A groundskeeper reminds Updike of Wordsworth’s mushroom gatherers. In a couple of memorable phrases, calling Fenway Park a “lyric little bandbox” that looks “like the inside of an old-fashioned, peeping-type Easter egg,” Updike gave the place a freshly painted sheen, so that if you grew up in Boston, as I did, you could never look at the old ball yard the same way again.
Yet the essay is never precious or self-consciously literary, the way a lot of subsequent Fenway prose became, penned by earnest, heavy-breathing scribes clustered in Updike’s shadow. Roger Angell, who began writing about baseball for The New Yorker two years after Updike, and whose career has had an astonishing longevity — he’s the Ripken or Gehrig to Updike’s blazing youthful phenom — has said that “Hub Fans” most of all supplied him with a tone: colloquial, attentive, unashamed of feeling or of striving for an elegant turn of phrase. It seems obvious now, but Updike was one of the first to show that you don’t have to write down about sports or empurple them, either.
“Hub Fans” is a paean not so much to baseball itself, as Angell’s pieces tend to be, as to a single player. Updike’s connection to Williams went back to his childhood in small-town Pennsylvania, where he was unable, he later wrote, to bond with the Phillies and the A’s, which seemed unworthy of his ambitions both for them and for his fannish self.
What beckoned was the heroic example of Williams. He wrote: “For me, Williams is the classic ballplayer of the game on a hot August weekday, before a small crowd, when the only thing at stake is the tissue-thin difference between a thing done well and a thing done ill.” And reading “Hub Fans,” you even sense at times a hint of self-identification. Williams and Updike were physically alike. They were tall and slender, with exceptional eyesight. (This was literally so for Williams, and metaphorically true for Updike, who, as the essay demonstrates, was an uncanny observer.)
In Updike’s description of Williams’s relationship with the Boston fans — “a marriage, composed of spats, mutual disappointments, and, toward the end, a mellowing hoard of shared memories” — there is maybe even a hint of whatever romantic disappointments had sent him to Beacon Hill that day.
Most of all, Updike identified with the artist in Williams: his focus and perfectionism, his single-mindedness in mastering the difficult craft of hitting, the way that, proud and a little aloof, he would not kowtow to the Boston press or court the fans’ affection, refusing to the very end to tip his cap in acknowledgment of their applause. He embraced and understood Williams’s isolation, writing: “It is an essentially lonely game. No other player visible to my generation has concentrated within himself so much of the sport’s poignance, has so assiduously refined his natural skills, has so constantly brought to the plate that intensity of competence that crowds the throat with joy.”
When Updike revised the essay for inclusion in a book-length collection in 1965, he ended it with a Yeatsian intimation of mortality: “On the car radio as I drove home, I heard that Williams, his own man to the end, had decided not to accompany the team to New York. He had met the little death that awaits all athletes. He had quit.”
What he originally wrote was: “On the car radio as I drove home, I heard that Williams was not going to accompany the team to New York. So he knew how to do even that, the hardest thing. Quit.”
In the tiny differences between the two versions, the refinements of phrasing, the crucial addition of that “little death,” there is something very like the “tissue-thin difference” Updike so admired in Williams’s career: the difference in this case not between a thing done well and a thing done ill, but between a thing done well and a thing done even better. Like Williams, Updike never coasted. He knew that over the long season, as he writes earlier in the essay, what holds our interest is not occasional heroics but “players who always care; who care, that is to say, about themselves and their art.”Continue reading the main story
This article is about the sport. For the ball used in the sport, see Baseball (ball). For other uses, see Baseball (disambiguation).
"Base ball" redirects here. For old time baseball, see vintage base ball.
A baseball game at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California, United States
|Highest governing body||World Baseball Softball Confederation|
|First played||18th-century England|
|Mixed gender||Yes, separate competitions|
|Type||Team sport, bat-and-ball|
|Glossary||Glossary of baseball|
|Country or region||Worldwide (most prominent in the Americas and East Asia)|
|Olympic||Demonstration sport: 1912, 1936, 1952, 1956, 1964, 1984 and 1988|
Medal Sport: 1992–2008, 2020–
Baseball is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of nine players each who take turns batting and fielding. The batting team attempts to score runs by hitting a ball (that is thrown by the opposing team's pitcher) with a bat swung by the batter, and then running counter-clockwise around a series of four bases: first, second, third, and home plate. A run is scored when a player advances around the bases and touches home plate.
