Becky's Guide to the Wonderful Game of Baseball


A baseball game generally consists of 9 innings. Each inning consists of a top and bottom half. The away team is at bat during the top of the inning while the home team is in the field. During the bottom of the inning, the home team is at bat. Being "at bat" is when you are able to score runs. An inning half continues until there are three OUTS. There are nine players actively playing during the innings. These same nine players are the ones who are eligible to bat. There are more than 9 players on the team as players can be rotated throughout the game. In particular, the pitcher (see PITCHING) is changed often. Once a player is taken out of a position, he cannot return to the game in that position, although he can return in a different capacity.

BASIC LAYOUT and FIELD POSITIONS:


   \		     CF		 	 /
    \                                   /	Outfield:
     \   LF			RF     /	  LF: left field
      \                               /		  CF: center field
       \                             /		  RF: right field 
        \           *FAIR*          /		Note: right handed hitters
         \                         /		  tend to hit to left field 
          \                       /		  so RF is generally not a
           \          2B         / 		  very important position,
            \    SS             /		  thus "out in right field"
             \                 /		  can mean an odd idea or  
              \               /			  person.
              3B             1B			
                \     P     /			Infield:
                 \         /			  P:  pitcher (from a mound)
                  \       /			  1B: first base
       *Foul*      \     /	*Foul*		  2B: second base 
                    \   /			  SS: short stop
                     \ /			  3B: third base
		      .           		  C:  catcher 
      		      C				Note: Short stop helps cover
						  the more common left field
						  area plus covers 2B if 2B
						  is needed to field balls 
						  headed off to RF.  The 
						  catcher is very important
						  because he can see all of 
						  the action on the field 
						  from his position at 
						  homeplate.

RUNS: The goal of the offense is to advance players around the bases and across home plate (where the Catcher is). A run occurs when homeplate is safely crossed. One player at a time can be on a base. If there is no one on the base below them, they can safely stay at their base without being forced to run to the next base. For example, a runner who hits a double and gets to 2B, doesn't have to run to 3B until there is a runner on 1B. However, since the goal is to cross homeplate, the runner will advance if at all possible. The status of being forced to run to the next base or not makes a difference in the types of OUTS that can be made.

OUTS: 3 outs per inning half. Runners are either called safe or out at a base. Ways to get outs 1) Strike out: 3 strikes (see PITCHING). A batter can strike out "swinging" or strike out "looking". Either one is bad for the hitter (and good for the pitcher). 2) Fly out: Caught fly ball (see HITTING). 3) Force out: Ball is thrown to baseman before runner gets there when runner has to run to that base. Baseman must be touching the base. 4) Tag out: Fielder with ball in glove (or hand) tags runner with glove (or ball). If runner is not forced to go to next base, he must be tagged out at that base since he could always (ha!) run back to the previous base. 5) Sacrifice out: This is an offense-controlled out and is seen when the batter hits the ball towards 1B to make it easy to get him out but difficult to get any other runners out. This has the advantage of advancing the other runners towards home plate and is generally done when there are at most one of three outs.

PITCHING: There are many different types of pitches depending on how the ball is thrown. A major league fast ball is typically 90mph. Other types of pitches change direction or speed as they go towards the home plate. Any of these pitches can be called a strike or a ball, depending on where they cross homeplate. (See diagram of STRIKE ZONE.) Types of pitches: 1) Strike: perfectly placed according to the umpire. If the batter is unable to hit this ball, it is a strike and counts towards a strike out. Hits generally come from pitches that would have been strikes. (See Foul Ball under HITTING.) 2) Ball: Pitches thrown outside the strike zone. If 4 balls are thrown before 3 strikes, the batter walks to first base. Any runners on base that can be "forced" to move, walk to next base. It is polite for the runners to jog or trot rather than walk so that we don't have 4 hour games. 3) Throwing to base: The pitcher can try to get the ball to a base rather than throwing to the catcher so that the baseman can tag out (see OUTS) the runner. This is done if the runner is taking a large lead off of the base. Occasionally there is an out but generally, this is done to keep the runner close to base to prevent the runner from stealing the next base. Stolen bases are a good thing for runners and a bad thing for pitchers. 4) Balk: This is when a pitcher winds up but doesn't throw the ball and is very unusual. Any runners, including the batter advance one base. 5) Wild pitch: This is when a pitcher, especially a knuckleball pitcher, throws a pitch that is uncatchable by the catcher. Since the ball is out of the control of the defense, runners can take the opportunity to run to the next base.

