Even the pitcher, for example, should run behind the first-baseman when the ball is thrown to the latter by another, in order to stop a widely thrown or missed ball, which, if allowed to pass, would enable the runner to gain one or more additional bases. Bases vacated by their basemen while fielding balls must often, also, be promptly covered by another player. The general rule of defence strategy is similar to that in cricket, namely, to have as many men as possible at the probable point of attack. There is usually an infield and an outfield captain for the special purpose of calling the name of the player who is to take a certain fly ball, to prevent collisions.
The batsman stands three-quarters facing the pitcher within a parallelogram ("box") 6 ft. long and 4 ft. wide, the lines of which he may not overstep, on penalty of being declared out. His object is to get to first-base without being put out. This he may do in several ways. (1) He may make a "safe-hit," i.e. one that is "fair" but cannot be caught, or fielded in time to put him out. (2) He is entitled to first-base if the pitcher pitches four bad balls, at none of which he (the batsman) has struck. (3) He may be unavoidably struck by a pitched ball, in which case he is given his base. (4) He may, except in certain specified cases, after a third strike, if the catcher has failed to catch the third one, earn his base if he can reach it before the catcher can throw the ball to the first-baseman, and the first-baseman, with the ball in his possession, touch first-base. (5) He may reach his base by an error of some fielder, which may be either a muffed fly, a failure to stop and field a ground ball, a muffed thrown ball or a bad throw. Only balls batted within the foul-lines (see diagram) are fair. All others are "fouls," and the batsman cannot run on them.
All foul-struck balls are called strikes until two strikes have been called by the umpire, after which fouls are not counted.
Batting, as in cricket, is a science by itself, although comparatively more stress is laid on fielding than in cricket. A good batsman can place the ball in any part of the field he chooses by meeting the ball at different angles. He may make a safe hit either by hitting the ball on the ground directly through the infield out of reach of the fielders, or so hard that it cannot be stopped. In the last case a failure to stop and field it does not count as an "error" (misplay) for the fielder, even though it came straight at him, the decision as to errors appearing in the score (v. infra) depending upon the official scorer of the home club. The batsman may also hit safely by placing the ball over the heads of the infielders, but not far enough to be caught by the outfielders, or over the heads of the outfielders themselves, or he may bunt successfully. A hit by which two bases can be made (without errors by opponents) is a "two-base-hit," one for three bases a "three-base-hit," and one for four bases a "home-run." The batsman may be put out in various ways.
For example, he is out (1) if he fails to bat in the order named in the published batting-list; (2) if he fails to take his position within one minute after the umpire has summoned him; (3) if he makes a foul hit which is caught before it strikes the ground (a ball barely ticked by the bat ["foul-tip"] does not count); (4) if he oversteps the batting-lines; (5) if he intentionally obstructs or interferes with the catcher; (6) if he unsuccessfully attempts the third strike and the ball hits his person or is caught by the catcher (under certain conditions he is out whether the ball is so caught or not), or, not being caught, is thrown to first-base and held there by an opposing player before the batsman can get there; (7) if a fair ball be caught before striking the ground; (8) if any fair ball is fielded to first-baseman before he reaches the base. The batsman becomes a base-runner the moment he starts for first-base. He may, when he first reaches first-base, overrun his base (provided he turns to his right in returning to it) without risk of being put out, but thereafter can be put out by being touched with the ball in the hands of a fielder unless some part of the runner's person is in contact with the base.
When a fair or foul ball struck by a batsman on his side is caught on the fly, he must retouch his base, or be put out if the baseman receives the ball before he can do so. A runner on first-base is forced to run to second as soon as a fair ball is batted, or, being on second with another runner on first, he is forced to run to third. This is called being "forced off his base." In such a situation the forced runner can be put out if the ball is thrown to the baseman at the next base before the runner gets there. He does not require to be touched with the ball. The runner on first is entitled, however, to advance to second without risk of being put out if the batsman becomes similarly entitled to first-base (e.g. on being unavoidably struck by the ball, or on four balls). Frequently, if the ball is batted to the infield while a runner is on first-base, the fielder tosses it to second-baseman, putting out the runner, and the second-baseman has still time to throw the ball to first-base ahead of the batsman, thus completing a "double play." Triple plays are sometimes made when there are runners on two or on all of the bases. Base-running is one of the important arts of base-ball play.
