Runners Left Clueless: Are Hidden Ball Trick Rules In Baseball Legal? 

John Means

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What is Hidden Ball Trick in Baseball

We bet you have been April fooled once in your lifetime! But do you know, the infielder can also fool around the runner to make an out in the game of baseball? 

On the baseball field, it’s a clever trick for fielders to hide the ball. All of a sudden, you will ask yourself, “Where is the ball???”. 

It’s a clever strategy to confuse the runner into thinking that, the pitcher has the ball and taking the lead off the base. We all know what happens next.   

Hidden ball tricks are legal in baseball. In fact, Major League Baseball has created a set of hidden ball trick rules in baseball to bring a successful outcome of this. 

Today, we will explore the exciting ball tricks in baseball and find out how they can alter the fate of the match. 

What is Hidden Ball Trick in Baseball? 

It is what it sounds like. Though not regular in baseball, defensive players particularly infielders hide the ball in their gloves to put the baserunner off guard; creating an opportunity for a surprise tag or pickoff. You might have already guessed what’s the motive behind it. 

By hiding the ball behind the glove, they deceive the runners into taking the lead off. It increases the possibility to record an out and eliminate the base runner. 

An infielder can have different ways to apply hidden ball tricks. But, one thing is certain, the infielder must be in legal possession of the baseball. 

He can trick the ball typically within their glove or hand, while simultaneously creating the illusion that the ball is no longer in their possession. 

For fair execution of this trick, he can pretend to throw the ball back to the pitcher or infield, hiding the ball behind their back, or making a pseudo motion as if the ball has been returned to the pitcher; but in reality, it’s not. 

The hidden ball trick might not be as popular as you take of it. But, to our surprise, this trick has been applied in the World Series several times. Back in 2019, Trine University used this trick to win the Division III Women’s College World Series. 

You may wonder, is this trick even legal? It is. MLB has governed specific rules to prevent unfair advantages and maintain the fairness of the match. Here are some key points on hidden ball tricks for your better understanding. 

Key Points: 

  • Even though this trick was around since the beginning of baseball, in the last 100 years of Major League Baseball, there have been fewer than 300 applications of hidden ball tricks. 
  • A hidden ball trick always involves an infielder to trick the ball; not any other way around.
  • The pitcher plays his role in the hidden ball trick in baseball by faking a catch and returning to the mound.
  • The ball has to be in the play. If it is a time-out, foul ball, or hit batsman before the tag, the out won’t be counted. 
  • The infielder can not put the ball into this pocket. This would be an illegal action. 
  • Neither the pitcher can deceive the runner with the resin bag in his mitt. It will be either a balk or an illegal motion. 
  • The hidden ball trick works the best with runners on the base (especially on the second base). 
  • For proper execution of the hidden ball trick, knowing the whereabouts of the ball is important. Thus, the umpire must observe the play in motion. 
  • After an unsuccessful tag, the runner can be quickly re-tagged hoping that he has lost contact with the base. 

Real-Life Examples of Hidden Ball Tricks in Baseball History

Might be rare but not impossible to find out the examples of hidden ball tricks in the past. We came to know how this trick was applied in the World Series.

 But there are more real-life events we found. Here’s a mention of them: 

  1. After a pitcher throws to the first base to pick off a runner, the first baseman may attempt the match. Such an example was established by Dave Bergman, a former first baseman of Major League Baseball.
    Not once or twice, he performed this act on different occasions.
  2. Don’t forget about Bill Coughlin, third baseman of Major League Baseball. He was known as the master of the hidden ball trick. He set successful examples of hidden ball tricks.
    The first hidden ball trick by Bill Coughlin was recorded against the Detroit Tigers on September 24, 1901. In the World Series of 1907, he did it again with Jimmy Slagle; best known as the first hidden ball trick in World Series Baseball.
  3. Followed by Bill Coughlin, Willie Kamm was considered another master of hidden ball tricks. He was best known for his rare triple play strategy (involving a hidden ball trick) against Cleveland Indians on April 30, 1929.
    Willie Kamm was the third baseman in Major League Baseball.
  4. Second basemen can also pull this trick if necessary. Former second baseman Marty Barrett from Major League Baseball performed this trick several times successfully.
    He faked a throw to the pitcher while keeping the ball to himself. Opportunities were taken when a runner contacted the second base after getting the throw-in ball from the outfield.
  5. The third baseman, Mike Lowell didn’t lose the opportunity to successfully implement the hidden ball trick twice in the past – every time the ball was pitched from the outfield.
    Mike was skilled at his performance with the right timing and right placement. He waited at least 10 seconds, acting as if nothing happened, until the runner on the third base took off a few steps.

Here are the 5 most controversial hidden ball tricks that were mostly talked about throughout history. 

In addition to that, there have been a few other examples involving basemen with the hidden ball trick and also some failed attempts to pull a hidden ball trick. Keep digging and you will find more. 

