Big League Stew

‘Umpire’s balk’: Bill Miller has second thoughts about third strike

David Brown
Big League Stew

Was it famed international recording star Enrico Pallazzo or just Lt. Frank Drebin of Police Squad behind home plate Tuesday at Wrigley Field? Someone posing as an umpire got into real man in blue Bill Miller on Thursday and gave one of the funniest non-calls in major league history.

Texas Rangers right-hander Derek Lowe had thrown an 0-2 pitch that appeared to barely miss, low and away. And yet, Miller started to ring up Chicago Cubs pitcher Carlos Villanueva for the first out, when he stopped himself abruptly in the middle of calling strike three. Lowe even had pirouetted and started to walk off the rubber, so certain Miller had called strike three. Villanueva just stood at home plate and looked on with bemusement for a moment until Miller made it clear he hadn't called strike three (at least all of the way) and the at-bat should continue.

Miller's stunted call drew laughter from the Cubs' TV booth, where analyst Jim Deshaies said:

"What was that? That's an umpire's balk, I believe."

Whoops! Sorry, fellas. As if to realign his destiny, Villanueva gave a half-hearted wave at the next pitch for real strike three. At-bat over.

It would have been a bad call, if also a borderline one, had Miller called out Villanueva a pitch sooner. It was as though he realized there was no going back from a mistake — which there wasn't, had he committed fully — and stepped off an invisible ledge. Hey, we get on umpires all of the time for making the wrong call. Here's one who made the right one! Pretty much.

Is it possible, though, that Miller also has accidentally created a new hit dance with his shifting feet? Well, if it were 1960, absolutely the teens would be all over it. The Ump-Tusi, or the Funky Chickenump, or the Mashed-Ump-Tato, it would have been called. The best we can hope for today, though, is someone parroting his moves in a Harlem Shake video.

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