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Baseball is a team sport, a bat-and-ball game, in which a hard, fist-sized ball is thrown by a defensive player called a pitcher from a pitcher's mound 60 1/2 feet away, to an offensive player called a batter, who stands at a plate called home and attempts to hit it with a tapered, cylindrical, smooth stick called a bat. The ball itself is also called a baseball.

Scoring is accomplished by the batter running and touching a series of four markers on the ground called bases without being tagged by a man with a ball or being forced out for some other reason.

Baseball is sometimes called hardball to differentiate it from the closely related sport of softball and other similar games.

A view of the playing field at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri.
A view of the playing field at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Missouri.
Picture of Fenway Park. Part of the "Green Monster" can be seen lurking on the right side of this picture
Picture of Fenway Park. Part of the "Green Monster" can be seen lurking on the right side of this picture

Baseball is popular in the Americas and East Asia. In Japan, Puerto Rico, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, Panama, Venezuela, South Korea, and Taiwan, it is one of the most popular sports by any measurement. In the United States, baseball has long been regarded as more than just a "major sport" - it is the unofficial national pastime; the total attendance for Major League games is roughly equal to that of all other American professional team sports combined. Among American television viewers, however, baseball has been surpassed in popularity (in terms of television ratings) by American football. Although three of the four most popular sports in North America are ball games (baseball, basketball and American football), baseball's popularity grew so great that the word "ballgame" in the United States almost always refers to a game of baseball, and "ballpark" to a baseball field.



Baseball is among the oldest and most popular team sports in the United States. A unique culture surrounds it, that includes the game itself, the field, the players, the ballparks and the fans. It remains a sport created in and for simpler times, yet is a complex sport that is greater than any one individual, team or era.

Although the origins and evolution of the various bat-and-ball games are murky, baseball is primarily an American invention, an adaptation of the British game of "rounders" and cricket. As such, going back to at least the 1870s, American newspapers were calling the sport "The National Pastime" or "The National Game". No small part of its appeal is that it is mostly played during the warm, relatively leisurely months of the year, thus it is also called "The Summer Game" and its players often referred to as "The Boys of Summer."

Baseball has a perennial attraction, summarized below in Baseball's unique style, unlike any other mainstream American sport. But, "unique" fails to capture baseball's more endearing quality—orderly and deliberate. Maybe Yogi Berra (a Hall of Fame baseball player) said it best: "Baseball is 90% mental—the other half is physical."

The section on Gameplay (below) provides the rules of game, but the lure of baseball is in its subtleties: situational defense, pitch location, pitch sequence, statistics, ball parks, history, and player personalities. For the avid, keenly enthusiastic fan, the game, even at its slowest, is never boring because of these nuances. Therefore, a full appreciation of baseball naturally requires some knowledge of the rules, but it also requires a deep observation of those endearing and enduring qualities that gives baseball its unique style. Again quoting Yogi Berra, "You can observe a lot just by watching."


A simplified version of the rules of baseball is at simplified baseball rules. Also visit, the official web site of Major League Baseball in the United States, where you can view clips of baseball being played.

General structure

Diagram of a baseball diamond.
Diagram of a baseball diamond.

Baseball is played between two teams of nine players each on a baseball field, usually under the authority of one or more officials, called umpires. There are usually four umpires in major league games; up to six (and as few as one) may officiate depending on the league and the importance of the game. There are four bases. Numbered counter-clockwise, first, second and third bases are cushions (sometimes informally referred to as bags) shaped as 15 in (38 cm) squares which are raised a short distance above the ground; together with home plate, the fourth "base," they form a square with sides of 90 ft (27.4 m) called the diamond. Home base (plate) is a pentagonal rubber slab known as simply home. The field is divided into two main sections: the infield containing the four bases is bounded by the foul line and the grass line (see figure); and the outfield which is the grassed area beyond the infield grass line, between the foul line, and bounded by a wall or fence. The area between the foul lines, including the foul lines (the foul lines are in fair territory), is fair territory, and the area outside the foul lines is foul territory.

The game is played in nine innings in which each team gets one turn to bat and try to score runs while the other pitches and defends in the field. In baseball, the defense always has the ball -- a fact that differentiates it from most other team sports. The teams switch every time the defending team gets three players of the batting team out. The winner is the team with the most runs after nine innings. In the case of a tie, additional innings are played until one team comes out ahead. At the start of the game, all nine players of the home team play the field, while players on the visiting team come to bat one at a time.

A batter follows through after swinging at a pitched ball.
A batter follows through after swinging at a pitched ball.