A good base-runner takes as long a lead off the base as he dares, starts to run the moment the pitcher makes the first movement to deliver the ball, and if necessary throws himself with a slide, either feet or head first, on to the objective base, the reason for the slide being to make it more difficult for the baseman to touch the runner, having to stoop in order to do so, thus losing time. A base-runner is out if he interferes with an opponent while the latter is fielding a ball or if he is hit by a batted ball. An example of modern base-running is offered by the "double steal," carried out, e.g., when there is a runner on first-base and a runner on third-base. The runner on first starts for second leisurely in order to draw a throw to second by the catcher. If the catcher throws, the runner on third runs for the home-plate, the second-baseman returning the ball to the catcher in order to put the runner out. The play often results in a score, but the runner is frequently caught if the throws are quick and accurate, or when the catcher deceives the runner by throwing, not to the player at second-base, but to a man stationed for the purpose much nearer the home-plate, this man intercepting the ball and returning it to the catcher if the runner on third is attempting to score, or letting it pass to the player on second-base, if the runner on third does not make the attempt.
Team batting is the co-operation of batsman and base-runner. The commonest example is the "hit and run" play, e.g. when a runner is on first-base. After the runner has ascertained by a false start which infielder, whether second-baseman or short-stop, will cover second-base, the batsman signals to the runner that he will hit the next ball. As soon as the pitcher delivers the ball the runner starts for second and the batsman hits the ball to that part of the infield vacated by the fielder who has gone to receive the ball at second from the catcher. If successful this play results in a safe hit, while the runner not infrequently makes, not only second, but third-base as well. Another instance of team batting is when a runner is on third-base and the batsman signals that he will hit the next ball. This enables the runner to get a long start, making his scoring nearly certain if the batsman succeeds in hitting the ball fairly. If the ball is hit without the signal and consequent long start by the runner, the latter is frequently put out at the plate, as the infielder who fields the ball will ignore the batsman and throw the ball to the catcher to head off the runner and prevent a run being scored. In close games the "sacrifice-hit," a part of team batting, is an important element.
It consists, when a runner is on base, of a hit by the batsman resulting in his own retirement but the advancement to the next base of the runner. The sacrifice-hit is most frequently a bunt, as this gives the batsman the best chance of reaching first-base safely, besides surely advancing the runner. Another kind of sacrifice-hit is a long fly to the outfield. On such a hit a runner on third-base (as on the other bases) must remain on the base until after the ball is caught, but the distance from the outfield to the home-plate is so great that a fast runner can generally beat the ball and score his run. When men are on bases, coaches are allowed to stand near first and third bases to direct the runners.
One umpire, who has absolute jurisdiction over all points of play, usually officiates in base-ball, but, in important games, two umpires are often employed, one of them standing behind the catcher and calling the good and bad balls pitched, and the other, posted in the infield, giving decisions on plays at the bases.
In cases where the game is tied after nine innings, extra ones are played, the umpire "calling" a game when it becomes too dark to play. In case of rain, play is suspended by the umpire, who calls the game if the rain continues for one half-hour. Should play be permanently interrupted the game counts if five innings have been completed by each side.
The base-ball score shows, in vertical columns, (1) how many times each player has been at bat (bases taken on balls and sacrifice-hits not counted); (2) how many runs he has scored; (3) how many base-hits he has made; (4) how many sacrifice-hits he has made; (5) how many opponents he has put out; (6) how many "assists," i.e. times he has assisted in putting out (e.g. stopping a ground ball and throwing it to first-base); (7) the number of errors he has made, wild pitches and "passed balls," i.e. not held by the catcher, as well as balks and bases on balls, not being counted as errors but set down under the regular columns, together with the record of stolen bases, extra long hits, double and triple plays, batsmen struck out by each pitcher, the number of men struck by each pitcher with the ball, the time of the game and the name of the umpire.
Careful record is kept of the batting, fielding, pitching and base-running averages of both professional and amateur players. To find the batting record of a player, divide the number of hits made by the number of times at bat. To find a fielding record, divide the number of accepted chances by the total chances, e.g. A.B. put 1188 men out, and assisted sixty-four times, while making fifteen errors; his fielding average is therefore 1252 divided by 1267, or 988, 1000 being perfect fielding.
See Spalding's Base-ball Guide, in Spalding's Athletic Library, published annually; How to Play Base-ball, by T. H. Murnane, Spalding's Athletic Library; The Book of School and College Sports, by R. H. Barbour (New York, 1904).