Simple baseball rules, applicable to softball: the game

There are two teams-let's call them Starter Team and Ender Team--and each tries to make more points than the other. In baseball, however, we don't say "make points". We say score runs. Starter Team begins the game playing offense. Its players take turns being the batter (or "hitter"), the only offensive player allowed to touch the baseball. And he can touch it only with his bat, a wooden stick. Ender Team begins the game with its 9 players on defense. Most of the time the focus of attention is on a two-man battle: Ender Team's pitcher has incentives to deliver the baseball to Starter Team's current batter who has incentives to try to hit it.

Starter Team scores one run each time a batter moves completely around a circuit of four designated spots called bases. Sometimes he does so all at once. Most of the time he proceeds deliberately from one base to the next, where he stops until his team mates, taking their respective turns as the batter, create chances for him to advance around the circuit.

Sooner or later Starter Team will accumulate three events (outs) that are considered to be failures on its part. At that point the two teams change postures. Ender Team will begin to play offense, and Starter Team will have to play defense. When Ender Team makes three outs during this turn at bat, Starter Team gets a fresh chance: it can add runs to its total until it makes three outs again. Then the teams switch roles again.

In a usual game each team has nine turns on defense and eight or nine turns on offense, depending on who's winning. This is according to the Official Rules of Major League Baseball. Softball and youth baseball leagues often have seven inning games, while Little League games usually last six innings. Again, the simple baseball rules apply to various leagues, and we are referring to the usual game. Sometimes they are prolonged.

Since a game can't end in a tie, and Ender Team always gets a last chance to win, the contest could go on forever. There's no clock and no time limit to a baseball game. It depends on how long it takes for a series of events (the outs) to occur: in this, it's like tennis. Most games, however, last about three hours. The usual baseball game is like a play that has nine acts (innings), each of which has two scenes (half-innings) ... each of which has three outs.

You can only score runs while you are playing in the offensive mode. In a lot of sports a team on the defensive can suddenly get hold of the football, the volleyball, the soccer ball, or the puck, and it can score points immediately. Not so in baseball: although the players currently playing defense touch the ball with their hands all the time, they cannot score. And there is always a long pause--enough for a TV commercial--while the teams change from offense to defense and back again.

Baseball can seem very complicated, but it doesn't have to be. On the other hand, you do have to learn a little more detail. In the following pages, we'll get further into the game, but we'll keep our promise to give you only the simple baseball rules. The basic rules of softball are the same.