Baseball For Dummies
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Think of this Cheat Sheet as your shortcut guide to baseball, America’s pastime, and a concise set of notes to consult about the basic rules and positions. You can quickly refer to it when you or a friend needs a quick explanation of why a certain play just happened, its circumstances, and consequences. In other words: the Situation. You’ll understand not just what the players on the field are doing, but why they’re doing it.

The player positions on a baseball team

The following figure shows the different positions (and their abbreviations) of the positions on a baseball team. It’s baseball’s chessboard. Knowing the positions and the way they relate to each other can help you understand the role of each as you watch play unfold.

You also can see why some positions are more important than others and certain players are more suited for a certain position. After a short while, you can better see that the way a team deploys its players by position can either lift it or sink it.

Refer to the following figure to keep track of “Who’s on First?” and the other eight positions (nine, if you count the designated hitter).


American League lineups include a designated hitter who bats for the pitcher without taking a defensive position in the field. DH is the abbreviation for that slot.

How batters make it to a base

Getting on base is a batter’s primary task, and the first step to scoring runs, which is the way to win — and lose — games. This is a list of the ways hitters can get on base, by either swinging or not swinging. Refer to the following whenever you can’t figure out why and how players are occupying bases that were empty a moment before

  • You hit a fair ball that isn’t caught by a fielder before it touches the ground.

  • You hit a fair ball that touches the ground and is caught by a fielder whose throw fails to beat you to a base.

  • The umpire calls four pitches out of the strike zone during your at-bat.

  • A pitch in the strike zone hits you without first touching your bat.

  • The catcher obstructs your swing.

  • You hit a fair ball beyond the playing field (for a home run).

  • You hit a fair, catchable ball, but the fielder drops the ball, throws it away, and so on.

  • A third strike skips past the catcher and you beat the throw to first.

How hitters make outs in baseball

Outs are one of the fundamental elements of the game — they’re baseball’s currency, its equivalent of time. You only get 27 of them in a game, so the team on offense strives to avoid them while the defending team craves them.

Refer to this list at a glance to find the most common ways a hitter can make an out in baseball. This list can help you follow the action and grasp why a hitter who just made one is bashing the dugout’s water cooler in frustration and why the pitcher is doing a fist pump.

  • A fielder catches your fair or foul ball before it touches the ground (unless it’s a foul tip to the catcher with less than two strikes).

  • You hit a foul tip (a ball caught by the catcher off your bat) for strike three.

  • After hitting the ball, you or first base is tagged before you touch the base.

  • The umpire calls three strikes during your at-bat (whether you swing or not).

  • A ball that you hit fair hits your bat a second time while you’re in fair territory.

  • While running outside the foul lines, you obstruct a fielder’s throw.

  • You hit the ball with one or both feet outside the batter’s box or step from one batter’s box to another while the pitcher winds up.

  • You obstruct the catcher from fielding or throwing.

  • You run into your own fairly batted ball while running from home to first base.

How Baseball Players Get an Out on the Base Paths

After a baseball player reaches base, a million things can happen to them — and the worst is getting put out. The following is a short list of the most common ways base runners get out. You should refer to it if you want to make sure why an out was made, or anticipate how one could be made — or avoided.

  • You’re on the same base with a teammate when the ball is alive (the second runner is out).

  • You pass a preceding runner on the base paths.

  • You miss a base and the defense notices it and gets the ball to the fielder closest to that base, which he must tag.

  • A fielder tags you with a ball that is alive while you’re off the base. (However, no one can tag you out if you overrun first base provided you return immediately to that bag without making an attempt toward second.)

  • Your teammate hits a ball that touches you in fair territory without it first touching or passing any fielder except the pitcher.

  • In the judgment of the umpire, you hinder a fielder from making a play.

  • A batted ball forces you to advance to another base, and the fielder possessing the ball tags that base before you reach it.

About This Article

This article is from the book:

About the book authors:

Joe Morgan played on two Cincinnati Reds World Series championship teams and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1990. Richard Lally has written numerous popular books on baseball and other subjects, including Bombers: An Oral History of the New York Yankees and Have Glove, Will Travel (which he co-authored with for Major League pitcher Bill Lee).

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