The basic contest is always between the pitcher for the fielding team, and a batter. The pitcher throws—pitches—the ball towards home plate, where the catcher for the fielding team waits (in a crouched stance) to receive it. Behind the catcher stands the home plate umpire. The batter stands in one of the batter's boxes and tries to hit the ball with a bat. The pitcher must keep one foot in contact with the top or side of the pitcher's rubber—a 24" x 6" (~ 61 cm x 15 cm) plate located atop the pitcher's mound—during the entire pitch, so he can only take one step forward in delivering the ball. The catcher's job is to receive any ball that the batter misses or does not swing at, and, most importantly, to "call" the game by a series of hand movements that signal to the pitcher what pitch to throw and where. If the pitcher disagrees with the call, he will "shake off" the catcher by shaking his head no; he accepts the sign by nodding. The catcher's role becomes more crucial depending on how the game is going, and how the pitcher responds to a given situation. Each pitch begins a new play, which might consist of nothing more than the pitch itself.

Each half-inning, the goal of the defending team is to get three members of the other team out. A player who is out must leave the field and wait for his next turn at bat. There are many ways to get batters and baserunners out; some of the most common are catching a batted ball in the air, tag outs, force outs, and strikeouts. After the fielding team has put out three players from the opposing team, that half of the inning is over and the team in the field and the team at bat switch places; there is no upper limit to the number that may bat in rotation before three outs are recorded. Going through the entire order in an inning is referred to as "batting around". It is indicative of a high scoring inning. A complete inning consists of each opposing side having a turn (three outs) on offense.

The goal of the team at bat is to score runs; a player may do so only by batting, then becoming a base runner, touching all the bases in order (via one or more plays), and finally touching home plate. To that end, the goal of each batter is to enable baserunners to score or to become a baserunner himself. The batter attempts to hit the ball into fair territory—between the baselines—in such a way that the defending players cannot get them or the baserunners out. In general, the pitcher attempts to prevent this by pitching the ball in such a way that the batter cannot hit it cleanly or, ideally, at all.

A baserunner who successfully touches home plate after touching all previous bases in order scores a run. In an enclosed field, a fair ball hit over the fence on the fly is normally an automatic home run, which entitles the batter and all runners to touch all the bases and score. A home run hit with all bases occupied ('bases loaded') is called a grand slam.

Fielding team

See also: Baseball positions | Baseball positioning

The team in the field is the defensive team; they attempt to prevent the team at bat from scoring. There are nine defensive positions, however, only two of the positions have a mandatory location (pitcher and catcher), the locations of the other fielders is not specified by the rules. These fielders often shift their positioning in response to specific batters or game situations, and they may exchange positions with one another at any time. The nine positions are: pitcher, catcher, first baseman, second baseman, third baseman, shortstop, left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder. Each position is labeled which a number starting with the pitcher (1), catcher (2), first baseman (3), second baseman (4), third baseman (5), shortstop (6), left fielder (7), center fielder (8), right fielder (9).

The battery

The battery is the pitcher, who stands on the rubber of the mound, and the catcher, who squats behind home plate.

The pitcher's main role is to pitch the ball toward home plate with the goal of getting the batter out. Pitchers also play defense by fielding batted balls, covering bases (for a potential tag out or force out on an approaching runner), or backing up throws. The catcher's main role is to receive the pitch if the batter does not hit it. Together with the pitcher and coaches, the catcher plots game strategy by suggesting different pitches and by shifting the starting positions of the other fielders. Catchers are also responsible for defense in the area near home plate.

The infielders

The four infielders are the first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman. The first and third basemen play near their respective bases. The second baseman and the shortstop position themselves in the gaps on either side of second base, toward first and third base, respectively. Originally, the second baseman played very close to second base; this positioning shifted when teams found it necessary to have four infielders, rather than four outfielders.

The first baseman's job consists largely of making force plays at first base on ground balls hit to the other infielders. When an infielder picks up a ball from the ground hit by the batter, he must throw it to the first baseman before the batter gets to the base for the batter to be out. The first baseman also fields balls hit near first base. The first baseman also has to receive throws from the pitcher in order to tag runners out who have reached base safely. The position is less physically challenging than the other positions, but there is still a lot of skill involved. Infielders don't always make good throws to first base, so it is the first baseman's job tofield any ball hit toward him cleanly. Older players who can no longer fulfill the demands of their original positions also often become first basemen. The second baseman covers the area to the right of second base and provides backup for the first baseman in bunt situations. The shortstop fills the critical gap between second and third bases—where right-handed batters generally hit ground balls—and also covers second or third base and the near part of left field. This position is the most demanding defensively, so a good shortstop need not necessarily be a good batter. The third baseman's primary requirement is a strong throwing arm, in order to make the long throw across the infield to the first baseman. Quick reaction time is also important for third basemen, as they tend to see more sharply hit balls than the other infielders.

