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Intentional walk

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An intentional walk (aka intentional base on balls or IBB) is a walk issued when a pitcher deliberately throws completely unhittable pitches.

The very first intentional walk occurred in 1896, when star pitcher Jouett Meekin was ordered by team captain Kid Gleason of the New York Giants to give a base on balls to Jimmy Ryan, in order to pitch to George Decker, who struck out to end the game. Meekin, who was on his way to winning 26 games that year, was said to be "amazed" at the thought. Oddly enough, Decker ended the season with a higher slugging percentage than star Ryan.

A walk is only considered intentional if the catcher gives a clear sign that he is calling for an unhittable ball. Normally he does this by standing up instead of crouching and reaching one hand outside. The pitcher then throws the ball toward the catcher's hand, and the catcher steps over to catch the ball. The catcher must be careful not to step over to catch the pitch until after the pitcher has thrown; stepping out of his box prematurely will result in a balk.

The pitcher must actually go through the motions of throwing four pitches outside of the strike zone; he may not simply indicate that he is conceding the base to the batter. This distinction is not normally important, but on rare occasions the pitcher will accidentally throw a hittable pitch that the batter swings at or a wild pitch. However, in 2014, Major League Baseball introduced the "automatic intentional walk" on a test basis in the Arizona Fall League, as part of a set of measures to speed up the flow of the game; in this scenario, the manager signals the home plate umpire by showing four fingers, after which the batter automatically moves to first base without the need to throw any pitches.

Intentional walks are normally issued for two reasons: to bypass a good hitter for a weaker one or one who does not have the platoon advantage; and/or to set up a double play. The usefulness of intentional walks for either reason is a matter of considerable debate, and different managers have taken very different attitudes toward the intentional walk. Walter Alston even changed his approach in mid-career, moving from issuing 101 (the 8th most ever) in 1967 to just 9 (the fewest ever) in 1974.

Before Barry Bonds broke the single-season record with 68 in 2002, and then increased it to the current mark of 120 two years later, it was held by Willie McCovey, with the relatively paltry total of 45.

It should be noted that statistics concerning intentional walks have only been kept separately since 1955.

All Time Leaders
Span Player Total Notes
Career Barry Bonds 688
Season Barry Bonds 120 2004
Game Andre Dawson 5 16-inning game, May 22, 1990
Game Barry Bonds 4 9-inning game, May 1, 2004

[edit] Further Reading

  • Bill Deane: "Surprise Swings at Intentional Balls", in The Baseball Research Journal, SABR, Volume 40, Number 1 (Spring 2011), pp. 108-109.
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