Four and a half years ago I wrote a post attempting to explain the game of baseball and how it’s rules developed starting with a simple first principle of game where you hit a ball and run with some objective in mind. Well it took me long enough, but I’ve got part two down now. If you want to read the first part, it’s still up on the blog here.
Let’s return to our first principle of the game. An player attempts to strike the ball as far as possible so he can run a pre-determined circuit and return to this starting position before the ball can.
The first things after the ball is struck is to determine whee the batter goes. The taste of the rulemakers for baseball was to have the player who struck the ball run around the pitcher and back to the starting position. The runner of course would tend to try to make this circuit as short as possible. So to keep the circuit uniform, four bases were put in place. The runner had to touch each of these bases in order before the ball is returned. The team that can complete the most circuits wins the game. A way of keeping track of how many circuits have been successfully completed was needed. So a completed circuit was caled a run.
So we have the runner strike the ball. He runs to the first base and continues counterclockwise and continues until the ball is returned. We know what happens if he can touch all four bases before the ball catches up with him. So what happens when the bal does catch up?
Just throwing the ball past the runner was considered too easy. The opponents much demonstrate they are in control of the ball. So it was determined that to demonstrate that the ball has been effectively returned, the runner must be tagged with the ball. At one time this included throwing the ball at the runner. That was considered too dangerous and also somewhat violates the principle of being in control of the ball. So the tag must be applied while in the hand of the opponent. At a certain point, players took up the practice of wearing gloves. This made it awkward to take the ball out of the encompassing glove in order to tag the runner and gave the runner the advantage. A rule was then adopted that tagging the runner with a glove that had the ball securely inside, would be considered the same as if the runner had been tagged with the ball itself. The entire glove was considered the same as the ball. Derivative rules were put in place for how to deterine if the ball in the glove was under control.
So now we have a runner going from the base to base. If an opponent showed up with the ball, the runner could take off in any direction to get away. This could cause delay and make every circuit rather tedious. So another rule comes into force requiring the runner to head directly from one base to another without deviating beyond a prescribed limit. This now known as running out of the baseline.
But now we really are in the business of waiting for a runner to hit an inside the park home run. As youc an imagine this doesnt happen that often, even before we consider fences. So the runner is allowed to stop safely without being tagged, as long as they are on one of the first three bases. Now the players int he field need to tag the runner in between bases.
Here a matter of taste comes into play. The runner now has a better chance of getting to the fourth base. This raises the question of how many people can try to get the ball and stop the runner. Most bals didn’t travel too much farther than the pitcher. So a player was placed at each of the four bases. They can be considered guardians of those bases in order to try to stop a runner from reaching them safely.
Past the circuit of bases was an open field. To separate the area that was out of play (mentioned earlier) a line was drawn from the 4th base to the first base and from the fourth base to the third base. That line continued in the same direction on each side and defined the width of the area out beyond the circuit. This field is referred to as the outfield, and the area of the circuit of bases thus was called the infield. Both fields were fair territory and anything outside the lines is foul territory.
So eventually three players was deemed sufficient to fairly cover the outfield territory. However, the infield seemed unbalanced. Teh three base guardians seemed unbalanced. The second baseman had effectively more territory to guard as the first baseman was guarding hsi base on every hit and the fourth baseman (or catcher) was always out of play, having been assigned the duty of catching the pitches from the pitcher to help speed up the game.
So a second guardian of second base was created and placed on the third base side of the infield. This player would help stop the ball short of going into the outfield. We call the position shortstop now.
So now we have 9 players on the field attempting to catch the ball and tag the runner before he can return home to the fourth base or home base. This proves to be difficult and sometimes tedious. For instance if a runner was on second base a player could hit the ball and run very slowly to the first base. While the players in the field, or fielders, wait to tag the runner, the runner from second base could safely make a dash for the third base. Also a player at the first base might choose to stay ont he base safely while the new runner ran to first. So a rule declares that two runners cannot occupy the same base. This forces the runner to the next base.
Another rule has the opportunity to speed up play here. If a runner is forced to run to a base the fielder no longer has to tag them with the ball to demonstrate that the ball ahs beaten the runner. They can instead merely take posession of the ball and step on the base the runner is being forced to run to. This procedure can be carried out at the first base on every hit, as the runner is essentially forced to run there after he has successfully struck the ball.
So now we have players striking the ball into fair territory and trying to reach a base safely. The more bases they can touch, the better. They must touch the bases in order to define a circle, but they can stop at any base safely along the way. If a runner stops at a base they can choose to stay there until they are forced to run. And this brings up a good point. What if they aren’t forced to run but decide to anyway> Some rules have to go into place about when they can run. If a ball is being exchanged for instance because it is damaged, obviously the runner is not allowed to run to the next base.