Hidden Ball Trick Rules In Baseball – Explained

Hidden Ball Trick Rules In Baseball - Explained

The best we know is, the hidden ball trick is legal in baseball. To maintain the integrity of the play, players have to abide by a few rules.
A few of them are already mentioned in the key points of this article. Here’s a brief of them: 

In short, the ball has to be in the play – a walk or hit-by-pitch would simply result in a dead ball scenario. However, baserunners can call time at the end of the play to protect themselves from this trick. 

Different obligations apply to the pitchers in the play. The pitcher can stay in the pitching circle without penalty during the execution of a hidden ball trick.
However, he won’t be allowed to mount on the pitching rubber. Otherwise, it would be a balk. Similarly using of rosin bag is strictly prohibited for pitchers. This would equally result in a balk. 

Getting back to the fielders and yes! They are the main heroes of our article today. Regardless of the role fielders play in the hidden ball trick, they can not place the ball inside their uniform (in the pocket or under the gloves).
Hiding the ball inside the uniform will not result in a balk but the fielder will be awarded with a one-base award penalty. This came as official from the OBR (Official Baseball Rules) in 2019 stating,

“If a ball is intentionally placed inside a player’s uniform (e.g., a pants pocket) for the purpose of deceiving a base runner, the umpire shall call “Time.” The umpire will place all runners at least one base (or more if warranted, in the umpire’s judgment, in order to nullify the action of the ball being put out of play), from the base they originally occupied.”

In the events when the fielder hides the ball intentionally inside his uniform, the umpire will allow runners with at least one base they originally started at.

Different players may apply the hidden ball trick differently. But one thing is certain! It is done to deceive the runner and get an easy out. 

Best Time to Apply the Hidden Ball Trick: 

There is always a right time to apply the hidden ball technique. Keep in mind that, it works best exactly after a play at a base. However, most players pulled off after a pick-off attempt. 

Pick-off attempts or simple fake throws work best for the hidden ball technique. But you simply can’t get smart with a fake pick-off attempt when the runner is on the first or third base. 

Runners often get confused when they see an empty glove. And just like that, some fielders often hide the ball under their arms. And so, the runner doesn’t realize that. He leaves the base and is tagged out. 

Remember that once the baserunners leave the second base, any time from now can be a pick-off move. Thus, be ready and use the moment. 

Hidden Ball Trick in Different Society: 

The hidden ball applies differently in different leagues. Here’s a quick note on how the hidden ball trick refers to different organizations: 

Official Baseball Rules (OBR)

We talked about this earlier! Hiding the ball inside the player’s uniform goes strictly against OBR guidelines. Moreover, the pitcher can’t step onto the pitcher’s plate without a ball in hand neither can he trick the ball off the plate.
The rule doesn’t simply apply to it. 

National Federation of State High School Association(NFHS)

NFHS advised the hidden ball trick to be implemented in the following way. The pitcher can not pitch or engage in similar actions to pitching to conduct a hidden ball trick. 

He is also advised not to set on the plate or be within 5 feet of the plate without a ball. Any violation of this will lead to a balk or illegal motion. 

National Collegiate Atheltic Association(NCAA) 

NCAA has set up a guideline mentioning the pitcher’s posture during a hidden ball trick attempt. This will trigger the fielder and go to the next step. According to NCAA, a pitcher must stand with both his foot in the mound’s circle zone without a ball in his possession.
The rule is pretty simple. Here, the hidden ball trick starts with a no-ball, unlike the other organizations. 

Little League

Here, the little league refers to the intermediate Division/Junior/ Senior/ Big League. For a hidden ball technique, little league made it clear that the pitcher has to stand on the plate with a ball in hand. 

Is Hidden Ball Trick Legal? 

Yes. Even though it is a shortcut to get a quick out, critics can have different observations toward it. Players have to be extremely careful about the baseball rule regarding Hidden Baseball Trick.
Because a few factors can still destroy the integrity of the play if not followed. For example, hiding the ball in the pocket can result in a balk.
Keep in mind that, other organizations like USA Football doesn’t allow hidden ball trick in the foot game and that seems reasonable. 

You are enjoying the thrill due to this trick because the universal baseball rule allows it within strict limitations to ensure the fairness of the game. Thus, it is important to go by the rules and have a healthy match. 

What Do You Think about Hidden Ball Trick? 

Despite the fun and claps among the audience, the hidden ball trick has earned its equal share among the critics. People have biased opinions against the use of this trick. 

Many have raised a question saying, does it do justice to the runners? Isn’t it simply cheating? Runners are deprived of the privilege and misleadingly led to the action!

Thus, several discussions have been raised pointing at the ethical implication of hidden ball tricks in baseball. And, we believe the rule itself is controversial enough to draw opinions and critics. 

What do you think? Your opinion is valuable to us. Our regular articles on baseball are meant to encourage the sports lover in you.
Feel free to leave a comment below and let us know what you think of this very controversial trick of baseball. 

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John Means

John Means is a professional baseball player who has played in the major leagues for the Kansas City Royals and the Oakland Athletics. He made his major league debut with the Royals in 2009. He was traded to the Athletics in 2012. Baseball is his favorite sport. His passion about the game is evident in his play. Now he write blogs about baseball and other things whenever he has some free time. LinkedIn

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