Players on the batting team take turns hitting against the pitcher of the fielding team, which tries to prevent runs by getting hitters out in any of several ways. A player on the batting team who reaches a base safely can later attempt to advance to subsequent bases during teammates' turns batting, such as on a hit or by other means. The teams switch between batting and fielding whenever the fielding team records three outs. One turn batting for both teams, beginning with the visiting team, constitutes an inning. A game is composed of nine innings, and the team with the greater number of runs at the end of the game wins. If scores are tied at the end of nine innings, extra innings are usually played. Baseball has no game clock, although most games end in the ninth inning.
Baseball evolved from older bat-and-ball games already being played in England by the mid-18th century. This game was brought by immigrants to North America, where the modern version developed. By the late 19th century, baseball was widely recognized as the national sport of the United States. Baseball is currently popular in North America and parts of Central and South America, the Caribbean, and East Asia, particularly in Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan.
In the United States and Canada, professional Major League Baseball (MLB) teams are divided into the National League (NL) and American League (AL), each with three divisions: East, West, and Central. The major league champion is determined by playoffs that culminate in the World Series.
The top level of play is similarly split in Japan between the Central and Pacific Leagues and in Cuba between the West League and East League.
The World Baseball Classic, organized by WBSB, is the major international competition of the sport and attracts the top national teams from around the world.
Main article: Origins of baseball
The evolution of baseball from older bat-and-ball games is difficult to trace with precision. A French manuscript from 1344 contains an illustration of clerics playing a game, possibly la soule, with similarities to baseball. Other old French games such as thèque, la balle au bâton, and la balle empoisonnée also appear to be related. Consensus once held that today's baseball is a North American development from the older game rounders, popular in Great Britain and Ireland. Baseball Before We Knew It: A Search for the Roots of the Game (2005), by David Block, suggests that the game originated in England; recently uncovered historical evidence supports this position. Block argues that rounders and early baseball were actually regional variants of each other, and that the game's most direct antecedents are the English games of stoolball and "tut-ball". It has long been believed that cricket also descended from such games, though evidence uncovered in early 2009 suggests that cricket may have been imported to England from Flanders.
The earliest known reference to baseball is in a 1744 British publication, A Little Pretty Pocket-Book, by John Newbery. It contains a rhymed description of "base-ball" and a woodcut that shows a field set-up somewhat similar to the modern game—though in a triangular rather than diamond configuration, and with posts instead of ground-level bases. David Block discovered that the first recorded game of "Bass-Ball" took place in 1749 in Surrey, and featured the Prince of Wales as a player. William Bray, an English lawyer, recorded a game of baseball on Easter Monday 1755 in Guildford, Surrey. This early form of the game was apparently brought to Canada by English immigrants. Rounders was also brought to the United States by Canadians of both British and Irish ancestry. The first known American reference to baseball appears in a 1791 Pittsfield, Massachusetts town bylaw prohibiting the playing of the game near the town's new meeting house. By 1796, a version of the game was well-known enough to earn a mention in a German scholar's book on popular pastimes. As described by Johann Gutsmuths, "englische Base-ball" involved a contest between two teams, in which "the batter has three attempts to hit the ball while at the home plate." Only one out was required to retire a side.
By the early 1830s, there were reports of a variety of uncodified bat-and-ball games recognizable as early forms of baseball being played around North America. These games were often referred to locally as "town ball", though other names such as "round-ball" and "base-ball" were also used. Among the earliest examples to receive a detailed description—albeit five decades after the fact, in a letter from an attendee to Sporting Life magazine—took place in Beachville, Ontario, in 1838. There were many similarities to modern baseball, and some crucial differences: five bases (or byes); first bye just 18 feet (5.5 m) from the home bye; batter out if a hit ball was caught after the first bounce. The once widely accepted story that Abner Doubleday invented baseball in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839 has been conclusively debunked by sports historians.