The outfielders

The three outfielders, left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder, are so named from the catcher's perspective (from home plate looking onto the field). The right fielder generally has the strongest arm of all the outfielders due to the need to make throws on runners attempting to take third base. The center fielder has more territory to cover than the corner outfielders, so this player must be quick and agile with a strong arm to throw balls in to the infield; as with the shortstop, teams tend to emphasize defense at this position. Also, the center fielder is considered the outfield leader, and left- and right-fielders often cede to his direction when fielding fly balls. Of all outfielders, the left fielder often has the weakest arm, as they generally do not need to throw the ball as far in order to prevent the advance of any baserunners. The left fielder still requires good fielding and catching skills, and tends to receive more balls than the right fielder due to the fact that right-handed hitters, who are much more common, tend to "pull" the ball into left field. The left fielder also backs up third base on pick-off attempts from the catcher.

Defensive strategy

The typical motion of a pitcher
The typical motion of a pitcher

Main article: Pitching

Effective pitching is vitally important to a baseball team, as pitching is the key for the defensive team to retire batters and to preventing runners from getting on base. A full game usually involves over one hundred pitches thrown by each team. However, most pitchers begin to tire before they reach this point. In previous eras, pitchers would often throw up to four complete games (all nine innings) in a week. With new advances in medical research and thus a better understanding of how the human body functions and tires out, starting pitchers tend to throw fractions of a game (typically 6 or 7 innings depending on their performance) about every five days.

Multiple pitchers are often needed in a single game, including the starting pitcher and relief pitcher(s). Pitchers are substituted for one another like any other player (see below), and the rules do not limit the number of pitchers that can be used in a game. Relief pitchers were uncommon in baseball's early years, with the starter normally remaining for the entire game; today, over the course of a single game, each team will most commonly use two to five pitchers.

Although a pitcher can only take one step forward while delivering the ball, the pitcher has a great arsenal at his disposal in the variation of location, velocity, movement, and arm location (see types of pitches). Most pitchers attempt to master two or three types of pitches; some pitchers throw up to 6 types of pitches with varying degrees of control. Common pitches include a fastball, which is the ball thrown at just under maximum velocity; a curveball, which is made to curve by rotation imparted by the pitcher; and a change-up, which is a slower version of a fastball.

To illustrate pitching strategy, consider the "fastball/change-up" combination: The average major-league pitcher can throw a fast ball around 90 miles per hour (145 km/h), and a few pitchers have even exceeded 100 miles per hour (161 km/h). The change-up is thrown somewhere between 75 to 85 miles per hour (121 to 137 km/h). Since the batter's timing is critical to hitting a pitch, a batter swinging to hit what looks like a fast ball, would be terribly fooled (swing and miss, hopefully) when the pitch turns out to be a much slower change-up.

Some pitchers choose to throw using the 'submarine style,' a very efficient sidearm motion. Pitchers with a sidearm delivery are often very difficult to hit because of the angle and movement of the ball once released.

Fielding strategy

Since only the pitcher and catcher location is fixed, the other players on the field move around as needed to defend against scoring a run. Many variations of this are possible, as location depends upon the "situation." "Situation" refers to immediate circumstances of play, and includes: the number of outs, the count (balls and strikes) on the batter, the number and speed of runners, the ability of the fielders, the ability of the pitcher, the type of pitch thrown, the inning, home versus visiting team, and others. As the situation dictates, the fielders move to more strategic locations. Common defensive situations include: playing for the bunt, trying to prevent a stolen base (runner advancing to the next base), moving the defensive to a shallow position to throw out a runner at home, moving fielders to locations where hitters are most likely to hit the ball, etc.

Team at bat

Batters and runners

The ultimate goal of the team at bat is to score runs. To accomplish this feat, the team at bat successively (in an predetermined order called a lineup) sends its nine players to the batter's box (adjacent to home plate) where they become batters. (Each team sets its batting lineup at the beginning of the game. Changes to the lineup are tightly limited by the rules of baseball and must be communicated to the umpires and to the opposing team. See Substitutions below.)

A batter's turn at the plate is called a plate appearance. Batters advance to the bases in a variety of ways: hits, walks, hit-by-pitch, and a few others. When the batter hits a fair ball, he must run to first base, and may continue or stop at any base unless he is put out. A successful hit occurs when the batter reaches a base: reaching only first base is a single; reaching second base, a double; third base, a triple; and hit that allows the batter to touch all bases in order on the same play is a home run, whether or not the ball is hit over the fence. Once a runner is held to a base, he may attempt to advance at any time, but is not required to do so unless the batter or another runner displaces him (called a force play). A batter always drops his bat when running the bases —otherwise, the bat would slow him down and also be a danger to fielders.

Depending on the way the ball comes off the bat, the play has different names. A batted ball is called a fly ball if it was hit in the air in a way causing the fielder to catch it on its descent. A line drive is like a fly ball, but the ball is hit with such force that its trajectory seems level to the ground. A batted ball which is not hit into the air, and which touches the ground within the infield before it can be caught, is called a ground ball. When a ball is hit outside the foul line, it is a foul ball, requiring the batter and all runners to return to their respecitive bases.

