March 7, 2014
Your Attempts To Explain Baseball
This was probably the most fun comments section I've had the pleasure to peruse. Thursday's "Skewed Left" piece on how to explain baseball to somebody who's never seen it before inspired some great stories of your experiences, mostly with visitors from other countries, it inspired a bit of push-back on some of my ideas, and it brought out some of your attempts to put an explanation together.
The prompt was for brevity, and some entries followed it while others blew right past it in search of a thoroughness that wouldn’t leave your friend guessing much at all.
From iorg34, 112 words on baseball:
Pitcher serves the ball to batter. Batting team gets three failures (or outs) and then team roles reverse (the half-inning ends). Pitching team tries to generate outs by having the batter: make three failed swings (strikes), hit the ball and catch it on the fly, or hit the ball between the lines (fair) and tag out the batter before he safely runs to base. Batting team tries to score a run by advancing around the safe bases before the third out. Hit or walked (four bad pitches before three strikes) batters get first base. Nine innings per game. Highest score wins, extra innings if tied. Over the fence fair hits score all.
From sandriola (137 words), who explained that “I had it right at 100 words before realizing I needed to address home runs and extra innings.”
A pitcher throws balls to a batter, trying to place them in a zone over home plate. The batter has three chances to hit a ball in said zone, and he gets a free base if the pitcher misses the zone four times. A batter scores by advancing through the four bases safely. A batter is safe if he both hits a ball that touches the ground between the white lines and he is not tagged out before reaching a base. A batted ball over the fence in the air and between the white lines allows all members of the batting team already on a base to score. A game consists of 9 innings, with each team getting 3 outs per inning. The team with most batters scoring wins the game. Ties are broken with extra innings.
From bobbygrace, 843 words on baseball and maybe life
The object of baseball is to score more “runs” (points) than the other team. Two teams take turns attempting to score runs. One team tries to score runs, while the other team tries to prevent runs from being scored. Members of the team trying to score take turns with the “bat” (a big stick), with which they try to hit the ball. The ball is thrown to these “batters” by a member of the other team, the “pitcher.” He tries to throw the ball into a defined area (the “strike zone”) in such a way as to prevent the batter from hitting the ball well, or at all. Behind the pitcher are the “fielders,” who try to catch or stop the ball if the batter hits it. The next two paragraphs will discuss the batters' attempt to score runs; the subsequent paragraph will clarify the role of the fielders and pitchers.
A team’s batters score runs by running to four numbered “bases” (targets). These bases are called first, second, and third base and home plate; players always run to the bases in that order. To score a run, one team’s batters must reach each base in order without the arbiters of the game, umpires, declaring them “out.” Put another way, the umpires must call the batters “safe” at each base, sequentially. Once a batter reaches first base safely, he becomes a “runner” and remains a runner until he is called out (see below) or reaches home plate safely. If a runner reaches home plate safely, his team is awarded a run. Runners may not pass each other (if they do, they are called out) and must each have a base to occupy (so to speak), meaning that only three runners may be “on base” at a given time. (The hitter is “on” home plate, sort of.)
A batter generally advances to first base (thus becoming a runner) in one of three ways: (1) if he hits the pitched ball into a defined area of the field of play (this is called a “fair ball” or a ball hit into “fair territory”); (2) if the pitcher throws four balls outside the strike zone; or (3) if the pitcher hits the batter with the thrown ball. A batter who hits a fair ball over the fence may advance all four bases and score a run. This act is called a “home run.” (Women are said to be stimulated by the home run.) When a batter advances to a base, any runners already occupying bases also often advance. Runners may advance without a batter advancing, but do so at their own risk; if they succeed without being called out, they have executed what is known as the “stolen base.”
Meanwhile, the other team’s members try to prevent runs by getting players out. They usually do this in four basic ways. (1) The pitcher can get the batter out without assistance from the fielders by throwing three “strikes” to the batter. Balls thrown into the strike zone and not swung at can be called strikes by the umpires. So can any ball swung at and missed. Balls hit into the part of the field not defined as fair territory are called “foul balls” and also count as strikes. The third strike—at which point the batter is called out—may not be on a foul ball, but it may be on a “foul tip,” a lightly-batted ball, if the fielder behind home plate (the “catcher”) catches the ball before it hits the ground. (2) A batter is out if he hits the ball and one of the fielders catches it before it hits the ground. (3) A batter is out if he hits the ball to a fielder, who throws it to another fielder who is at the base and touching it (a “force out”). Force outs may only be recorded in situations where the runner is compelled to run to a base, such as when the batter hits the ball and is attempting to reach first base or when a runner at first base is forced to run to second base because the batter is on his way to first base. (4) A batter is out if a fielder holding the ball touches (or “tags”) the runner with the ball (or the ball inside his fielding implement, the “glove”) while the runner has no part of his body on a base.
