Base Ball, an athletic game played in the United States, where it has, as a national amusement, a prominence almost equal to that attained by cricket in England. It has reached its present importance only within the last 10 or 15 years, though it was long before played in some parts of the country, and is indeed probably derived from an old English game called "rounders." It is played with a hard ball, composed of yarn tightly wound around a piece of vulcanized rubber, and a round wooden bat not more than 42 inches in length.
The ball must not weigh less than 5 nor more than 5 1/4 ounces avoirdupois, and must be between 9 and 9 1/4 inches in circumference. The bat must not be more than 2 1/2 inches in diameter in the thickest part. - A base ball ground should be a level area of fine turf about 600 ft. in length by 400 in breadth, at one end of which a square of 90 ft. is marked out. At the lower angle of this, designated as the home base, is fixed a white iron plate or stone, while the other angles are indicated by white canvas bags filled with sawdust and attached to posts, or more commonly iron pins, sunk in the ground. Nine players constitute a side, one side taking the bat and the other the field. The batsman stands at the home base, having the pitcher opposite to him, at the distance of 45 ft., and the catcher behind. A player is also stationed at or near each of the three canvas bags, known as the first, second, and third bases, and which are respectively on the right, opposite to, and on the left of the batsman. Besides these, there is a short field, called the short stop, behind the pitcher, and a right, centre, and left field at a considerable distance in the rear of the second base, the duties of all of whom are to catch or stop the balls and return them to the pitcher or the basemen.
The positions of the players as well as those of the bases will be understood by reference to the annexed diagram. A captain, who is generally the catcher, assigns the places of the players on his side and directs the game. One or two definitions must precede a description of the actual game. The batsman may strike a ball in two ways, "fair" and "foul." It is a fair ball when it is struck in a direction lying within the lines of range of the home and third base, or of the home and first base - supposing those lines indefinitely continued in the direction of the field - and when it first touches the ground, a player, or any object within those lines. It is a foul ball when struck outside those limits, either to the right, left, or rear of the batsman. - The actual form of play is as follows: When the batsman has struck a fair ball, or when he has struck three times at any fairly delivered ball and missed it each time, he must start for the first base; from which it is his object to reach in turn, as he has opportunity, the second, third, and again the "home." When he succeeds in reaching the home base without being put out, and after having successively touched the first, second, and third bases, he is entitled to score one run.
As soon as each batsman begins to run the bases, he is succeeded at the bat by another player of his own side, the succession continuing until three players of the side are out, when the side goes to the field, and their adversaries take their innings. A player may be put out in the following different ways: 1, if while he is acting as batsman a fair ball struck by him be caught by an adversary before it touches the ground; 2, when a foul ball struck by him is either so caught, or caught on the first bound; 3, if a fair ball struck by him is held by his adversary on the first base before he reaches that base; 4, if he strikes three times at fairly delivered balls, misses each time, and each time the ball is caught by the catcher, or if, after so striking, the ball is held by the player on first base before he can reach it; 5, if while running the bases he is touched by the ball, while in play, in the hands of an adversary, at a time when no part of his person is touching any base; 6, if he wilfully breaks certain important rules concerning details of play, or attempts to frustrate by any improper means a legitimate attempt to put him out - by knocking the ball from the hand of a player, or in other ways.
A ball is said to be out of play after a foul stroke, until it has been returned to the hands of the pitcher. Nine innings are played on each side, and the party making the greatest number of runs wins the game. - The rules observed throughout the country in playing the game are those agreed upon by the two national associations of base ball players - one of professional players, so called, and the other of amateurs. Representatives of the different clubs belonging to these meet annually in convention, revise the rules of play, settle contested points, etc.; and reference may be made to their code of regulations, printed in all base ball players' manuals, for further information concerning the details of the game.