Dean Bettencourt from San Diego asks:
I have a question about pitchers going to their mouths in high school & pro rules. The high school rule book says that this is a "ball" award, but the case book states that this is a balk when runners are on. Can you clarify?
In Major League Baseball, if a pitcher goes to his mouth while in contact with the pitchers plate or goes to his mouth while on the mound and then, without wiping off his fingers, touches the ball, then the pitcher will be warned and the ball will be removed from play. If he repeats this offense then the ball should be removed from play and a "ball" will be called. However, if the pitch is completed and every runner, including the batter runner, advances at least one base without being put out, then the infraction will be ignored.
In high school, according to the NFHS rulebook, it is an illegal action to touch the mouth without wiping the hand before touching the ball. The penalty for this illegal action is a ball being rewarded to the batter.
Although I do not own a NFHS casebook, there are other resounces online (primarily umpire.org) that also note that there appears to be a contradiction between the rulebook and casebook. My general rule of thumb is to use the official rulebook as law and then use casebooks to clarify any potential uncertainties. However, in this case, since the NFHS rulebook clearly says that this situation is a ball and does not say, either in the illegal actions by a pitcher section or balk section, that this is classified as a balk, it is safest to rule it as a ball.
It is also possible that the confusion with this rule occurs due to the differentiation between "illegal action" and "illegal pitch". A pitcher going to their mouth is considered an "illegal action", all of which have their own explanations and penalties, whereas an "illegal pitch" results in a balk with runners on base.
Answered by: Jonathan Bravo
Keywords: MLB Rule 6.02(c)(1), NFHS Rule 2, Sect. 2, Art.1(e)