In 1845, Alexander Cartwright, a member of New York City's Knickerbocker Club, led the codification of the so-called Knickerbocker Rules. The practice, common to bat-and-ball games of the day, of "soaking" or "plugging"—effecting a putout by hitting a runner with a thrown ball—was barred. The rules thus facilitated the use of a smaller, harder ball than had been common. Several other rules also brought the Knickerbockers' game close to the modern one, though a ball caught on the first bounce was, again, an out and only underhand pitching was allowed. While there are reports that the New York Knickerbockers played games in 1845, the contest long recognized as the first officially recorded baseball game in U.S. history took place on June 19, 1846, in Hoboken, New Jersey: the "New York Nine" defeated the Knickerbockers, 23–1, in four innings. With the Knickerbocker code as the basis, the rules of modern baseball continued to evolve over the next half-century.
History of baseball in the United States
Main articles: Baseball in the United States and History of baseball in the United States
The game turns professional
In the mid-1850s, a baseball craze hit the New York metropolitan area. By 1856, local journals were referring to baseball as the "national pastime" or "national game." A year later, sixteen area clubs formed the sport's first governing body, the National Association of Base Ball Players. In 1858 in Corona, Queens, New York, at the Fashion Race Course, the first games of baseball to charge admission took place. The games, which took place between the all-stars of Brooklyn, including players from the Brooklyn Atlantics, Excelsior of Brooklyn, Putnams and Eckford of Brooklyn, and the All-Stars of New York (Manhattan), including players from the New York Knickerbockers, Gothams (predecessors of the San Francisco Giants), Eagles and Empire, are commonly believed to be the first all-star baseball games. In 1863, the organization disallowed putouts made by catching a fair ball on the first bounce. Four years later, it barred participation by African Americans. The game's commercial potential was developing: in 1869 the first fully professional baseball club, the Cincinnati Red Stockings, was formed and went undefeated against a schedule of semipro and amateur teams. The first professional league, the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players, lasted from 1871 to 1875; scholars dispute its status as a major league.
The more formally structured National League was founded in 1876. As the oldest surviving major league, the National League is sometimes referred to as the "senior circuit." Several other major leagues formed and failed. In 1884, African American Moses Walker (and, briefly, his brother Welday) played in one of these, the American Association. An injury ended Walker's major league career, and by the early 1890s, a gentlemen's agreement in the form of the baseball color line effectively barred black players from the white-owned professional leagues, major and minor. Professional Negro leagues formed, but quickly folded. Several independent African American teams succeeded as barnstormers. Also in 1884, overhand pitching was legalized. In 1887, softball, under the name of indoor baseball or indoor-outdoor, was invented as a winter version of the parent game. Virtually all of the modern baseball rules were in place by 1893; the last major change—counting foul balls as strikes—was instituted in 1901. The National League's first successful counterpart, the American League, which evolved from the minor Western League, was established that year. The two leagues, each with eight teams, were rivals that fought for the best players, often disregarding each other's contracts and engaging in bitter legal disputes.
A modicum of peace was eventually established, leading to the National Agreement of 1903. The pact formalized relations both between the two major leagues and between them and the National Association of Professional Base Ball Leagues, representing most of the country's minor professional leagues. The World Series, pitting the two major league champions against each other, was inaugurated that fall, albeit without express major league sanction: The Boston Americans of the American League defeated the Pittsburgh Pirates of the National League. The next year, the series was not held, as the National League champion New York Giants, under managerJohn McGraw, refused to recognize the major league status of the American League and its champion. In 1905, the Giants were National League champions again and team management relented, leading to the establishment of the World Series as the major leagues' annual championship event.
As professional baseball became increasingly profitable, players frequently raised grievances against owners over issues of control and equitable income distribution. During the major leagues' early decades, players on various teams occasionally attempted strikes, which routinely failed when their jobs were sufficiently threatened. In general, the strict rules of baseball contracts and the reserve clause, which bound players to their teams even when their contracts had ended, tended to keep the players in check. Motivated by dislike for particularly stingy owner Charles Comiskey and gamblers' payoffs, real and promised, members of the Chicago White Sox conspired to throw the 1919 World Series. The Black Sox Scandal led to the formation of a new National Commission of baseball that drew the two major leagues closer together. The first major league baseball commissioner, Kenesaw Mountain Landis, was elected in 1920. That year also saw the founding of the Negro National League; the first significant Negro league, it would operate until 1931. For part of the 1920s, it was joined by the Eastern Colored League.
