When Hall of Fame pitcher Satchel Paige (quite possibly the greatest ever) was finally invited to fully participate in the great American pastime, he brought with him a bag of tricks that major league players had not seen. The most famous was the hesitation pitch, which has been described as a pause at the top of his windup (hands over head), and/or a pause at the height of his leg kick, and/or a pause after his non-pivot foot hit the ground. Big league managers and players cried foul, and while many umpires refused to penalize 'ol Satch, American League President Will Harridge ultimately ruled the hesitation pitch "illegal" and would result in a balk with runners on base.
In 1994, Korean pitcher Chan Ho Park paused at the top of his windup which renewed debate among umpires, players, and managers. Park soon changed his windup, but the next year Japanese pitcher Hideo Nomo used a similar hesitation windup. Since that time MLB umpires have turned a blind eye to hesitations at the top of a windup, especially from Asian pitchers.
Now the NCAA has codified this hesitation during the delivery in the new 2011-2012 NCAA Baseball rulebook at 9-1(a), A.R. 2. Rule 9-1(a) discusses the pitcher in the windup position and is almost identical to the Official Baseball Rules (OBR) 8.01(a):
a. The Windup. The pitcher shall stand facing (shoulders squared to) the batter, with the pivot foot on or in front of and touching the pitcher’s plate. The pitcher’s entire free foot shall not be in front of the pivot foot.A new Approved Ruling to Rule 9-1(a) states:
From this position, any natural movement associated with the delivery of the ball to the batter commits the pitcher to pitch without interruption or alteration. The pitcher shall not raise either foot from the ground, except that in the actual delivery of the ball to the batter, the pitcher may take one step backward or sideward and one step forward with the free foot.
A.R. 2—A pitcher may pause during his delivery from the windup position without penalty.There is no similar "approved ruling" in professional baseball.
This approved ruling seems to swallow the rule and permit the pitcher to pause at any time during his delivery. However, according to NCAA Secretary Rules Editor Jim Paronto, the intent of this ruling is to allow the hesitation at the top of the windup common with Asian pitchers and often imitated at the amateur level. Hesitations or pauses at other times are still illegal.
One question that remains unanswered is "how long?" Park would often hesitate so long that hitters would back out of the box and the umpire would grant time. NCAA Rule 7-1(b) directs that the batter "shall not leave his position in the batter’s box after the pitcher comes to the set position or starts the windup unless permission is granted by the umpire." The NCAA Approved Ruling instructs umpires to grant time once the hitter is in the box for "safety reasons only."
So the conundrum is whether or not to grant time when a pitcher decides to "freeze" the batter by "hesitating" for an extended period of time. Granting the hitter time in violation of the rule benefits the batter, while denying the batter time gives the pitcher a large advantage.
It will be interesting to see how this new rule is stretched, bent, and abused during the coming two season during the NCAA rules cycle.