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What You Need to Know to Follow Major League Baseball

Baseball is played everywhere a diamond can be forged from a semblance of a field — from mud huts, to driveways, to sugar cane grasslands, to billion-dollar state-of-the-art stadiums. And you can watch it and its myriad variations played by inventive children, high school hopefuls, and elite professionals.

The ultimate dream for many aspiring players is Major League Baseball (MLB). The following takes a closer look at the MLB and explains how the league works and how you can watch and evaluate the game at the professional level:

  • Major League Baseball consists of two leagues — the American and the National. Each league has 15 teams and three divisions. A commissioner elected by the owners of the 30 teams runs the league.

  • Each team has a farm system — a series of minor-league teams whose players are at various stages of development and which form the breeding ground for big-league players. Teams employ scouts to evaluate amateur talent, from US high school and college programs, to Latin America and Asia, which have emerged as baseball hotbeds.

  • The regular MLB season lasts 162 games. Most of these games are played within a given team’s league — although there are stretches of interleague play (usually two stretches of games, during the middle third of the season) (The MLB has at least one interleague game every day.) Interleague play involves teams from the American League playing teams from the National League during the regular season. (Before its introduction in 1997, this only occurred during the postseason.)

    For the first five years, teams in each division played against teams from the same division in the other league (NL West vs. AL West, NL Central vs. AL Central, and so on). Starting in 2002, MLB instituted a new format whereby teams rotated playing interleague games against teams in various divisions in any given year. Exceptions were made for hometown rivalries; for example, the New York Yankees play the New York Mets every year, apart from their scheduled divisional opponents.

  • The winners of each division advance to their league’s division championship playoff round, along with the wild card team (the team with the best record among the nondivision winners). The winners of the two divisional series meet in the league championship series. The winners of that series in each league play in the World Series.

  • Each team carries 25 players on its active roster and is led by an on-field manager and coaching staff. Its general manager (GM) is in charge of the baseball and business sides of the organization. He is in charge of assembling the team, drafting and trading players, negotiating their contracts, and many other duties.

  • The on-field arbiters are four umpires at every MLB game: one behind the plate who calls balls and strikes (among other things), and one each at first, second, and third base.

  • At the stadium, the best seat in the house depends on personal preferences. For example, if you want to see the chess game between the pitcher and hitter, while also taking in the entire field, choose a seat directly behind home plate.

  • Players are evaluated by statistics — the numbers they accumulate during a season. The most commonly accepted stats are as follows:

    • Batting average: It measures what percentage of a player’s at-bats result in base hits.

    • Runs Batted In (RBIs): This stat measures the total number of runs a hitter generates from his at-bats with exception to runs scored due to errors by the fielding team. A batter is awarded an RBI when he gets a hit (including home runs), a sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly, infield out, or fielder’s choice that leads to runners scoring. Additionally, if the batter is walked (base on balls), hit by a pitch, or interfered with, and gets on base where the bases are full leading to a run, the batter receives an RBI.

    • Home run: When a batter reaches home safely with one swing of the bat. Most home runs are hit over the outfield fence, but occasionally a player will hit an inside-the-park home run, which occurs when the batter hits the ball into the field of play but is able to round all of the bases safely without being tagged out or an error being made.

    • On-base percentage (OBP): This stat measures how often a batter reaches base. It’s approximately equal to times on base divided by plate appearances.

    • Slugging average: The number of total bases divided by the number of at-bats. This stat measures a batter’s true power. OBP is added to slugging average to determine on-base plus slugging (OPS).

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