Professional baseball was played in northeastern cities with a large immigrant-ethnic population; they gave strong support to the new sport. The Irish Catholics dominated in the late 19th century, comprising a third or more of the players and many of the top stars and managers. Historian Jerrold Casway argues that:
Baseball for Irish kids was a shortcut to the American dream and to self-indulgent glory and fortune. By the mid-1880s these young Irish men dominated the sport and popularized a style of play that was termed heady, daring, and spontaneous.... Ed Delahanty personified the flamboyant, exciting spectator-favorite, the Casey-at-the-bat, Irish slugger. The handsome masculine athlete who is expected to live as large as he played.
Rise of Ruth and racial integration
Compared with the present, professional baseball in the early 20th century was lower-scoring, and pitchers, including stars Walter Johnson and Christy Mathewson, were more dominant. The "inside game", which demanded that players "scratch for runs", was played much more aggressively than it is today: the brilliant and often violent Ty Cobb epitomized this style. The so-called dead-ball era ended in the early 1920s with several changes in rule and circumstance that were advantageous to hitters. Strict new regulations governing the ball's size, shape and composition, along with a new rule officially banning the spitball and other pitches that depended on the ball being treated or roughed-up with foreign substances, followed the death of Ray Chapman after a pitch struck him in the head in August 1920. Coupled with superior materials available after World War I, this resulted in a ball that traveled farther when hit. The construction of additional seating to accommodate the rising popularity of the game often had the effect of reducing the distance to the outfield fences, making home runs more common. The rise of the legendary player Babe Ruth, the first great power hitter of the new era, helped permanently alter the nature of the game. The club with which Ruth set most of his slugging records, the New York Yankees, built a reputation as the majors' premier team. In the late 1920s and early 1930s, St. Louis Cardinalsgeneral managerBranch Rickey invested in several minor league clubs and developed the first modern "farm system". A new Negro National League was organized in 1933; four years later, it was joined by the Negro American League. The first elections to the National Baseball Hall of Fame took place in 1936. In 1939 Little League Baseball was founded in Pennsylvania. By the late 1940s, it was the organizing body for children's baseball leagues across the United States.
With America's entry into World War II, many professional players had left to serve in the armed forces. A large number of minor league teams disbanded as a result and the major league game seemed under threat as well. Chicago Cubs owner Philip K. Wrigley led the formation of a new professional league with women players to help keep the game in the public eye – the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League existed from 1943 to 1954. The inaugural College World Series was held in 1947, and the Babe Ruth League youth program was founded. This program soon became another important organizing body for children's baseball. The first crack in the unwritten agreement barring blacks from white-controlled professional ball occurred the previous year: Jackie Robinson was signed by the National League's Brooklyn Dodgers—where Branch Rickey had become general manager—and began playing for their minor league team in Montreal. In 1947, Robinson broke the major leagues' color barrier when he debuted with the Dodgers; Larry Doby debuted with the American League's Cleveland Indians later the same year. Latin American players, largely overlooked before, also started entering the majors in greater numbers. In 1951, two Chicago White Sox, Venezuelan-born Chico Carrasquel and black Cuban-born Minnie Miñoso, became the first Hispanic All-Stars.
Facing competition as varied as television and football, baseball attendance at all levels declined. While the majors rebounded by the mid-1950s, the minor leagues were gutted and hundreds of semipro and amateur teams dissolved.Integration proceeded slowly: by 1953, only six of the 16 major league teams had a black player on the roster. That year, the Major League Baseball Players Association was founded. It was the first professional baseball union to survive more than briefly, but it remained largely ineffective for years. No major league team had been located west of St. Louis until 1958, when the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants relocated to Los Angeles and San Francisco, respectively. The majors' final all-white bastion, the Boston Red Sox, added a black player in 1959. With the integration of the majors drying up the available pool of players, the last Negro league folded the following year. In 1961, the American League reached the West Coast with the Los Angeles Angelsexpansion team, and the major league season was extended from 154 games to 162. This coincidentally helped Roger Maris break Babe Ruth's long-standing single-season home run record, one of the most celebrated marks in baseball. Along with the Angels, three other new franchises were launched during 1961–62. With this, the first major league expansion in 60 years, each league now had ten teams.
