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Baseball
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Baseball

Baseball is a team sport that is popular in the Americas and East Asia.

In the United States, baseball has often been called the "national pastime", and the total attendance for Major League games is more than that of all other American professional sports combined. Among American television viewers, however, it has been surpassed in popularity by football and car racing.

Baseball is thought to be a direct descendant of cricket, rounders, and town ball, though the game's origins are uncertain. The sport is very similar to softball, and is sometimes called hardball in contrast. In its usual form, the game of baseball is played between two teams of nine players at a time on a playing field consisting of four bases, arranged in a diagonal square ("the diamond") and a large outfield extending from two adjacent sides of the diamond.

Table of contents
1 The playing field
2 The play of the game
3 Other personnel
4 The style of play
5 Professional leagues
6 Equipment and clothing
7 Related articles
8 References
9 External links

The playing field

The starting point for much of the action on the field is home plate, which is a white rubber pentagon seventeen inches wide. Next to each of the two parallel sides is a batter's box. The point of the pentagon is at one corner of a ninety-foot square. The other three corners of the square, in counterclockwise order from home plate, are called first base, second base, and third base. Three canvas bags twelve inches (305 mm) square mark the three bases.

The lines from home plate to first and third bases are extended infinitely and are called the foul lines. The quarter of the universe between the foul lines is fair territory; the other three-quarters of the universe is foul territory. The area in the vicinity of the square formed by the bases is called the infield; fair territory outside the infield is the outfield. Most baseball fields are enclosed with a fence that marks the outer edge of the outfield. The fence is usually set at a distance ranging from 300 to 400 feet (90 to 120 m) from home plate.

In the middle of the square is a low mound called the pitcher's mound. There is a rubber plate, called the pitcher's rubber, six inches (152 mm) wide and two feet (610 mm) long, on the mound, exactly sixty feet six inches (18.4 m) from home plate. This distance is due to a clerical error. When it was decided that the distance from home plate to the pitcher's mound should be increased from 50'00'' to 60'00'' (15.2 to 18.3 m) from the point of home plate, the builders read the last 0 as a 6.

The play of the game

Baseball is played between two teams of nine players each. The teams take turns at bat and in the field. At the start of the game, the home team is in the field, with all nine players on the field at once, while players on the visiting team come to bat one at a time.

The basic contest is always between the pitcher (fielding team), and a batter. The pitcher throws the ball towards home plate, where the catcher (fielding team) waits to receive it. The batter stands in one of the batter's boxes and tries to hit the ball with a bat (righthanded batters stand in the box to the left side of the plate, lefthanded batters in the box to the right side, as viewed by the catcher). The catcher's job is to catch any ball that the batter misses or does not swing at.

The pitcher tries to throw the ball over the plate in such a way that the batter cannot hit it cleanly. The batter's objective is to hit the ball into the fair territory of the field (a fair ball) so that the players of the defending team cannot catch it before it touches the ground. If he succeeds in this, the batter becomes a baserunner and must run to first base; if the ball is caught before it touches the ground, the batter is out. A batted ball is called a fly ball if it was hit in a way causing the fielder to catch it on its descent, or a line drive if it was hit directly at the fielder. 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.

Additionally, the defending players can throw the ball to first base in an effort to "throw the runner out"; if the ball is caught by a fielder touching the base before the runner touches the base, the runner is out. As a baserunner, the objective is to advance to and touch each base in order, usually through a series of plays, and finally touch home plate. The defending team, in the meantime, tries to tag any runner with the ball at a time when the runner is not touching any base. If they do this, the baserunner is out and must leave the field. After the fielding team has put out three players on the team at bat, the team in the field and the team at bat switch places.

The bases are places of safety, and a runner touching a base cannot be tagged out. Only one runner may occupy a base at a time. If first base is occupied when a batter hits the ball, that runner is required to advance to the next base. This displaced runner may in turn displace other runners if the subsequent bases are occupied. The defending team may also record an out by throwing the ball to the next base before such a displaced baserunner reaches it. This is known as a force out.

A baserunner who successfully touches home plate scores a run. In an enclosed field, a fair ball hit over the fence is normally an automatic home run, which entitles the batter and all runners to touch all the bases and score. If all three bases are occupied (bases loaded) and the batter hits a home run, it is called a grand slam and four runs are scored. The team with the most runs at the end of the game is the winner.

The fielding team

The fielding team has a pitcher, who stands on the mound, and a catcher, who squats behind home plate. (This pair is often called the battery.) There are also four infielders, who stand at the edge of the infield, and three outfielders, who stand in the outfield.

The pitcher must keep one foot in contact with the top or side of the pitcher's rubber during the entire pitch, so he cannot take more than one step forward in delivering the ball. Nevertheless, most major-league pitchers throw the ball at about ninety miles per hour. Pitchers must also assist fielders as necessary.

The catcher's main role is to receive the pitch if the batter does not hit it. Catchers are also responsible for defense in the area immediately surrounding home plate. 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.

