

They are also a status symbol.

9:04 AM Aug 23rd
As someone who works for a large car company, I would challenge the thesis that the American car market could support dozens of American car companies. I think the likelihood that it would lead to better, cheaper cars is even lower. There are enormous scale and scope economies to designing, building, marketing, and selling automobiles. If two of the Detroit 3 companies had ceased to exist (which came very close to happening in 2009), there would still be plenty of car choices for Americans, but the vast majority would have been imports, taking advantage of global scale and scope. China is a market with many local companies (largely because of weak patent laws, low labor costs, government subsidies, low brand loyalty, protectionist policies, and a market more than twice the size) but this has not led to better vehicles or innovation. Small companies were driven out of the U.S. market because Ford and GM's size gave them enormous advantages in cost and ability to innovate. External innovation came from large foreign companies with protected and large local markets (Toyota, Honda, and VW). Tesla is an exception that relies on the enormous supply of venture capital, and it could not be replicated readily.
8:25 AM Aug 23rd
The situation shouldn't be that hard to remedy. Stop awarding a base for movement that isn't deceptive, and start awarding a base for movement that is deceptive. For something, merely DISRUPTIVE — the pitcher drops the ball or stops in mid-delivery — call a ball. If a lefthanded pitcher lifts his front foot toward home plate, how does he make it less deceptive by swinging that foot back past some imaginary 45-degree line?

It is not just nonsensical to believe "the only alternative to the current bad situation is chaos," in Bill's spot-on description. That belief also obstructs progress. I've never understood the thought process that leads to that belief's underlying assumption: that solving an obvious problem is never an option.

In the case of the balk rule, and many other baseball rules, the rulebook's sloppy writing is typically the result of failing to be sure of the rule's purpose. Confusion over two recent rules, about plays at home and second base, could have been largely avoided by simply asking, "What are we trying to do here? What is the objective of this rule." Once that intent is clarified, there are thousands of competent, experienced writers who could put a rule into comprehensible words. (We recently had a discussion on Reader Posts about the sacrifice-fly scoring rule, which reads as if it was dictated into a text message at a stoplight.)

Bill, you said on Twitter that sports do not usually try to prevent deception. You didn't make that point in this article so maybe you've reconsidered. But because you are so influential and clear-headed in defining debates, I'll point out that football, like baseball, draws a line between permissible deception and unfair deception. Football has many rules against deception under the "illegal procedure" umbrella, as well as penalties against illegal formations, shifts and huddles (with too many players).
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In 1988, Bart Giamatti was NL president and made a highly publicized crusade for umpires to enforce the balk rule, whether they understood it or not. As it turned out, balls did increase in the NL, but they went through the roof in the AL. I don't remember that part, but apparently the AL umps said, "Oh, yeah? You think you're so great, stopping the game every few innings for something that no one else saw? Watch this! We'll call more balks with our hands behind our backs." (That may not have been the exact transcript.)
7:41 AM Aug 23rd
For what it's worth, this Retrosheet game log page shows the balks called on the '88 A's pitchers game-by-game through the course of the season (BK in the 2nd to last column):

At one point there were 15 balks called on A's pitchers over 6 games.
9:02 PM Aug 22nd
CharlesSaeger... there was a very distinct difference in pitchers making a full stop before and after 1988. Maybe enforcement got a bit more lax at the midway point of 1988, but for the past 30 years almost everyone has done the full stop. In 1987 and earlier it was far less common.
6:10 PM Aug 22nd
OBS, there aren't any Ford F-250s in Paris for the same reason there aren't any Citroen F-250s in Paris. People in the rest of the world generally don't see their cars as needing to seat eight people while hauling 1500 pounds of mulch and simultaneously pulling a 66' 5th wheel camper while costing so much they need a seven-year loan to afford and another credit line to get gas. Also, in Europe an F-250 would take up four parking spaces.
6:08 PM Aug 22nd
IIRC, the umpires had some kind of unspoken agreement among themselves that they thought the 1988 balk enforcement was dumb. It was mostly only in the first half. The AL had 408 balks in the first half, 150 in the second. Basically, the umpires felt that they had proven to everyone that the new rule was dumb and went back to normal enforcement.
5:12 PM Aug 22nd
Suggest no fake throws. And one throw per baserunner---if there are, say, two baserunners, the pitcher shouldn't be penalized for holding the runner at first and letting the runner on second steal third.

4:56 PM Aug 22nd
Bill, if you have 300 competing car companies, the competition that is the goal here would cause how many to go out of business each year? Does the government backstop them?

What about parts for the cars (and owners) that are orphaned?

I think saying 300 companies would get more done in research is like saying 300 competing NASAs would get a Mars Space Station there faster. There needs to be a critical mass to do really high end research and development.