Attendance records and the age of steroids
The players' union became bolder under the leadership of former United Steelworkers chief economist and negotiator Marvin Miller, who was elected executive director in 1966. On the playing field, major league pitchers were becoming increasingly dominant again. After the 1968 season, in an effort to restore balance, the strike zone was reduced and the height of the pitcher's mound was lowered from 15 to 10 inches (38.1 - 25.4 cm). In 1969, both the National and American Leagues added two more expansion teams, the leagues were reorganized into two divisions each, and a post-season playoff system leading to the World Series was instituted. Also that same year, Curt Flood of the St. Louis Cardinals made the first serious legal challenge to the reserve clause. The major leagues' first general players' strike took place in 1972, delaying the season's start for two weeks. In another effort to add more offense to the game, the American League adopted the designated hitter rule the following year. In 1975, the union's power—and players' salaries—began to increase greatly when the reserve clause was effectively struck down, leading to the free agency system. In 1977, two more expansion teams joined the American League. Significant work stoppages occurred again in 1981 and 1994, the latter forcing the cancellation of the World Series for the first time in 90 years. Attendance had been growing steadily since the mid-1970s and in 1994, before the stoppage, the majors were setting their all-time record for per-game attendance.
The addition of two more expansion teams after the 1993 season had facilitated another restructuring of the major leagues, this time into three divisions each. Offensive production—the number of home runs in particular—had surged that year, and again in the abbreviated 1994 season. After play resumed in 1995, this trend continued and non-division-winning wild card teams became a permanent fixture of the post-season. Regular-season interleague play was introduced in 1997 and the second-highest attendance mark for a full season was set. The next year, Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosaboth surpassed Maris's decades-old single-season home run record, and two more expansion franchises were added. In 2000, the National and American Leagues were dissolved as legal entities. While their identities were maintained for scheduling purposes (and the designated hitter distinction), the regulations and other functions—such as player discipline and umpire supervision—they had administered separately were consolidated under the rubric of Major League Baseball (MLB).
In 2001, Barry Bonds established the current record of 73 home runs in a single season. There had long been suspicions that the dramatic increase in power hitting was fueled in large part by the abuse of illegal steroids (as well as by the dilution of pitching talent due to expansion), but the issue only began attracting significant media attention in 2002 and there was no penalty for the use of performance-enhancing drugs before 2004. In 2007, Bonds became MLB's all-time home run leader, surpassing Hank Aaron, as total major league and minor league attendance both reached all-time highs. Even though McGwire, Sosa, and Bonds—as well as many other players, including storied pitcher Roger Clemens—have been implicated in the steroid abuse scandal, their feats and those of other sluggers had become the major leagues' defining attraction. In contrast to the professional game's resurgence in popularity after the 1994 interruption, Little League enrollment was in decline: after peaking in 1996, it dropped 1 percent a year over the following decade. With more rigorous testing and penalties for performance-enhancing drug use a possible factor, the balance between bat and ball swung markedly in 2010, which became known as the "Year of the Pitcher". Runs per game fell to their lowest level in 18 years, and the strikeout rate was higher than it had been in half a century.
Before the start of the 2012 season, MLB altered its rules to double the number of wild card teams admitted into the playoffs to two per league. The playoff expansion resulted in the addition of annual one-game playoffs between the wild card teams in each league.
Baseball around the world
Main article: History of baseball outside the United States
See also: Category:Baseball by country.
Baseball, widely known as America's pastime, is well established in several other countries as well. The history of baseball in Canada has remained closely linked with that of the sport in the United States. As early as 1877, a professional league, the International Association, featured teams from both countries. While baseball is widely played in Canada and many minor league teams have been based in the country, the American major leagues did not include a Canadian club until 1969, when the Montreal Expos joined the National League as an expansion team. In 1977, the expansion Toronto Blue Jays joined the American League. The Blue Jays won the World Series in 1992 and 1993, the first and still the only club from outside the United States to do so. After the 2004 season, Major League Baseball relocated the Expos to Washington, D.C., where the team is now known as the Nationals.
