Basically, you got a couple of teams facing each other. Nine players to each side. And things begin with a pitcher facing a batter.
The rules of baseball say that the pitcher must stand at a certain point (the pitcher's plate on a mound, 60'6'' away) and must do certain things and not do certain things when he pitches the ball. The idea of those restrictions is to give the batters and base runners a chance against the pitcher.
But the batter has to stand in a certain place (the batter's box on either side of home base). If he doesn't do that, he's out. And three outs, and the team loses it's time at bat (an inning).
Getting on base
Generally, the batter must hit a pitch safely (between the foul lines) and reach base before the defensive team puts him out. Once the batter hits the ball fairly, he becomes the batter-runner.
BATTER RUNNER is a term that identifies the offensive player who has just finished his time at bat until he is put out or until the play on which he became a runner ends.
Catching a batted ball on the fly will put the batter out. So will getting the ball to first base before the batter-runner gets there. So will tagging him with the ball (or the glove in which the ball is held) while he's not on a base.
But hitting the ball and beating the ball to the bag isn't the only way a runner can be on first base. The other ways include:
- Four balls (pitches outside the strike zone not swung at)
- Batter hit by a pitch.
- Catcher's interference. That's when there is contact between the batter or his equipment and the catcher during the pitch.
- Dropped third strike. The batter doesn't automatically get first base, but if first base is open, or if there are two out, the becomes a batter-runner and must be retired just like if he had hit a fair ball.
Oh, there's one additional way that a player can become a base runner: He can be named a pinch runner.
In football, players can enter and leave the game any time they wish. That doesn't happen in baseball.
Once a player, for any reason, is removed from the game, he stays out of the game. And any player can be replaced any time time is called or the ball is dead.
If a player gets on base, the offensive team can elect to replace his with someone running in his place. That's a pinch runner.
Likewise, a batter can be replaced by someone else batting in his place. That's a pinch hitter.
And any time one player off the bench (that is, not already in the game) hits or runs for another player, the new player is in the game, taking the place of the old player. And the old player can't come back into the game.
Well, there is one exception to that.
The Designated Hitter
Most pitchers are good at pitching and bad at hitting. Not always, but most of the time. If you watch a National League game, for example, you'll often see the pitcher replaced, not on the mound, but at the bat.
If the team is behind, and they really, really need a base runner (because the game is in a late inning), and if the pitcher is coming to bat, they'll often bat someone in his place. Then, the next time they take the mound, a new pitcher will appear.
But in the American League, that doesn't happen.
Because the pitcher doesn't have to bat.
In his place, almost all of the time, will be the designated hitter. A batter who doesn't play defense, but instead, only bats for the pitcher.
The American League uses the DH. The National League doesn't. Most of the minor leagues use the DH. Only at AAA and AA (the two highest levels) do games happen where the DH doesn't apply. That essentially when both teams are affiliated with National League parent clubs. The rest of the time, the DH rule is in effect. Some independent leagues don't use the DH.
Now, just because you can use the DH doesn't mean you have to. But just about every time, the team elects to use it.
Oh, and if the DH comes into the game to play defense, he's no longer the DH. And no one else on that team will be the DH for the remainder of that game. The pitcher will bat for the rest of the game.
Some fans like the DH. Some don't. I don't.
I think the strategy involved in a situation where a pitcher is having a good game, but having to weigh that against the need for a better batter in his position, is part of baseball. And the DH does away with that.
And that's really my main objection to it.
Well, next time, we'll talk more about base runners. Because I think we've told my sisters more about the batter and pitcher than they really want to know.