Once the batter and any existing runners have all stopped at a base or been put out, the ball is returned to the pitcher, and the next batter comes to the plate. After the opposing team bats in its own order and three more outs are recorded, the first team's batting order will continue again from where it left off.

When a runner reaches home plate, they score a run and are no longer a base runner. They must leave the playing area until their spot in the order comes up again. A runner may only circle the bases once per plate appearance and thus can score no more than a single run.


Main article: Batting (baseball)

Seven-time MVP Barry Bonds just after swinging at a pitch (photo: Agência Brasil)
Seven-time MVP Barry Bonds just after swinging at a pitch (photo: Agência Brasil)

Each plate appearance consists of a series of pitches, in which the pitcher throws the ball towards home plate while a batter is standing in the batter's box. With each pitch, the batter must decide whether or not to swing the bat at the ball in an attempt to hit it. The pitches arrive quickly, so the decision to swing must be made in less than a second, based on whether or not the ball is hittable and in the strike zone, a region defined by the area directly above home plate and between the batter's knees and underarms. In addition to swinging at the ball, a batter who wishes to put the ball in play may hold his bat over home plate and attempt to tap a pitch lightly; this is called a bunt.

On any pitch, if the batter swings at the ball and misses, he is charged with a strike. If the batter does not swing, the home plate umpire judges whether or not the ball passed through the strike zone. If the ball passed through the zone, it is ruled a strike; otherwise, it is called a ball. The number of balls and strikes thrown to the current batter is known as the count; the count is always given balls first, then strikes (such as 3-2 or "three and two", which would be 3 balls and 2 strikes).

If the batter swings and makes contact with the ball, but does not put it in play in fair territory—a foul ball—he is charged with an additional strike, except when there are already two strikes. Thus, a foul ball with two strikes leaves the count unchanged. (However, a noted exception to this rule is a ball bunted foul with two strikes always counts as a strike.) If a pitch is batted foul or fair and a member of the defensive team is able to catch it, before the ball strikes the ground, the batter is declared out. In the event that a bat contacts the ball, but the ball continues sharply and directly to the catcher's mitt and is caught, it is a foul tip, which is same as an ordinary strike.

When three strikes occur on a batter, it is a strikeout and the batter is out except in some circumstances when the pitch is not caught by the catcher (a violation of the third strike rule[1]). If however the catcher drops the third strike, the batter is allowed to attempt to advance to first base.(The catcher can try to get him out.)

On the fourth ball the batter becomes a runner, and is entitled to advance to first base without risk of being put out, called a base on balls or a walk (abbreviated BB). If a pitch touches the batter, the umpire can declare a hit by pitch (abbreviated HBP) and the batter is awarded first base, unless the umpire determines that the ball was in the strike zone when it hit the batter, or that the batter did not attempt to avoid being hit.

Base running

Main article: Baserunning

Once a batter becomes a runner, he is said to be "on" that base until he attempts to advance to the next base, until he is put out, or until the half-inning ends. Runners on second or third base are considered to be in scoring position since ordinary hits, even singles, will often score them.

A runner legally touching a base is "safe"—he may not be put out. Runners may attempt to advance from base to base at any time (except during time outs), but must advance on any fair ball that touches the ground. When a ball is hit in the air, a fly ball, and caught by the defending team, runners must return and touch the base they occupied at the time of the pitch—called tagging up—after the ball is caught. Once they do this, they may attempt to advance at their own risk.

Pick-off attempt on runner (in red) at first base
Pick-off attempt on runner (in red) at first base

Baserunners may attempt to advance, or steal a base, while the pitcher is throwing a pitch. The pitcher, in lieu of delivering the pitch, may try to prevent this by throwing the ball to one of the infielders in order to tag the runner; if successful, it is called a pick-off. If the runner attempts to steal the next base but is tagged out before reaching it safely, he is caught stealing. An illegal attempt by the pitcher to throw a runner out is called a balk, allowing the runners to advance without risk of being put out.

Batting and base running strategy

The goal of each batter is to become a base runner himself (usually by a safe hit or a base on balls), or to help move other base runners along. Batters attempt to "read" pitchers through pre-game preparation by studying the tendencies of pitchers and by talking to other batters that previously faced the pitcher. While batting, batters attempt to "read" pitches by looking for clues that the pitcher or catcher reveal. These clues include movements of the pitchers arms, shoulders, body, etc, and an attempt to "read" the spin of a ball early in the pitch to anticipate its trajectory. Batters also remain keenly aware of the count during their at bat. When the count is in the batter's favor (like 2-0), the batter is more likely to take a risky swing, but when the count is in the pitcher's favor (like 0-2), the batter will take a more conservative swing.