HITTING: Hitting the ball is the goal of the offense, just below getting RUNS. A hit occurs when the batter actually makes it to first base from his action of hitting the ball without causing an out. Hits are a good thing for batter's STATISTICS. There are other ways to get on base (see GETTING ON BASE). There are two classes of hitting: fair and foul as defined on the above diagram. 1) Fair ball--hits within field lines: a) Pop fly: Ball goes almost straight up and generally comes down infield. (See infield fly rule). b) Fly ball: Without hitting the ground the ball sails into the outfield. If it is caught, the batter is OUT. Runners already on base must TAG UP on their current base before trying to run to the next base. They cannot try to run to the next base until the ball is caught. Since the defensive team has control of the ball, there is a chance the runner will not make it to the next base before the ball can be thrown to that base. If the runner does not TAG UP, they can be forced out at their current base. Pro-ball home runs are only fly balls. c) Ground ball: Hits the ground right away, especially before leaving the infield. It may hit the ground and start rolling, or hit the ground and bounce up quickly, looking deceptively like a pop fly if you aren't paying attention. After being caught, since it is not an automatic out, the ball must be thrown to a base before the the forced runner gets there to make an OUT. Ground balls are generally thrown to first base as the batter has to go there and is usually slower as he doesn't have a lead and has to deal with finishing his swing and dropping the bat. 2) Foul ball--goes into foul territory. Foul balls count as strikes unless it is time for the 3rd strike. One cannot foul out. a) Fly ball: Goes into foul zone before the yellow poles in the outfield. If this ball is caught, it would be an OUT. b) Ground ball: crosses the foul line before 1st or 3rd base. If a ground ball crosses the line after the 1st or 3rd base, it is still considered fair.

Hitting terms you will find useful:

Grand slam: When the bases are loaded (a person on each base) and the next batter hits a homerun. The batter is then credited with 4 RBI's (runs-batted-in), the maximum possible for one at-bat.

Bunt: This is when the batter "catches" the ball with the bat. The effect is that the ball dribbles into the infield somewhere between the pitcher and catcher, making it difficult for any fielding.

Designated hitter (DH): In the American League, pitchers do not bat. They are replaced in the batting line-up by a designated hitter. Hopefully, the DH is a consistent, powerful batter. If the DH plays a position on the field, it is normally RF.

Pinch hitter: The general rule is that people who field must hit. If a different hitter is needed (perhaps to deal with a good pitcher), a pinch hitter can be put into the lineup but the person being replaced cannot return to their position in the field. (See first paragraph.)

Pinch runner: Occasionally a strong batter will have an injury that makes it difficult to round the bases. After getting a hit or a walk and making it to first base, the person is pulled from the game and a pinch runner takes his place (often at 1B). The pinch runner takes the place of the batter in the next part of the game so this is generally not done until late in the game.

On deck: The next person to bat is described as being "on deck". They usually are standing between their team's dugout and homeplate practicing their swing. Because the pitcher knows who is up next, it can influence how the current batter is treated. If the current batter is a SLUGGER and the batter on-deck is not known for strong hitting, the pitcher could walk the current batter to prevent a hit, or even a homerun, and then rely on striking out the weaker hitter.

Slugger: A slugger is a person who has a high average of bases per hits. The maximum slugging average means that every time the person has a hit, they hit a homerun. This is connected to batting average (hits per at bat) but I'm not sure if it's bases per hit or bases per at bat.

Non-basics that will probably come up during a game:

EXTRA INNINGS: Baseball games don't end in a tie unless they are called for rain or darkness (not often, in lighted stadiums) after the 6th inning. If the game reaches the end of the 9th, the game continues until a full inning is completed without a tie. It is possible for the score to change after the 9th inning without the game ending as long as any runs by the away team are matched by the home team during the bottom of the inning.

