I know we have a few baseball mavens on this board, so maybe I can finally get an authoritative answer to this question.
While I was working with a high school baseball team last year, one of the coaches, who had extensive playing experience at the college and minor league levels, was explaining pickoff moves to the pitchers. Most of what he said I already knew: from a position on the rubber, you must take a step toward a base before making a throw to that base; if you make a move to first base from the rubber, you must make a throw, but if you make a move to second or third, you can fake a throw without getting called for a balk.
Then he explained the second kind of pickoff move, where a left-handed pitcher steps off the back of the rubber with his left foot and makes a snap throw to first base without stepping toward the base. So far, so good. Then he said that when the pitcher steps off the rubber, he becomes just another infielder, so not only can he throw to first without taking a step, he can also fake a throw to first base without being called for a balk. He also said that the rule was the same for a right-handed pitcher—he can legally step off the back of the rubber, spin around, and fake a throw to first base.
This was news to me. I’ve never seen a pitcher do this, either at the high school level or in the pros, and I had always been taught that you can never fake a throw to first. This site, which presumably debunks baseball myths, did not answer my question (but is otherwise very interesting). And Major League Baseball’s site only had this paragraph:
It doesn’t specifically prohibit a fake pickoff move, I guess, but doesn’t directly address the issue either.
And so I turn to the Teeming Millions. What’s the straight dope? Can you fake a pickoff to first base or not? If not, what’s the rule that makes it illegal? If so, why do I never see it?
The section you quoted does indeed address the issue. “…he becomes an infielder”. Can an infielder fake a through? Sure they can.
I good source of information related to rules of most any sport is in the newsgroup news://rec.sport.officiating . If you’re not familiar with newsgroups, the quick and dirty way is to go to dejanews.com.
North Georgia Fastpitch Softball Umpires Association
Softball Umpires Unlimited
You gave us the answer to your own question. Once the pitcher is an infielder, he can fake the throw. As for why it’s not done too often can only be speculation. No pitcher wants to advance a runner on a balk of all things, that’s just handing the other team a base, why risk getting called on it? Also, what’s the point of faking a throw to first? If you’re on first and the pitcher looks at you, you don’t advance from that bag any farther or you’re just asking to be picked off. (Having been picked off a couple times myself, I know this to be true.)
Besides, I have seen this done (in a way). Although not a faked throw, I have seen ML pitchers step off the rubber and turn to 1st base. I don’t recall ever noticing if they raised their arm as if to throw the ball, but then again I’ve never looked for it. The way I see it, just turning towards the runner gets the runner back to the bag, and there’s no real need to fake a throw.
Thank God though that you didn’t want us to explain the complexities of the infield fly rule.
Thanks all. That’s what I wanted to know. Part of the problem was me getting over my own cognitive inertia. Since I was seven, I’ve heard coaches tell pitchers not to bluff to first. (I guess this is probably the safest course with Little Leaguers.) Since I didn’t play in high school, no one ever corrected this misconception.
And thanks for the tip on the newsgroup, Enright3. I will check it out.
I’m fairly confident in my understanding of the infield fly rule, but if you feel you just can’t help yourself…
As BratMan noted, often just having the pitcher step off the rubber is deterrent enough. Consider this, as well:
It’s a good rule of thumb in baseball to not throw a ball if you can avoid it. Especially if just looking a runner back gets the job done. The pitcher would look like a total bush league doofus if he did throw to first and pulled a Knoblauch. He might as well balk as throw the ball into the bullpen.
One way to tell if a pitcher has balked is to see if the crowd has yelled “Balk.” If the crowd yells it, almost always the pitcher hasn’t balked, usually because the crowd can’t see the pitcher step off the rubber.
If you see the pitcher flinch and the umpires start pointing at bases, then you’ve got a balk.
And in high school ball this happens all the time, especially by lefties doing the snap throw. I would have thought that since it’s legal, pumping the arm would be safer than throwing, so I should have seen it once or twice in my three years with the team. But the coaches discouraged fake throws of any kind, because they didn’t want kids on defense worrying about whether a throw was going to be a bluff or not, so maybe that explains it. Freshman games in particular can become a circus in a hurry, and you don’t want kids thinking any more than they have to.