Intentional base on balls

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A catcher for the Mexican League's Rojos del Águila de Veracruz uses his glove to signal the pitcher for an intentional walk.

In baseball, an intentional base on balls, usually referred to as an intentional walk and denoted in baseball scorekeeping by IBB, is a walk issued to a batter by a pitcher with the intent of removing the batter's opportunity to swing at the pitched ball. A pitch that is intentionally thrown far outside the strike zone for this purpose is referred to as an intentional ball.

Informally, it is often referred to as a "four-finger salute". This reference stems from the manager's holding up four fingers to signal an intentional walk to his pitcher or catcher.

Rules and scoring[edit]

When a batter receives an intentional base on balls, he is entitled to take first base without being put out. Receiving an intentional base on balls does not count as an official at bat for a batter, but does count as a plate appearance and a base on balls. A ball that is thrown intentionally for the purpose of giving up an intentional base on balls is called an intentional ball. A base on balls counts as an intentional base on balls if and only if the final pitch thrown in the at bat is an intentional ball, even if not all the pitches are intentional balls.

Before the 1920 season, catchers typically stood far to the side of the plate to receive intentional balls. In an effort to increase scoring and attendance and end the so-called dead ball era, major league baseball team owners (at the annual rules meeting in Chicago on February 9, 1920) attempted to ban the intentional base on balls by instituting a penalty that an intentional ball be counted as a balk (which would award each runner the next base). Veteran NL umpire Hank O'Day argued successfully against the proposal and the owners succeeded only in mandating that "the catcher must stand with both feet within the lines of the catcher’s box until the ball leaves the pitcher’s hand", a rule still in force today.

Technique and usage[edit]

When pitching an intentional ball, the pitcher will generally throw to an area several feet outside the plate, where it would be physically impossible for the batter to hit the ball. The pitcher still has to be careful that he doesn't allow runners to advance via a balk or a wild pitch. In addition, the batter can choose to swing at an intentional ball, although this almost never occurs since it is rarely to the batter's advantage. A swing at an intentional ball resulting in a hit occurred during a June 22, 2006 game between the Florida Marlins and the Baltimore Orioles. The Marlins' Miguel Cabrera hit an intentional ball thrown by Todd Williams during the 10th inning resulting in a run scored for the Marlins. Outside the professional leagues however, such as in high school or college baseball but not Little League Baseball, the manager may simply ask the plate umpire to let the batter go to first instead of having the pitcher waste four outside pitches.


The purpose of an intentional walk is to bypass the current hitter in order to face the following batter whom the defensive team expects a better chance of getting out, to set up a double play ball by putting a runner on first base, or to set up a force play at any base in situations where the batter's run cannot affect the outcome of the game (ex: bottom of the 9th, runner on second and third, visiting team ahead by 1). In situations other than these, issuing intentional walks is typically seen as bad strategy, as the danger of them is that an extra runner is now on base for the following hitter. Practically any runner has a better chance of scoring a run from first base (as on a double or triple or two singles, among other following events) through the actions of later batters than the batter has of hitting a home run.


Intentional walks carry an obvious, inherent risk: they give the offensive team another runner on base, without any effort on their part, who could potentially score a run. They might carry other, more nuanced risks.

First, an intentional walk involves throwing a ball, from the pitcher's usual spot on the pitching rubber, to a target that is a significant distance from the plate and the batter. On occasion, the mental and physical adjustment, and/or the re-adjustment to the subsequent batter, could subtly affect or interrupt a pitcher's focus, mechanics, and/or rhythm. The process, and its effects, could momentarily affect the pitcher's command, leading to an 'unintentional' walk to the next batter. The 'unintentional' walk following an intentional walk is not common, but is also not that rare.

An intentional walk might give the subsequent batter the strategic advantage of anticipating that the pitcher will avoid walking him. This subsequent batter might then more aggressively anticipate a pitch in the strike zone. If this batter guesses correctly, he could achieve more success than he otherwise would.

Finally, a subsequent batter might perceive an immediately preceding intentional walk as a slight to his abilities. If such a batter performs better when he feels underestimated by his opposition, an intentional walk could provide a spark.

Records and notable occurrences[edit]

Barry Bonds holds most of the records for intentional walks, including four in a nine-inning game (2004), 120 in a season (2004),[1] and 668 in his career (more than the next two players on the all-time list, Hank Aaron and Willie McCovey, combined).[2]

Bonds, a prolific home run hitter, was a common target for the intentional walk. Nevertheless, many times the decision to walk Bonds was a futile strategy, as the San Francisco Giants still had the National League's second-best offense in 2004, scoring 820 runs. In the first month of the 2004 baseball season, Bonds drew 43 walks, 22 of them intentional. He broke his previous record of 68 intentional walks, set in 2002, on July 10, 2004 in his last appearance before the All-Star break.

There are claims that Mel Ott was also intentionally walked four times in a game against the Phillies in 1929. The claim has not been confirmed (intentional walks have only been an officially tracked statistic since 1955) and the evidence suggests otherwise. Mel Ott was tied with Chuck Klein for the season home run title in 1929 and the Phillies manager told the pitcher to pitch around Ott so he wouldn't pass Klein for the title. When Ott received his bases-loaded walk he was facing a 3-2 pitch count suggesting that the walk was not intentional.

Hideki Matsui drew five consecutive intentional walks in a game in Japanese High School Baseball Championship at Koshien Stadium in 1992 and became a nationwide topic of conversation.[3]

Intentional walks with the bases loaded[edit]

In the history of Major League Baseball, six players have been issued intentional walks with the bases loaded (thus giving the batting team an automatic run). This is only done in the rarest of cases, typically when the pitching team is leading by four runs or less late in the game and a particularly feared hitter is at the plate. The six players given such passes are Abner Dalrymple (1881), Nap Lajoie (1901), Del Bissonette (1928), Bill Nicholson (1944), Barry Bonds (1998), and Josh Hamilton (2008). In all six cases, the pitching team went on to win the game.[4][5]

See also[edit]