In general, base running is a tactical part of the game requiring good judgment by runners (and their coaches) to assess the risk in attempting to advance. During tag plays, a good slide can affect the outcome of the play. Managers will often simultaneously send a runner and require the batter to swing (a hit-and-run play) in an attempt to advance runners.

During the course of play many offensive and defensive players run close to each other, and during tag plays, the defensive player must touch the offensive player. Although baseball is considered a non-contact sport; a runner may be allowed to make potentially dangerous contact with a fielder as part of an attempt to reach a base, unless that fielder is fielding a batted ball. (Noted exceptions to the dangerous contact rule are found throughout amateur competions, including youth leagues, high school, and college baseball.) A good slide is often more advantageous than such contact, and "malicious" contact by runners is typically prohibited as offensive interference. The most common occurence of contact of this nature is at home plate between the runner and the catcher, as the catcher is well padded and locked into position on or near the plate, and the runner will often try to knock the ball out of the catchers hand. Since the catcher is seen (symbolically and literally) as the last line of defense, it seems natural that the more physical play happens here.

Innings and determining a winner

An inning consists of each team having one turn in the field and one turn to hit, with the visiting team batting before the home team. A standard game lasts nine innings, although some leagues (such as minor leagues and high school baseball) use seven-inning games. The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins. If the home team is ahead after eight-and-a-half innings have been played, it is declared the winner, and the last half-inning is not played. If the home team is trailing or tied in the last inning and they score to take the lead, the game ends as soon as the winning run touches home plate; however, if the last batter hits a home run to win the game, he and any runners on base are all permitted to score.

If both teams have scored the same number of runs at the end of a regular-length game, a tie is avoided by the addition of extra innings. As many innings as necessary are played until one team has the lead at the end of an inning. Thus, the home team always has a chance to respond if the visiting team scores in the top half of the inning; this gives the home team a small tactical advantage. In theory, a baseball game could go on forever; in practice, however, they eventually end. In Major League Baseball the longest game played was a 26-inning affair between the Brooklyn Robins and Boston Braves on May 1, 1920. The game ended in a 1-1 tie called on account of darkness.

In Major League Baseball, games end with tie scores only because conditions have made it impossible to continue play. A tie game does not count as an official game in the standings unless it is finished later or replayed; however, individual player statistics from tie games are counted. Inclement weather may also shorten games, but at least five innings must be played for the game to be considered official; four-and-a-half innings are enough if the home team is ahead. Previously, curfews and the absence of adequate lighting caused more ties and shortened games.

In Japanese baseball, if the score remains tied after nine innings, up to three extra innings may be played before the game is called a tie. Some youth or amateur leagues will end a game early if one team is ahead by ten or more runs, a practice known as the "mercy rule" or "slaughter rule". Rarely, a game can also be won or lost by forfeit.

There is a short break between each half-inning during which the new defensive team takes the field and the pitcher warms up. Traditionally, the break between the top half and the bottom half of the seventh inning is known as the seventh-inning stretch. During the "stretch," fans often sing the chorus of "Take Me Out to the Ball Game."


Each team is allowed to substitute for any player at any time, but no player, once removed from the game, may return. A batter who replaces another batter is referred to as a pinch hitter; similarly, a pinch runner may be used as a replacement for a baserunner. Any replacement is a permanent substitution; the replaced player may not return to the game.

It is common for a pitcher to pitch for several innings and then be removed in favor of a relief pitcher. Because pitching is a specialized skill, most pitchers are relatively poor hitters; it is common to substitute for a pitcher when he is due to bat. This pinch hitter is typically then replaced by a relief pitcher when the team returns to the field on defense, but more complicated substitutions are possible, most notably the double switch.

Many amateur leagues allow a starting player who was removed to return to the game in the same position in the batting order under a re-entry rule. Youth leagues often allow free and open substitution to encourage player participation.

Most leagues, notably Major League Baseball's American League, allow a designated hitter, a player whose sole purpose is to hit when it would normally be the pitcher's turn. This is not considered a substitution but rather a position, albeit a purely offensive one. A designated hitter does not play in the field on defense and may remain in the game regardless of changes in pitchers.


Main article: Major League Baseball transactions

During the course of a game, each baseball team has players that are an active part of the game, called "in the game," and players that are not, called "on the bench." The players on the bench are needed in case of injuries and to make strategic pitching, fielding, and batting substitutions. To keep the game fair, each team is limited to a fixed number of players. That number is dictated by the rules of the game, see Major League Baseball transactions for those limitations.

Other personnel

Each team is run by a manager, whose primary responsibility during the game is to assign players to fielding positions, determine the lineup, deciding how to substitute players, and, most importantly, choosing the course of strategy throughout the game. Managers are also assisted by coaches in helping players to develop their skills. When a team is at-bat, they will position a coach or manager in each coach's box referred to as the first and third base coaches. These coaches must help the players decide whether they should try to run to the next base; also, the coaches will signal plays to the batter and runners. Baseball is unique in that the manager and coaches all wear numbered uniforms similar to those of the players.