The four infielders are the first baseman, second baseman, shortstop, and third baseman. The first and third basemen usually play near their respective bases. The second baseman and the shortstop position themselves at a roughly equal distance from second base, but play more in the gaps between the bases than the first and third baseman. As a result of this positioning, defensive skill tends to be more important for second basemen and especially shortstops. Originally, the second baseman played very close to second base, until the shortstop was developed by relocating what was previously a fourth outfielder.

The team's strongest hitter is often the first baseman. The first baseman's job consists mostly of standing with his foot on first base, waiting to receive the batted balls that the other infielders throw to him so that he can force out the batter-runner. The second baseman covers the area to the right of second base, and provides backup for the first baseman. The shortstop fills the critical gap between second and third bases, where right-handed batters generally hit ground balls. The shortstop must be versatile—he also covers second or third bases and the near part of left field (known as short left field). After the pitcher, he is usually the poorest hitter on the team. The third baseman's primary requirement is a very strong throwing arm so that he can throw the ball all the way across the infield to the first baseman.

The three outfielders are called the left fielder, the center fielder, and the right fielder; each position is named from the catcher's perspective. The center fielder has more territory to cover than the other two outfielders, so he must be very fast and agile, and must have a strong arm to throw balls in to the infield; as a result, teams tend to emphasize defense at that position. Also, the center fielder is considered the outfield leader and left- and right-fielders should cede to his direction when fielding a fly ball.

The team at bat

The team at bat sends its nine players up to home plate as batters in an order called a lineup. Each team sets its batting lineup at the beginning of the game and may not change the order, except by sending in substitute players. A substitute player fills the same spot in the order as the player he replaced (however, he is not required to play the same position in the field). After the ninth player has batted, the order returns to the beginning with the first player in the lineup.

Each player's turn at the plate is a plate appearance. 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 where the batter stops at first base is a single; if he stops at second base, a double; at third base, a triple. If, after touching first base, the batter-runner is out while running, he is attributed a single, double, or triple according to the last base he touched before being out. A hit that allows the batter to score on the same play is a home run, whether or not the ball is hit over the fence. Runners may advance, but are not required to unless the batter displaces them.

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. This continues until three outs have been recorded, at which point the teams exchange sides.

Innings and scores

An inning consists of each team having one turn in the field and one turn to hit. Each set of three outs is a half-inning. A standard game lasts for nine innings, although some leagues use seven-inning games. The team with the most runs at the end of the game wins. If the home team (which hits last) 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 both teams have scored the same number of runs at the end of a regular game, an extra inning may be added to the game. As many innings as necessary are then played until one team has the lead at the end of an inning. Thus, the team which hits in the second (or bottom) half of the inning always has a chance to respond if the team batting in the first (or top) half scores. This gives the home team a small tactical advantage.

Thus 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 (now called the Los Angeles Dodgers) and Boston Braves (now in Atlanta) 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. 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 if the home team is ahead). Previously, curfews and the absence of adequate lighting caused more ties and shortened games.

In Japan, if the score remains tied after 9 innings, up to 3 extra innings can be played. If the game remains tied in the 12th inning, however, the game will be called a tie. Some youth or amateur leagues will end a game early if one team is ahead by 10 or more runs.

Pitching

Main article:Pitching
Effective pitching is vitally important in baseball. A full game usually involves 120-170 pitches thrown by each team, and most pitchers begin to tire before they reach this point. The act of throwing a baseball at high speed is very unnatural to the body and somewhat damaging to human muscles, thus pitchers are very susceptible to injuries, soreness, and general pain.

Batting

The pitcher must pitch the ball so that it passes directly over home plate at a level between the batter's knees and his armpits, the so-called strike zone. If he does this, and the batter doesn't swing, the batter is charged with a strike. If the batter swings at the ball and misses he is also charged with a strike. 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 also changed with a strike except when there are already two strikes. A foul ball with two existing strikes is disregarded, except that the defending team may record outs by catching any ball, whether fair or foul, before it touches the ground. On the third strike the batter is declared out, which is called a strikeout. If the batter bunts foul with two strikes, then he is out on strikes.

If the pitch is not over the plate, or is above the armpits or below the knees, it is considered out of the strike zone. If the batter doesn't swing at such a pitch, he is awarded a ball. On the fourth ball the batter is entitled to advance to first base without risk of being put out. This is called a walk or a base on balls. Similarly, a batter who is hit with a pitch may advance to first base. Runners ahead of the batter are also entitled to advance if the batter displaces them. A walk or hit batter with all three bases occupied causes a run to score.

Running the bases

The goal of each batter is to help his team win by enabling preceding runners to score, or by becoming a baserunner himself and advancing to first, second, third, and then home base, thus scoring a run. A batter becomes a runner when any of the following occur:

A runner who is touching a base which he is entitled to occupy may not be tagged out. Runners may attempt to advance from base to base 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 occupy (tag up) after the ball is caught. Once they do this, they may attempt to advance at their own risk.

