I don’t know if you caught Orioles reliever Steve Kline being called for a balk with a runner on third and the game tied in the 8th against K.C. on Sunday, but I’m not alone in wondering what, if anything, Kline did wrong. The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Schmuck observes :
It was a very subtle movement, so subtle that it may not have happened at all, but the balk that brought home the decisive run in the Orioles’ 10-8 loss to Kansas City on Sunday was still raising questions a day after the Royals and home plate umpire Bob Davidson hurried out of town.
Davidson used to be known as “Balkin’ Bob,” back before he temporarily lost his job in the umpire labor war in 1999. He was known in the 1990s as the hair-trigger enforcer of the balk rule … to the point where his crew was credited by one publication with about a third of all the balks called in the National League over a five-year period from 1993 to 1997.
Does that mean that Steve Kline didn’t move his shoulders in the eighth inning and deceive the runner at third base?
No, it doesn’t, even though it was Kline’s first balk since he was a rookie with the Cleveland Indians in 1997, and his second overall in the major leagues — and it was all but imperceptible on video replays. Maybe he was due.
Does it raise suspicion when the umpires rush out of the ballpark after the game because they have a late-afternoon flight, requesting a police escort to get through the post-game traffic?
Does it make you wonder when the umpiring crew was shaving the time between innings to the point that there were several complaints from the broadcast booths during the game because the innings were starting before the radio and television stations got back from commercials?
Of course it does, which is not something baseball needs at this troubled time in its history, even if everything that happened Sunday was entirely on the up and up.
“That’s kind of ridiculous,” Davidson said in a telephone interview last night. “If we had missed the flight, we had all kinds of backup. We got off the field and were in the locker room for 20-25 minutes. I think that’s pretty common on getaway days.”
Still, Davidson called the balk with the score tied in the eighth inning and the game dragging on to the point where it apparently was questionable whether he would make his flight to Tampa for the series between the Devil Rays and the Chicago White Sox.
The Baltimore Police Department and other sources confirmed that the umpires asked for an escort out of the ballpark because of the tight travel schedule. They got a motorcycle escort through the stadium traffic, which is not unusual following an afternoon getaway game.
That, in itself, is not improper, and World Umpires Association president John Hirschbeck said yesterday that major league umpires would not let a travel schedule affect their performance.
“I know I would never do that, nor do I believe that any umpire would do that,” Hirschbeck said.
Davidson did not meet with reporters after the game Sunday. He relayed a brief explanation through an Orioles employee, saying that Kline moved his shoulders slightly. He was more expansive last night.
“We looked at the film, and from an umpire’s standpoint, you could see what Kline did,” Davidson said. “He got rattled by the runners. No one from their dugout said boo about it. Kline was the only one on the field who didn’t know it was a balk. None of the umpires thought it was a borderline call.”
That may be true, but nobody in baseball is able to detect such minuscule movement better than Davidson, whose tendencies are well-known to pitching coaches, some of whom instruct their pitchers to be on their best balk-free behavior when Davidson is in the ballpark.
Kline obviously didn’t get the memo, because he tried to explain after the game that it would be impossible for a left-hander to look at the runner at third base without some small movement of the upper body.
“I’m not the Exorcist,” he said, apparently unaware that it was the Linda Blair character, not the priest, who spun her head all the way around in the classic 1973 horror flick.
(Steve Kline. He’s not Leonard Maltin, either.