Any baseball game involves one or more umpires, who make rulings on the outcome of each play. At a minimum, one umpire will stand behind the catcher, to have a good view of the strike zone, and call each pitch a ball or a strike. Additional umpires may be stationed near the bases, thus making it easier to see plays in the field. In Major League Baseball, four umpires are used for each game, one near each base. In the all-star game and playoffs, six umpires are used: one at each base and two in the outfield along either foul line.

Another notable role in baseball is that of the official scorer. The results of baseball games are summarized in tables called box scores. The scorer is responsible for a number of judgments that go into the boxscore. For example, if a batted ball is misplayed by a fielder, the scorer may choose to charge the fielder with an error instead of crediting the batter with a hit. Within certain guidelines, the scorer also determines which pitchers are credited with winning and losing the game, and whether a relief pitcher will be awarded a hold or save, specific situations in which a relief pitcher keeps a lead intact for his team.

Baseball's unique style

Baseball is unique among American sports in several ways. This uniqueness is a large part of its longstanding appeal and strong association with the American psyche.

Although the following elements all contribute to baseball's uniqueness in American culture, they are all shared by its cousin game cricket. In many Commonwealth nations, cricket and the culture surrounding it hold a similar place and affection to baseball's role in American culture.

Time element

American football, basketball, ice hockey and soccer all use a clock, and games often end by a team killing the clock rather than competing directly against the opposing team. In contrast, baseball has no clock; a team cannot win without getting the last batter out and rallies are not constrained by time.

In recent decades, observers have criticized professional baseball for the length of its games, with some justification as the time required to play a baseball game has increased steadily through the years. One hundred years ago, games typically took an hour and a half to play; in 2004, the average major league baseball game lasted 2 hours and 47 minutes. This is due to longer commercial breaks, increased offense, more pitching changes, and a slower pace of play.

In response, Major League Baseball has instructed umpires to be more strict in enforcing speed-up rules and the size of the strike zone. Although the official rules specify that when the bases are empty, the pitcher should deliver the ball within 20 seconds of receiving it (with the penalty of a ball called if he fails to do so), this rule is rarely, if ever, enforced.

Individual and team

Baseball is fundamentally a team sport—even two or three Hall of Fame-caliber players are no guarantee of a pennant—yet it places individual players under great pressure and scrutiny. The pitcher must make good pitches or risk losing the game; the hitter has a mere fraction of a second to decide what pitch has been thrown and whether or not to swing at it. While their respective managers and/or coaches can sometimes signal players regarding the strategies the manager wants to employ, no one can help the pitcher while he pitches or the hitter while he bats. If the batter hits a line drive, the outfielder, as the last line of defense, makes the lone decision to try to catch it or play it on the bounce. Baseball history is full of heroes and goats—men who in the heat of the moment distinguished themselves with a timely hit or catch, or an untimely strikeout or error.

Strategy and goals

Baseball certainly requires skill and athleticism, but also has a depth of strategy and anticipation which often goes unrecognized by those less familiar with the sport. Pitchers develop strategies on how to pitch to the batter by studying the batter's previous plate appearances throughout the year. Pitchers will vary their approach with each time they see the same batter. Defensive players are positioned based on statistics about where the batter is likely to hit the ball and what specific type of pitches will be thrown. Hitters are given signals about coordinated plays the manager is calling (e.g. a hit and run or sacrifice bunt), and sometimes are explicitly instructed not to swing (to "take"). Pitchers are sometimes given signals to throw a specific pitch, or even to avoid pitching to the batter at all (e.g. an intentional base on balls or a pitchout.)

The goals of a team vary across scope, from individual pitch to the season. Teams develop a strategy to match this varying scope. They have a broad set of goals for the season, but more specific strategies for the early part of the season, varying that by the team and even by home games vs. away games. Meanwhile, they have very specific strategies for a single game and even down to the inning, the players who are due to bat, including the next pitch.

The uniqueness of each baseball park

The main scoreboard after the August 11, 2005 Cubs - Cardinals game at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois.
The main scoreboard after the August 11, 2005 Cubs - Cardinals game at Wrigley Field, Chicago, Illinois.

Main article: Baseball parks

Unlike the majority of sports, baseball parks do not have to follow a strict set of guidelines. With the exception of the strict rules on the dimensions of the infield, discussed above, the official rules simply state that fields built after June 1, 1958 must have a minimum distance of 325 feet (99 m) from home plate to the fences in left and right field and 400 (121 m) feet to center. This rule (a footnote to official rule 1.04) was passed specifically in response to the setup at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, which had a reported left field distance of 251 feet (77 m), 1 foot (0.3 m) over the bare minimum required by the rules. However, major league teams often skirt this rule. For example, Minute Maid Park's left field is only 315 feet (96 m), and with a fence much lower than the famous "Green Monster" at Fenway Park. And there are no rules at all regulating the height of "fences, stands or other obstructions", other than the assumption that they exist. Because of this flexibility, there are all sorts of variations in parks, from different lengths to the fences to uneven playing surfaces to massive or minimal amounts of foul territory, all of which affect the nature of the game at those ballparks.