In 1847, American soldiers played what may have been the first baseball game in Mexico at Parque Los Berros in Xalapa, Veracruz. A few days after the Battle of Cerro Gordo, they used the "wooden leg captured (by the Fourth Illinois regiment) from General Santa Anna". The first formal baseball league outside of the United States and Canada was founded in 1878 in Cuba, which maintains a rich baseball tradition and whose national team has been one of the world's strongest since international play began in the late 1930s (all organized baseball in the country has officially been amateur since the Cuban Revolution). The Dominican Republic held its first islandwide championship tournament in 1912. Professional baseball tournaments and leagues began to form in other countries between the world wars, including the Netherlands (formed in 1922), Australia (1934), Japan (1936), Mexico (1937), and Puerto Rico (1938). The Japanese major leagues—the Central League and Pacific League—have long been considered the highest quality professional circuits outside of the United States. Japan has a professional minor league system as well, though it is much smaller than the American version—each team has only one farm club in contrast to MLB teams' four or five.
After World War II, professional leagues were founded in many Latin American countries, most prominently Venezuela (1946) and the Dominican Republic (1955). Since the early 1970s, the annual Caribbean Series has matched the championship clubs from the four leading Latin American winter leagues: the Dominican Professional Baseball League, Mexican Pacific League, Puerto Rican Professional Baseball League, and Venezuelan Professional Baseball League. In Asia, South Korea (1982), Taiwan (1990) and China (2003) all have professional leagues.
Many European countries have professional leagues as well, the most successful, other than the Dutch league, being the Italian league founded in 1948. Compared to those in Asia and Latin America, the various European leagues and the one in Australia historically have had no more than niche appeal. In 2004, Australia won a surprise silver medal at the Olympic Games. The Israel Baseball League, launched in 2007, folded after one season. The Confédération Européene de Baseball (European Baseball Confederation), founded in 1953, organizes a number of competitions between clubs from different countries, as well as national squads. Other competitions between national teams, such as the Baseball World Cup and the Olympic baseball tournament, were administered by the International Baseball Federation (IBAF) from its formation in 1938 until its 2013 merger with the International Softball Federation to create the current joint governing body for both sports, the World Baseball Softball Confederation (WBSC). By 2009, the IBAF had 117 member countries.Women's baseball is played on an organized amateur basis in many of the countries where it is a leading men's sport. Since 2004, the IBAF and now WBSC have sanctioned the Women's Baseball World Cup, featuring national teams.
After being admitted to the Olympics as a medal sport beginning with the 1992 Games, baseball was dropped from the 2012 Summer Olympic Games at the 2005 International Olympic Committeemeeting. It remained part of the 2008 Games. The elimination of baseball, along with softball, from the 2012 Olympic program enabled the IOC to consider adding two different sports, but none received the votes required for inclusion. While the sport's lack of a following in much of the world was a factor, more important was Major League Baseball's reluctance to have a break during the Games to allow its players to participate, as the National Hockey League now does during the Winter Olympic Games. Such a break is more difficult for MLB to accommodate because it would force the playoffs deeper into cold weather. Seeking reinstatement for the 2016 Summer Olympics, the IBAF proposed an abbreviated competition designed to facilitate the participation of top players, but the effort failed. Major League Baseball initiated the World Baseball Classic, scheduled to precede the major league season, partly as a replacement, high-profile international tournament. The inaugural Classic, held in March 2006, was the first tournament involving national teams to feature a significant number of MLB participants. The Baseball World Cup was discontinued after its 2011 edition in favor of an expanded World Baseball Classic.
Rules and gameplay
Main article: Baseball rules
A game is played between two teams, each composed of nine players, that take turns playing offense (batting and baserunning) and defense (pitching and fielding). A pair of turns, one at bat and one in the field, by each team constitutes an inning. A game consists of nine innings (seven innings at the high school level and in doubleheaders in college and minor leagues). One team—customarily the visiting team—bats in the top, or first half, of every inning. The other team—customarily the home team—bats in the bottom, or second half, of every inning. The goal of the game is to score more points (runs) than the other team. The players on the team at bat attempt to score runs by circling or completing a tour of the four bases set at the corners of the square-shaped baseball diamond. A player bats at home plate and must proceed counterclockwise to first base, second base, third base, and back home in order to score a run. The team in the field attempts both to prevent runs from scoring and to record outs, which remove opposing players from offensive action until their turn in their team's batting order comes up again. When three outs are recorded, the teams switch roles for the next half-inning. If the score of the game is tied after nine innings, extra innings are played to resolve the contest. Many amateur games, particularly unorganized ones, involve different numbers of players and innings.
