Baseball is one of the best-known American sports, perhaps even the most loved in the United States, but, as with football, it is often an unknown factor for Italians. Despite dozens of films, TV series, and even comics that have repeatedly addressed the subject, in fact, many find it difficult to understand the rules of baseball, considered too abstruse.
In fact, the fundamentals are pretty simple. The game is played in nine innings, that is nine rounds of service for both teams.
The bat ends when three outs are recorded, that is, when either the batter collects three strikes, a service is caught by the defense, or the ball reaches a fielder on the base before the attacker. The point is scored when you are able to complete the entire tour of the bases until you reach home plate.
Then there are a whole series of secondary rules (the pitcher must throw within an ideal rectangle between the knees and the wrist of the hitter, if you hit the ball beyond the boundaries of the field you will record a home run, you can ” stealing ”the bases and so on), but that’s basically the gist.
It is true, however, that, alongside these rules that are all in all logical and understandable, there are also some curious, funny, or sometimes even absurd ones.
Rules that have been added over the years or have stood the test of time, as baseball is also probably the oldest professional team sport in the world. Let’s see five together.
1. Prohibition of Spitting
As you may have guessed, the most delicate role in baseball is that of the pitcher. The defensive strength of the team depends on his ability not to let his opponents beat him, and his collapse – physical or mental – can lead, within a few throws, to suffer partial even so heavy as to determine the outcome of the race.
In such a situation, there are two natural reactions: on the one hand, one sweat; on the other hand, every effort is made to bring home the result.
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In the early days of the game, pitchers tried to combine these two things in the infamous spitball, literally “spit-ball”: that is, they made the ball wet and slippery in all possible ways, spitting on it, passing it on the sweaty forehead, touching it with full hands of greasy substances.
The aim was to make the service more difficult, even if the pitch often became more complex as well.
And it is also forbidden to wipe the sweat
In 1920 Major League Baseball, the American League decided to ban spitballs. This is why today a pitcher cannot expressly “lick his hand” or wipe his sweat and then directly touch the ball. He has to dry on his uniform first.
The fact remains that someone tries to be smart anyway, only to be shamed by the cameras and, often, suspended from the league.
2. The Ball in the Cap
The defense, however, is not made only by the pitcher and his receiver, but also by the teammates who control the bases and by the outsiders, that is the players who take care of the part of the field between the diamond and the fences.
The task of the latter, in particular, is to retrieve the farthest beaten balls, perhaps, possibly, on the fly, in order to eliminate the batter and be quicker in serving his teammates.
However, catching a ball is not always easy. Often you have to run to get into position, calculate the trajectory, resist the reflection of the sun and the fear of making a mistake, but above all to be able to catch the ball without letting it slip away from the glove.
Three bases as a gift
In some cases, it would be even easier to take off the cap, turn it upside down and wait for the ball to enter it by itself. It is a pity, however, that this practice is prohibited.
If a defender deliberately tries to catch or touch the ball with either a hat or mask (this could be the case with the catcher) or even just throwing the glove, three bases are automatically awarded to the attacking team.
3. Launcher Too Slow
As mentioned, the pitcher has the very delicate task of “challenging” the batsman who is in front, throwing him curved or fastballs so as not to let him hit.
When the batter misses the ball and it is deemed “good” by the umpire, a strike is recorded (and with three strikes the batter is out and the defense gets one of the three outs needed to complete that part of the inning ).
If, on the other hand, the referee believes that the ball was thrown out of that aforementioned ideal rectangle and the ball was too external (and the batter did not try to hit it), a ball is recorded. On the fourth ball, a base is given to the attacking team.
A “ball” as a gift
There is a case, however, where the pitcher may inadvertently give a ball, and that is when he is too slow.
It seems strange, since we are used to films in which the pitchers seem to mess around for hours, but in reality, if the bases are free, the rule requires that it does not take more than 20 seconds to make the launch.
It Is Forbidden to Overtake
Let’s focus now on the attacking team. Let’s say a batter is also a good runner and goes to bat when first base is already occupied by a teammate, much slower than him.
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He hits very hard, sending the ball into an area without defenders, and then begins to run at full blast, convinced that he can gain various bases. After the first, however, he might find himself in front of his slow partner.
What can our runner do, in this hypothetical but not very rare case (it also happened recently in a game between the Dodgers and Giants)?
How to eliminate a teammate
However, there is also a partial exception to the rule: if the runner who is in front gets injured during the race and there is material time to do so (in the case, for example, of a home run ), the coach can ask that is replaced in the run to the next base by a teammate on the bench.
5. Don’t Overdo The Tar
July 24, 1983, Yankee Stadium, New York. The regular season of the MLB. The New York Yankees, the hosts, and the Kansas City Royals face off. We are in the ninth and last inning, with the Yankees leading 4-3.
Two players of the Royals have already been eliminated and the game is close to closing. It is enough for the pitcher to take out the last batter and the hosts will win.
For the Royals, George Brett, the star of the team, has been battling for ten years in Kansas City (and will remain there for another ten, ending his career there) and eight consecutive seasons called up for the All-Star Game. He places a home run with a base already occupied and that means two points that lead the Royals to lead 5-4.
It would be up to New York to try to react, but coach Billy Martin gets up from the bench, asking the referee to check Brett’s bat, invoking the tar rule.
The Curious Story of the Pine Tar Game
What is it about? Well, in the MLB regulation there is an old rule, never repealed, which prescribes that pine tar for a length greater than 18 inches cannot be applied to a club. And Brett had broken it, since the tar was much more extensive.
Pine tar is used to facilitate the batter’s grip on the bat and control of the hit on the ball but, according to experts, it does not cause particular damage to the defense. The same rule was outdated and hardly ever applied.
However, the referees agreed with the New York coach, and the game won for the Yankees, sending George Brett into a rage.
But the matter did not end there. The Royals appealed and after several hesitations in the league, they were able to replay the final part of the last inning. That part of the match was played on August 18 and the Royals won 5-4, this time officially.