Main article: Baseball statistics

As with many sports, and perhaps even more so, statistics are very important to baseball. Statistics have been kept for the Major Leagues since their creation, and presumably statistics were around even before that. General managers, baseball scouts, managers, and players alike study player statistics to help them decide from various strategies to best help their team.

Traditionally, statistics like batting average for batters—the number of hits divided by the number of at bats—and earned run average—approximately the number of runs given up by a pitcher per nine innings—have governed the statistical world of baseball. However, the advent of sabermetrics has brought an onslaught of new statistics that perhaps better gauge a player's performance and contributions to his team from year to year.

Some sabermetrics have entered the mainstream baseball statistic world. On-base plus slugging (OPS) is a somewhat complicated formula that gauges a hitter's performance better than batting average. It combines the hitter's on base percentage—hits plus walks plus hit by pitches divided by plate appearances—with their slugging percentagetotal bases divided by at bats. Walks plus hits per inning pitched (or WHIP) gives a good representation of a pitcher's abilities; it is calculated exactly as its name suggests.

Also important are more specific statistics for a certain situation. For example, a certain hitter's ability to hit left-handed pitchers might cause his manager to give him more chances to face lefties. Some hitters hit better with runners in scoring position, so an opposing manager, knowing this statistic, might elect to intentionally walk him in order to face a poorer hitter.


1886 baseball demonstration at Conner Prairie living history museum.
1886 baseball demonstration at Conner Prairie living history museum.

Main article: History of Baseball

Baseball is thought to be a direct descendant of cricket, rounders, and town ball (which was much like rounders), though the game's true origins are uncertain. The earliest known mention of the sport is in a 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts (United States), town bylaw banning the playing of it within 80 yards of the town meeting house.

Another early mention of the game can be found in an 1886 edition of Sporting Life magazine, in a letter from Dr. Adam Ford of Denver, Colorado, formerly of St. Marys, Ontario, Canada, who details a base ball game played in Beachville, Ontario, Canada, on June 4, 1838 -- Militia Muster Day.

Alexander Cartwright had a hand in compiling and publishing an early list of rules in 1845 (the so-called "Knickerbocker Rules") to meet the demands of the already popular sport, and today's rules of baseball have evolved from them.

Professional baseball began in the United States around 1865, and the National League was founded in 1876 as the first true major league, quickly producing famous players such as Honus Wagner. Several other major leagues formed and failed, but the American League, established in 1901 as a major league and originating from the minor Western League (1893), did succeed. While rivals who fought for the best players, the two major leagues began playing a World Series in 1903.

Compared to modern times, games in the early part of the 20th century were lower scoring and pitchers were more successful. The "inside game", whose nature was to "scratch for runs", was played rather more violently and aggressively than it is today. Ty Cobb said of his era especially, "Baseball is a war!" This period, which has since become known as the "dead-ball era", ended in the 1920s with several rule changes that gave advantages to hitters and the rise of the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, who showed the world what power hitting could produce and thus changed the nature of the game.

During the first half of the 20th century, a "gentlemen's agreement" in the form of the baseball color line effectively barred African-American players from the major leagues (though not Native Americans, oddly enough), resulting in the formation of several Negro Leagues. Finally in 1947, Major League Baseball's color barrier was broken when Jackie Robinson was signed by the National League's Brooklyn Dodgers. Although it was not instantaneous, baseball has since become fully integrated.

Baseball has often been a barometer of the fabled American "melting pot", as immigrants from different regions have tried to "make good" in various areas including sports. In the 19th century, baseball was populated with many players of Irish or German extraction. A number of Native Americans had successful careers especially in the early 1900s. Italians and Poles appeared on many rosters during the 1920s and 1930s. Black Americans came on strong starting in the late 1940s after the barriers had been lifted, and continue to form a significant contingent. By the 1960s, Hispanics had started to make the scene, and had become a dominant force by the 1990s. In the 21st century, East Asians have been appearing in increasing numbers.

The middle of the century led major league baseball to the West of the United States and also became a time when pitchers dominated. Scoring became so low in the American League, due to pitching dominance, that the designated hitter was introduced; this rule now constitutes the primary difference between the two leagues.

Despite the popularity of baseball, and the attendant high salaries relative to those of average Americans, the players have become unsatisfied from time to time, as they believed the owners had too much control—a stance that many baseball fans found objectionable. Various job actions have occurred throughout the game's history. Players on specific teams occasionally attempted strikes, but usually came back when their jobs were sufficiently threatened. The throwing of the 1919 World Series, "The Black Sox scandal", was in some sense a "strike" or at least a rebellion by the ballplayers against a perceived stingy owner. But the strict rules of baseball contracts tended to keep the players "in line" in general.

