The hidden ball trick is a rarely seen play, but umpires have to be on top of it. In professional baseball, players might alert an umpire to what they are planning. At lower levels, especially in youth baseball, this is unlikely. Umpires working the one-man system should never turn their back on a live ball.
To demonstrate the many moving parts of a hidden ball trick play, let’s take a look at a classic MLB example from 2005. Marlins third baseman Mike Lowell catches the D-Backs napping, and 3B umpire Ed Rapuano properly rules R3 out.
When Arizona manager Bob Melvin comes out to argue the call, you can see Rapuano indicate toward home plate and the pitcher’s mound. He is likely telling Melvin that time was not called at home plate, and that the pitcher did not violate Rule 6.02(a)(9).
If there is a runner, or runners, it is a balk when: The pitcher, without having the ball, stands on or astride the pitcher’s plate or while off the plate, he feints a pitch.
Other rule sets vary on where the pitcher can stand. In pro ball, he could be on the dirt circle, but certainly not on or astride the rubber. Help us get the discussion started on how these rules differ across different leagues and rule sets. Let us know in the comments on our Facebook page what rules you’d be applying on a play like this in the league you umpire.