The ball was previously considered live at all times. Any time the ball is live the runner is free to try to run to the next base and the fielders are free to try to tag the runner. Exceptions began to be put into play. For instance a ball struck into foul territory is declared dead, and the runner is not allowed to advance. If the fourth unhittable pitch is delivered and the batter allowed to go to first, the ball is dead and the runner cannot advance unless forced to by another runner coming to take posession fo the base he is on. In addition to these and other rules, the judge beind home base, called the umpire now, can decide the ball is dead at any time. Even though there is no clock, baseball as borrowed the phrase ‘time out’ from clocked sports, to describe this condition.
So now we know when and where a batter and runner can go. But we soon find that any ball hit into the outfield ends up with a runner safely at a base. This throws the game out of balance. So a new principle is adopted to reduce the number of runners who safely reach bases. The struck ball must reach the ground before runners, including the batter, can safely advance. If a fielder can prevent the ball from reaching the ground, the batter will be considered to have failed at the attempt to complete the circuit. If there happens to be a runner on base, they can still safely advance but they must wait on their base until the ball is caught in the air before they can attempt to advance. If they are not touching a base when the ball is caught, they must go back to the base and touch it before advancing. These restrictions pt the game back in balance. Not every ball hit into the outfield results in a runner safely reacing base.
Of course the rule is applied to all areas not just the outfield. In fact the decision is made that even if the ball is in foul territory, if it is caught in the air before reaching the ground, then the batter will considerd to have failed int he attempt and be put out of the play. This phrase is shortened to put out and eventually just out.
This brings up the rare but not unseen situation where a batter swings and makes slight contact with the ball but it continues on into the catcher’s glove behind home base. Now technically this could be a foul ball caught before it reaches the gorund and considered a out. But it hardly seems fair sice the batter did not make definite contact, just incidental. Such a happenstance will only count as an attempt to strike. If it is the third attempt to strike it will result in the batter being put out, UNLESS the catcher drops the ball. In that case as a compromise it will be treated as a foul ball in that instance and not result in the batter being put out.
To sum up, let’s return to our first principle. The batter attempts to strike the ball such that it hits the ground in the defined field of play, or fair territory. If a fielder prevents the ball from hitting the ground, whether in fair or foul territory, the batter will be considered put out. Once successfully striking the ball in the field of play, the player attempts to run in a circle defined by 4 bases and the lines between them. If the ball is nearing the player he can stay on one of the bases safely and not be tagged. If he is taged by the ball (or glove with the ball in it) while not safely on a base, he is put out. If a fielder in posession of the ball touches the first base before the player can get there, he is also put out.
Now here comes another convention. In the majority of plays the ball is hit on the ground in the infield and is thrown to the guard at the first base. If the batter runs and beats the throw, it wil be difficult to stay on the base. Should the runner leave the base the first baseman could tag him. This could mean that eery ball hit int he infield could conceivably be an out and thus throw the game out of balance again. So a rule has been put in place that a player once strikig the ball can run past first base without being tagged out. If the runner is tagged before reaching first base, or if a fielder in posession of the ball touches first base before the runner gets there, the runner is put out. But after the runner touches first base he is as safe as if he magically stopped his momentum and stayed on the base.
However runners might have taken advantage of this rule to advance to the second base. So another rule states that after running past the first base the runner must turn away from second base when he has slowed down and is returning to the first base. If the runner turns towards second base the fielder in posession of the ball is allowed to assume the runner is attempting to advance to second base and can then tag him out. Only bceause of the frequency of the plasy at first base is this allowed. No ther base is allowed to be overrun and have the runner still be safe.
Once the runner is on base he is free to try to advance to other bases any time he wants. Only if the ball is dead by a rule or an umpire’s ruling can the runner not advance. The runner MUST advance if another runner is coming behind him. If the runner does not advance and he ends up standing on a base with another runner he will be declared put out and have to leave the bases.
So we have many ways a player can be put out of the game (not permanently mind you). So we are now in the position of having to determine how long a team is allowed to try to make the circuit of bases before they must give up and let the other time try. Since as we mentioned there is no clock, a limit is put in place based on how many times a player is put out of the game. If three players are put out in one way or another then the team must give up its pursuit and allow the other team a try.
After three put outs, the team that was int he field and delivering pitches comes off the field and can begin to bat and try to complete circuits and score runs. The team tat was batting, must put a pitcher up on the mound to deliver the ball to the opponents and the fielders up to the prescribed limit can take their places.
It must be noted that the position of the fielders described is not set in the rules. The players can be anywhere in fair territory (with the exception of the catcher who must be in foul territory). Those positions described above were used to determine a limit of the number of fielders.
We then must decide who gets to bat. This is not a probem wen a team is defined by just the players in the field. Everyone in the field gets to bat. In fact this is a guiding principle of baseball. The team is merely the nine people on the field. The entire team gets a chance to bat.
Replacing players, what order the players must bat in and how many times they get a chance will be the subject of our next section.