This began to change in the 1960s when former Steelworkers Union president Marvin Miller became the Baseball Players Union president. The union became much stronger than it had been previously, especially when the reserve clause was effectively nullified in the mid-1970s. A series of strikes and lockouts began in baseball, affecting portions of the 1972 and 1981 seasons and culminating in the infamous strike of 1994 that led to the cancellation of the World Series and carried over into 1995 before it was finally settled.

The players typically always got what they demanded, but the popularity of baseball diminished greatly as a result of the players' actions, and fans were slow to return. Cal Ripken's record-breaking 2131st consecutive game in 1995 was a feel-good moment that helped boost interest in the sport. The great home run race of 1998 between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa really turned things around, captivating fans all summer. As with other times when adversity threatened the game, positive on-field events had triggered a renewed surge in baseball's popularity in America.

Professional baseball leagues began to form in countries outside of America in the 1920s and 1930s, including the Netherlands (formed in 1922), Japan (1936), and Australia (1934). Today, Venezuela (1945), the whole of Europe (1953), Italy (1948), Korea (1982), Taiwan (1990), and mainland China (2003) all have professional leagues as well. Competition between national teams, such as in the World Baseball Classic and the Olympic baseball tournament, has been administered by the International Baseball Federation since its formation in 1938. As of 2004, this organization has 112 member countries.

The 117th meeting of the International Olympic Committee, held in Singapore in July 2005, voted not to hold baseball and softball tournaments at the 2012 Summer Olympic Games, but they will remain an Olympic sport during the 2008 Summer Olympic Games, and will be put to vote again for each succeeding Summer Olympics. The elimination of baseball and softball from the 2012 Olympic program enabled the IOC to consider adding two other sports to the program instead, but no other sport received a majority of votes favoring its inclusion.

Organized leagues

Baseball is played at a number of levels, by amateur and professionals, and by the young and the old. The content of the above article focused on professional baseball, however amateur baseball is a major part of baseball culture in many parts of the world. Youth programs use modifed versions of adult and professional baseball rules, which may include a smaller field, easier pitching (from a coach, a tee, or a machine), less contact, base running restrictions, limitations on innings a pitcher can throw, liberal balk rules, and run limitations, among others. Since rules vary from location-to-location and among the organizations, coverage of the nuances in those rules is beyond this article.

Following is a list of organized leagues:

See also


Statistics and lists


  1. ^ The "third strike rule", which has been on the books since at least the time of the Knickerbocker Rules, is that the batter can try to advance to first base on the third strike, if the third strike is not caught. However, the batter is not permitted to advance if first base is occupied, unless there are already two outs. This is to prevent the catcher from dropping the ball on purpose and setting up a potential double or triple play. The underlying concept is the same as the "Infield Fly Rule", to curb defensive shenanigans. Both rules change when there are two outs, because then there is no defensive advantage to dropping the ball on purpose. Statistically, such a play still counts as a strikeout for the pitcher, plus either a passed ball charged to the catcher or a wild pitch charged to the pitcher, so if the batter advances safely to first on such a play, it is possible for a pitcher to record 4 or more strikeouts in one inning. Such events have been recorded several dozen times in the history of the major leagues.


  • Joe Brinkman and Charlie Euchner, The Umpire's Handbook, rev. ed. (1987)
  • Bill James and John Dewan, Bill James Presents the Great American Baseball Stat Book, ed. by Geoff Beckman et al. (1987)
  • Bill James, The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract, (ISBN 0743227220)
  • Robert Peterson, Only the Ball Was White (1970, reprinted 1984)
  • Joseph L. Reichler (ed.), The Baseball Encyclopedia, 7th rev. ed. (1988). (since 1871)
  • Lawrence Ritter and Donald Honig, The Image of Their Greatness: An Illustrated History of Baseball from 1900 to the Present, updated ed. (1984)
  • Lawrence S. Ritter (comp.), The Glory of Their Times: The Story of the Early Days of Baseball Told by the Men Who Played It, new ed. (1984)
  • David Quentin Voigt, Baseball, an Illustrated History (1987)
  • Jeff MacGregor, The New Electoral Sex Symbol: Nascar Dad, The New York Times (January 18, 2004)
  • Michael Mandelbaum, The Meaning of Sports, (PublicAffairs, ISBN 1-58648-252-1).
  • Pittsfield: Small city, big baseball town, earliest known baseball reference

External links

Baseball at the Summer Olympics
1992 | 1996 | 2000 | 2004
Demonstration events
1912 | 1936 | 1952 | 1956 | 1964 | 1984 | 1988

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