Baserunners may attempt to advance while the pitcher is throwing a pitch. The catcher (or pitcher, in lieu of delivering the pitch) often tries to prevent this by throwing the ball to one of the infielders in order to tag the runner. This pick-off attempt is usually unsuccessful in tagging out the runner but is effective in keeping the runner closer to the base. If the runner is tagged out while diving back to the base, it is called a pick-off. If the runner attempts to advance to the next base but is tagged out before reaching it safely, he is caught stealing. A successful attempt by the runner is called a stolen base. If a pitch gets away from the catcher, runners may also try to advance. This may be a wild pitch, if the pitcher is held responsible for the ball getting away, or a passed ball if the catcher is deemed to be at fault.

The standard dimensions of a baseball field, with 90 feet (27.4 m) between bases, generate many close baserunning plays. On one hand, an infielder who cleanly fields a ball hit on the ground, then throws it quickly and accurately, will usually get the ball to a base before the runner reaches it. However, any hesitation or mistake on the part of the fielder may allow the runner to reach the base safely.

Further rules

Each team is allowed to substitute for any player at any time, but no player, once removed from the game, can return. It is very common for a pitcher to pitch for several innings and then be removed in favor of a relief pitcher. Also, because pitching is a specialized skill, many pitchers are not good hitters, so it is common to substitute for a pitcher when his team is at bat. This can be done by inserting a pinch hitter who replaces the pitcher for his time at bat, and who is in turn replaced by a relief pitcher when the team returns to the field on defense. Most leagues (notably Major League Baseball's American League) also allow a designated hitter, a player whose sole purpose is to hit when it would normally be the pitcher's turn. A designated hitter does not play in the field on defense, and may remain in the game regardless of changes in pitchers.

Many amateur leagues will allow a starting player who was removed to return to the game in the same position in the batting order under the re-entry rule. In nearly all adult leagues, substitutes cannot return once removed. Youth leagues often allow free and open substitution to encourage player participation.

Pinch Hitter also refers generally to any substitute batter who has not previously appeared on the field. Similarly, a pinch runner may be used to substitute for any baserunner.

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, and decide how to substitute players. Managers are also assisted by coaches in helping players to develop their skills.

Any baseball game involves one or more umpiress, 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.

Another figure in baseball worth noting is 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 save.

The style of play

Baseball has an antique, unhurried pace. Both football and basketball use a clock, and fans must often watch games end while one team degrades the competitive element of the game by killing the clock rather than competing directly against the opposing team. But baseball has no clock; you cannot win without getting the last man out, and a rally can start at any 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; today, four-hour nine-inning games are not uncommon. However, this is primarily due to increased commercial breaks more than a decrease in playing speed. Increased offense and more pitching changes also prolong the length of the game.

Baseball is a team game—even two or three Hall of Fame players cannot guarantee a pennant by themselves. In the last years of the 20th century, a trend toward building teams based on a more even distribution of talent throughout the lineup became noticeable. The Seattle Mariners and the Florida Marlins were two teams that began moving away from the previous belief in building teams around superstars. Team salary caps led to the decision by many owners to pay more solid players decent money rather than surrounding one or two expensive superstars with a below-average set of teammates. It remains to be seen if this strategy will be successful.

Paradoxically, the game places individual players under great pressure and scrutiny one at a time. The pitcher must make a good pitch or suffer reproach; no one can help him throw the ball. The hitter has a mere fraction of a second to swing the bat; no one can help him then. If the batter hits a line drive, the outfielder makes a lonely 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.

It is a beautiful, leisurely game on the surface (some would say boring) but sudden and fierce beneath. Many people fail to recognize that baseball is a game of strategy and anticipation, as much as it is a game of skill and athleticism.

Professional leagues

Major League Baseball in North America consists of the National League and the American League. Historically, teams in one league never played teams in the other until the World Series, in which the champions of the two leagues played against each other; this changed in 1997 with the advent of interleague play.

In addition to the major leagues, many North American cities and towns feature minor league teams. Most minor-league teams are affiliated with major-league teams, and serve to develop young players and rehabilitate injured major-leaguers. However, there are also a number of leagues that exist independently of the influence of the major leagues.

During the late 19th and early 20th centuries, African-American players were barred from playing the major leagues, though several did play (claiming to be Cubans or Indians). As a result, a number of parallel Negro Leagues were formed. However, after Jackie Robinson began playing with the major-league Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, the Negro Leagues gradually faded. The process of integration did not go entirely smoothly; there were some ugly incidents, including pitchers who would try to throw directly at an African-American player's head. Now, however, baseball is fully integrated, and there is little to no racial tension between teammates.

Between 1943 and 1954, the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League fielded teams in several Midwestern towns.

Meanwhile, the Northeast League of Professional Baseball began play in 1995 as a six-team league based entirely in New York State.

Professional leagues also exist in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and Latin America.

Equipment and clothing

Related articles

History

Culture

Organized leagues

Statistics and lists

References

External links


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