ONLY 8.5 INNINGS: If the home team is ahead after the top of the ninth inning, the bottom of the ninth is not played because the home team has won. The game is over in the 9th (or extra) inning as soon as the home team pulls ahead (or fails to match the away team's score).

INFIELD FLY RULE: If there is a pop fly in the infield and a fielder drops it, it is still considered an out because they should have caught the ball. The fielder may then end up with an ERROR.

ERRORS: If a fielder makes an error in play, for example, if the ball goes between a fielder's legs (e.g., Buckner, ca. 1986) or the ball is thrown to a baseman badly, the play can be ruled an ERROR. In this situation, the batter would normally not have gotten a hit so his getting on base is not ruled a hit but a fielder's error.

GETTING ON BASE 4 ways I can remember to get on base. There are 4 ways to get on base without hitting the ball but I can't remember the last one. 1) Hit by a pitch. 2) Fielder's choice: the fielders throw to the closest base to get an out but he could have thrown to 1B, not a hit 3) Walk (4 balls). 4) Wild pitch on 3rd strike. Player doesn't hit ball but has the opportunity to run since catcher is off chasing ball. Pretty unusual.
Update: I remembered. And there are more than 4 ways. 5) Balk. It's above but not listed here. 6) A pinch runner can get on base without being involved in hitting the ball. 7) Catcher interference. 8) Passed ball (I'm still trying to figure out what this means.)

BASE COACHES: Coaches for the team at bat stand near 1st and 3rd bases and let runners know if they should continue on to the next base. They are not allowed on the field so can't stand by 2nd base. They are very useful as the runners don't have to necessarily watch the ball when they are trying to run to the next base. This can sometimes mean the difference between being safe or out. Wendell Kim is my favorite base coach.

SPECIAL OUTS: Special types of OUTS include the DOUBLE PLAY and TRIPLE PLAY. The double play is when two outs are made during one play and the triple play, a rarity, is when three outs are made in one play. A double play is typically a ground ball caught by the third baseman or shortstop, tossed to the second baseman, who throws it to the first base. When the ball is grounded between second and third (and caught), the runner headed to second normally gets out. Getting the batter out at first is icing on the cake.

Another type of out comes from the SQUEEZE PLAY. This is when a runner who is not forced to run is trying to get to the next base but sees that the baseman has the ball already. He can try to return to the original base but the baseman can usually throw the ball to his counterpart faster than the runner can get to the base. The runner will try to go back and forth to get to a safe base but the two basemen advance on the runner in an attempt to tag him out. Only a very wiley runner can make it safely back to a base once a squeeze play starts. These are a thing of beauty to watch as all fielders get in on the play by lining up to take one of the alternating catch and throw turns.

SEVENTH INNING STRETCH: During the middle of the 7th inning, there is a brief moment for the fans to stand up and stretch. Normally, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" is played and sung. Many major league parks now show the words as the song is played so that everyone can participate. Safeco Field in Seattle only plays one verse of the song. I disagree with this practice.

BLEACHERS: The bleachers are generally the cheap seats in any ballpark. Bleachers are bench seats without backs and can normally have many people crowded into them. While bleacher seats used to be bleachers, they are now generally seats with backs and even armrests and cupholders. The capacities of ballparks were much higher when people could cram on the bleachers rather than having to sit in individual seats.

THE WAVE: Pretty much universally known and often despised. Generally started in the bleachers but perpetuated by people who are busy not paying attention to the game.

RAIN DELAY: If it is a deluge, they generally postpone the game until the rain slows down. This can happen before or during a game. They do play through rain, particularly if the field has been dry and there is not much danger of injuring the field.

STATISTICS: Statistics are a large part of baseball and the enjoyment of baseball. Fans delight in memorizing silly statistics of the 1986 or 1978 Boston Red Sox even though they have no bearing on the current team. However, since there are about 160 games played in a season, statistics play a large part in understanding how the team is doing over all. Two bad games in a row are devastating in football but almost meaningless in baseball. After two bad weeks, fans become concerned about the slump the team is in. After two bad months, fans despair and only the die-hards continue to go to games. Unless the team has two good weeks...

copyright by Becky Bates

July 1997

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-This page is maintained by R. A. Bates/becky@ee.waSshPinAgtMon.edu (11/24/99).