The game is played on a field whose primary boundaries, the foul lines, extend forward from home plate at 45-degree angles. The 90-degree area within the foul lines is referred to as fair territory; the 270-degree area outside them is foul territory. The part of the field enclosed by the bases and several yards beyond them is the infield; the area farther beyond the infield is the outfield. In the middle of the infield is a raised pitcher's mound, with a rectangular rubber plate (the rubber) at its center. The outer boundary of the outfield is typically demarcated by a raised fence, which may be of any material and height (many amateur games are played on unfenced fields). The fair territory between home plate and the outfield boundary is baseball's field of play, though significant events can take place in foul territory, as well.
There are three basic tools of baseball: the ball, the bat, and the glove or mitt:
- The baseball is about the size of an adult's fist, around 9 inches (23 centimeters) in circumference. It has a rubber or cork center, wound in yarn and covered in white cowhide, with red stitching.
- The bat is a hitting tool, traditionally made of a single, solid piece of wood. Other materials are now commonly used for nonprofessional games. It is a hard round stick, about 2.5 inches (6.4 centimeters) in diameter at the hitting end, tapering to a narrower handle and culminating in a knob. Bats used by adults are typically around 34 inches (86 centimeters) long, and not longer than 42 inches (106 centimeters).
- The glove or mitt is a fielding tool, made of padded leather with webbing between the fingers. As an aid in catching and holding onto the ball, it takes various shapes to meet the specific needs of different fielding positions.
Protective helmets are also standard equipment for all batters.
At the beginning of each half-inning, the nine players on the fielding team arrange themselves around the field. One of them, the pitcher, stands on the pitcher's mound. The pitcher begins the pitching delivery with one foot on the rubber, pushing off it to gain velocity when throwing toward home plate. Another player, the catcher, squats on the far side of home plate, facing the pitcher. The rest of the team faces home plate, typically arranged as four infielders—who set up along or within a few yards outside the imaginary lines (basepaths) between first, second, and third base—and three outfielders. In the standard arrangement, there is a first baseman positioned several steps to the left of first base, a second baseman to the right of second base, a shortstop to the left of second base, and a third baseman to the right of third base. The basic outfield positions are left fielder, center fielder, and right fielder. With the exception of the catcher, all fielders are required to be in fair territory when the pitch is delivered. A neutral umpire sets up behind the catcher. Other umpires will be distributed around the field as well, though the number will vary depending on the level of play; amateur or children's games may only have an umpire behind the plate, while as many as six umpires can be used for important major league games.
Play starts with a batter standing at home plate, holding a bat. The batter waits for the pitcher to throw a pitch (the ball) toward home plate, and attempts to hit the ball with the bat. The catcher catches pitches that the batter does not hit—as a result of either electing not to swing or failing to connect—and returns them to the pitcher. A batter who hits the ball into the field of play must drop the bat and begin running toward first base, at which point the player is referred to as a runner (or, until the play is over, a batter-runner). A batter-runner who reaches first base without being put out (see below) is said to be safe and is now on base. A batter-runner may choose to remain at first base or attempt to advance to second base or even beyond—however far the player believes can be reached safely. A player who reaches base despite proper play by the fielders has recorded a hit. A player who reaches first base safely on a hit is credited with a single. If a player makes it to second base safely as a direct result of a hit, it is a double; third base, a triple. If the ball is hit in the air within the foul lines over the entire outfield (and outfield fence, if there is one), or otherwise safely circles all the bases, it is a home run: the batter and any runners on base may all freely circle the bases, each scoring a run. This is the most desirable result for the batter. A player who reaches base due to a fielding mistake is not credited with a hit—instead, the responsible fielder is charged with an error.
