"Hard Ball" (also known as "Negotiation") is the fifteenth episode of NBC's first season of 30 Rock. It was written by one of the season's co-producers, Matt Hubbard, and directed by one of the season's supervising producers, Don Scardino. It aired on February 22, 2007 in the United States. Guest stars who appeared in the episode were David Alan Basche, Gregg Bello, Katrina Bowden, Kevin Brown, Grizz Chapman, Rachel Dratch, Keith Powell, Lonny Ross and Gregory Wooddell. Tucker Carlson and Chris Matthews also appear as themselves in the episode.
The episode focuses on Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski) trying to clear her name after being misquoted in an interview for Maxim Magazine. Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin) begins negotiations to Josh Gerard's (Lonny Ross) new contract. Kenneth Parcell (Jack McBrayer) becomes the newest member of Tracy Jordan's (Tracy Morgan) entourage.
Tracy allows Kenneth into his entourage, but in the process discovers that Grizz (Grizz Chapman) and Dot Com (Kevin Brown) have been allowing him to win at things such as Halo, Trivial Pursuit, and basketball. Tracy "fires" Grizz and Dot Com from the entourage, but the union between Tracy and Kenneth does not gel. Grizz and Dot Com come to the rescue after Tracy is surrounded by a mob outside 30 Rockefeller Plaza, which is protesting against the controversy caused by Jenna.
Julia Ward of TV Squad exclaimed that the episode's three storylines were "all brilliant". She praised Alec Baldwin, saying that "his negotiation scenes were gold as was his line delivery". She felt that Baldwin's great acting was "not unique to this episode", and was what earned him the Golden Globe. Ward finished her review by saying that it was "satisfying to see a show come together as 30 Rock [had in the] past few weeks - settling into its rhythm [and] finding its feet". Eric Goldman of IGN felt that this episode "did a very skillful job of juggling three different storylines, all of which delivered solid laughs". He thought that the crew of 30 Rock had figured out "better uses for Jenna, and this episode offered some nice moments for her". He also enjoyed Tracy and Kenneth's subplot, saying it "was a decent one".
"Hard Ball" was nominated for a total of three awards, winning one. Jeff Richmond was nominated for a Creative Arts Emmy Award in the category of Outstanding Original Main Title Theme Music for his work on this episode. Matt Hubbard, the writer of this episode, was also nominated for a Writers Guild of America Award in the category of Best Episodic Comedy. The episode was also submited to voters for the Primetime Emmy Awards category Outstanding Comedy Series, which it won.