What American car companies need is a fair playing ground internationally. Ever see a Ford or Chevy in Paris, London, Rome or Buddhapest? It isn't because the Ford F-250s suk.
3:48 PM Aug 22nd
Wouldn't this be a balk-off? :)
11:07 AM Aug 22nd
P.S. That blue thing in my post ISN'T any kind of link; for some reason it shows as one.
10:31 AM Aug 22nd
(re the link to the walk-off: It seems not to really work, at least for me.
It does give the article, but when you try to see the video.....complicated but basically you just get an unending string of the ad. Maybe others will have better luck.....)
10:30 AM Aug 22nd
re DavidHNix saying the '60's or '70's and Jwilt mentioning '88:
David is right too.
It was 1963. If you look at yearly totals, the year doesn't stand out very much (it does some, around its neighbors) but that's because, as David said, it was only for part of the season (first few weeks).​
10:26 AM Aug 22nd
For those who did not see the walk-off balk:

10:07 AM Aug 22nd
1988 was the year of the balk. Through almost the entirety of baseball history balks have hovered between 0.01 and 0.05 balks/game. In 1988 it was 0.22, and in 1989 there was a bit of a hangover at 0.10. In 1988 the A's had 76 balks, which is more than the American League had in 2017.

And non-enforcement of a standing rule is great, right up until there's a key game where the ump decides it's his moral duty to enforce all the rules and all hell breaks loose. See: Pine tar, also Merkle.​
6:48 AM Aug 22nd
Seems to me that the rule is just fine as long as it's never enforced. Kind of like jaywalking laws.​
12:18 AM Aug 22nd
DavidHNix "So what am I missing here?"

A tempest in a teapot.
12:12 AM Aug 22nd
I wasn't aware of this grave crisis. Has there been a sudden storm of balk calls?

I'm very old and can remember a season in the 60s or 70s when the commish du jour directed strict enforcement of the rule as written, and they started calling 2 or 3 balks a game. Much hilarity ensued, and the initiative was dropped after about 2 weeks. In the ensuing decades, I bet I've seen about 4 or 5 balk calls total -- rarer than suicide squeezes. So what am I missing here?
11:58 PM Aug 21st
.....Doesn't work either. There's lots you can't do to the other bases too.
10:21 PM Aug 21st
Hell with the balk rule. Let the pitcher do anything to first that he can do to any of the other bases.​
9:20 PM Aug 21st
The reason the balk rule is so ridiculous is that the simple solution wasn't exactly, precisely perfect. Additional adjustments were then made to "fix" the rule. Basically we start with no fake throws, then it was no fake "pickoff" throws, then the "one second stop" rule, then in 1987 the ridiculous “single complete and discernible stop, with both feet on the ground,” deal. Pretty sure there are some others in there along the way, too. This link to a wikipedia article will either make you laugh or put you to sleep:

I would reduce it to, "The pitcher can only throw to the batter if he begins a throwing motion while one or two feet are on the pitching rubber. He can throw to any base occupied by a baserunner so long as he is no longer touching the pitching rubber."

As for the negative influence on stolen bases...Oh, I still love that suggestion I had some time ago, that if the pitcher throws to a base, he has to run over to that base to retrieve the ball (and has only 10 seconds to go there and back to the mound). Something like that.
6:22 PM Aug 21st
Jwilt: When I was a kid and first read the rule (yes, I read it) :-) that thing you quoted was the only part of it that I thought I understood.

......Not that I could imagine what it would ever mean, just that it was th only part I understood.

I remember that soon thereafter, I read that Lew Burdette committed a balk. In my 9 year old mind, I imagined him turning toward first base, not necessarily because of anything about the runner but because he thought it would look cool -- turning his head and body toward first base and throwing the ball to the plate, with his body sort of sideways, just because he felt like it.

Actually, though, I don't think there's much problem knowing what it means; it just isn't worded in the most direct way. I assume it means you can't be 'sort of' facing a base as though you're going to throw there when you make the pitch.

3:10 PM Aug 21st
1) What the hell does this even mean?

Rule 8.05 (f) If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when the pitcher delivers the ball to the batter while he is not facing the batter;

2) The only alternative is chaos syndrome could well be called The George Will Syndrome. Sometime in the last month or so Will wrote a column along the lines of "Baseball is Broken, Don't Fix It." Basically he said that there are waaaaay too many strikeouts, waaaay too few balls in play, the games take forever, etc, but that the powers-that-be should leave well enough alone. It'll work itself out. Any time people try to fix stuff it just makes it worse. That's Will's political philosophy - any time those darned liberals try to fix an obvious problem it just makes it worse, so they should stop trying. Will is a true Webster's Dictionary conservative - he really wants things to not change, and especially wants the governement to just leave everything alone. Gridlock is good, because it means nobody is doing anything, and actively trying to change stuff, even for the better, just leads to chaos and insanity.
1:35 PM Aug 21st
This all sounds reasonable to me.
1:09 PM Aug 21st
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