Once the fielding/pitching team records three outs, it becomes the batting team and the batting team becomes the fielding/pitching team. When each team has batted and three outs have been recorded on either side, an “inning” is complete. Games usually last nine innings. Extra innings are added if the ninth inning is completed and the score is tied. The team hosting the game—the “home team”—has the advantage of batting last in each inning. Thus, the home team has the final chance to outscore the “visiting team” if, in the second half (or “bottom”) of the ultimate inning, the home team has fewer runs.
And our own Russell Carleton, who claims some real-world experience in this exercise, rolls the odometer into the fourth digit (1,017 words) with an extremely thorough attempt and the remark that “What's amazing to me is how many of the rules follow from the fact that two players can't occupy the same base.”
The pitcher stands in the circle in the middle and throws the ball toward the guy with the bat. The batter can choose to try to hit the ball by swinging the bat. If he misses, he gets a "strike" against him. If he doesn't try, then the umpire gets to decide whether the ball was in an area where he should have hit it called the "strike zone". If it is inside this zone, the batter gets a strike against him. If it is outside this zone, the batter gets a "ball." If the batter gets three strikes, he is out and must go back to the bench and wait his turn to bat again. If he gets four balls, he is awarded first base uncontested. (It is said that he can "walk" there.) Also, if one of the pitches hits the batter's body, he is awarded first base. There are four bases, and the batter's goal is to touch all four of them, in order, running counter-clockwise.
If the batter swings and hits the ball, if he makes contact, a couple things can happen. If one of the nine fielders catches the ball on the fly, he is out and must go back to the bench and his team receives an "out." If the ball hits the ground outside the two white chalk lines ("the foul territory"), no play happens and the batter gets a strike. However, in a weird quirk of the rules, one of these "foul balls" can not be counted as the third strike.
If the ball hits the ground (or the outfield fence) between the two white chalk lines (a "fair ball"), he can run to first base. The fielding team can still get him out if they can either touch him with the ball before he gets to the base or if one of the fielders is holding the ball while he touches first base with his foot. If the batter gets to first base without being put out, he is safe, and he can decide whether he wants to try for second base. The fielders can only put him out by touching him with the ball at this point. He can take the same chance for third base and home (the fourth base), or he can stay on a base that he has already achieved. However, two players from the same team can not be in the same base. If he chooses to stay, he stays on that base while the next batter comes up. He may attempt to "steal" the next base as the pitcher throws to the next batter, but can be called "out" if the other team manages to touch him with the ball. They can do this by throwing the ball among them to whoever is closest, and there is always a player behind the batter (the "catcher") who receives the pitches and can try to throw the runner out. The player standing on first may also try to run to the next base once the ball is hit by the new batter. He can be put out if the other team touches him with the ball. Because the batter has to run to first base after he hits the ball, if there is a runner on first, he is "forced" to run to second (Remember two players can not stand on the same base.) A similar "force" situation happens for a runner on second if there is also a runner on first, and for a runner on third if there are also runners on first and second. If he is forced to run, the fielding team can put the runner out by having a player touch the base he is running to while holding the ball before the runner gets there.
Once three players from a team have been put out, the teams switch with the batting team playing defense and the defensive team batting. This is called an inning. If a batter manages to touch all four bases, in order, without being put out and before three outs are recorded, his team is given a "run." The goal of the game is to score the most runs. A complete turn of both teams batting and having three outs recorded against them is a "full inning" and there are nine innings in a regulation game. Traditionally, the visiting team bats first, followed by the home team. If the game is tied after nine innings, the two teams play a tenth inning. If the game is still tied, extra full innings are played until the game is no longer tied. In this way, a baseball game could theoretically last forever.
Each team has nine players in the game at any time. One must pitch the ball to the batter. One must catch the pitches that are not hit (if he doesn't, the runners may try for the next base). The other seven may play wherever they choose in the field, although generally four play near the bases ("the infield") and three play near the fence ("the outfield"). If the batter hits a ball over the fence, and between the chalk lines (or he hits the big yellow thing in left/right field), this is called a "home run." The batter and any runners who are on base at the time are allowed to touch all the bases, and the team gets that number of runs.
The nine players take turns batting in a specific order that has to be decided before the game starts. Variation from this order is not allowed. In general, they are the same players who play in the field. The one exception is that sometimes, a team can designate someone to hit instead of the pitcher ("the designated hitter"; Pro tip: never ever discuss the Designated Hitter with Americans unless you need to create a diversion.) Substitutions are allowed, and are common, although once a player leaves a game, he is not allowed to re-enter. Teams can substitute for a tired pitcher, and injured player, or make tactical substitutions as they wish.
And of course, we’ll leave you with this from therealn0d, whose explanation of baseball sounds somewhat familiar.
A good friend of mine used to say, This is a very simple game. You throw the ball, you catch the ball, you hit the ball. Sometimes you win, sometimes you lose, sometimes it rains.
Zachary Levine is an author of Baseball Prospectus.
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