Any runners already on base may attempt to advance on batted balls that land, or contact the ground, in fair territory, before or after the ball lands. A runner on first base must attempt to advance if a ball lands in play. If a ball hit into play rolls foul before passing through the infield, it becomes dead and any runners must return to the base they were at when the play began. If the ball is hit in the air and caught before it lands, the batter has flied out and any runners on base may attempt to advance only if they tag up or touch the base they were at when the play began, as or after the ball is caught. Runners may also attempt to advance to the next base while the pitcher is in the process of delivering the ball to home plate—a successful effort is a stolen base.
A pitch that is not hit into the field of play is called either a strike or a ball. A batter against whom three strikes are recorded strikes out. A batter against whom four balls are recorded is awarded a base on balls or walk, a free advance to first base. (A batter may also freely advance to first base if the batter's body or uniform is struck by a pitch outside the strike zone, provided the batter does not swing and attempts to avoid being hit.) Crucial to determining balls and strikes is the umpire's judgment as to whether a pitch has passed through the strike zone, a conceptual area above home plate extending from the midpoint between the batter's shoulders and belt down to the hollow of the knee.
A strike is called when one of the following happens:
- The batter lets a well-pitched ball (one within the strike zone) go through to the catcher.
- The batter swings at any ball (even one outside the strike zone) and misses, or foul tips it directly into the catcher's hands.
- The batter hits a foul ball—one that either initially lands in foul territory or initially lands within the diamond but moves into foul territory before passing first or third base. If there are already two strikes on the batter, a foul ball is not counted as a third strike; thus, a foul ball cannot result in the immediate strikeout of the batter. (There is an exception to this exception: a two-strike foul bunt is recorded as a third strike.)
A ball is called when the pitcher throws a pitch that is outside the strike zone, provided the batter has not swung at it.
While the team at bat is trying to score runs, the team in the field is attempting to record outs. Among the various ways a member of the batting team may be put out, five are most common:
- The strikeout: as described above, recorded against a batter who makes three strikes before putting the ball into play or being awarded a free advance to first base (see also uncaught third strike).
- The flyout: as described above, recorded against a batter who hits a ball in the air that is caught by a fielder, whether in fair territory or foul territory, before it lands, whether or not the batter has run.
- The ground out: recorded against a batter (in this case, batter-runner) who hits a ball that lands in fair territory which, before the batter-runner can reach first base, is retrieved by a fielder who touches first base while holding the ball or relays it to another fielder who touches first base while holding the ball.
- The force out: recorded against a runner who is required to attempt to advance—either because the runner is on first base and a batted ball lands in fair territory, or because the runner immediately behind on the basepath is thus required to attempt to advance—but fails to reach the next base before a fielder touches the base while holding the ball. The ground out is technically a special case of the force out.
- The tag out: recorded against a runner who is touched by a fielder with the ball or a glove holding the ball, while the runner is not touching a base.
It is possible to record two outs in the course of the same play. This is called a double play. Even three outs in one play, a triple play, is possible, though this is very rare. Players put out or retired must leave the field, returning to their team's dugout or bench. A runner may be stranded on base when a third out is recorded against another player on the team. Stranded runners do not benefit the team in its next turn at bat as every half-inning begins with the bases empty of runners.
An individual player's turn batting or plate appearance is complete when the player reaches base, hits a home run, makes an out, or hits a ball that results in the team's third out, even if it is recorded against a teammate. On rare occasions, a batter may be at the plate when, without the batter's hitting the ball, a third out is recorded against a teammate—for instance, a runner getting caught stealing (tagged out attempting to steal a base). A batter with this sort of incomplete plate appearance starts off the team's next turn batting; any balls or strikes recorded against the batter the previous inning are erased. A runner may circle the bases only once per plate appearance and thus can score at most a single run per batting turn. Once a player has completed a plate appearance, that player may not bat again until the eight other members of the player's team have all taken their turn at bat. The batting order is set before the game begins, and may not be altered except for substitutions. Once a player has been removed for a substitute, that player may not reenter the game. Children's games often have more liberal substitution rules.
If the designated hitter (DH) rule is in effect, each team has a tenth player whose sole responsibility is to bat (and run). The DH takes the place of another player—almost invariably the pitcher—in the batting order, but does not field. Thus, even with the DH, each team still has a batting order of nine players and a fielding arrangement of nine players.
See also: Baseball positions