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The GIST's Guide to Baseball

You handle the beer, hot dog and peanuts; we’ll break down all the stuff in between so you’ll become a regular baseball expert. Don’t worry, we have your back.

GIF - Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels team handshake in MLB dugout

The GIST

Baseball is America’s national pastime. Why? Well, it quite literally passes time. The average length of a baseball game is just over three hours of continuous fun.

Baseball is played on a field shaped like a diamond (its other name) with a base on each corner. A team scores a point (referred to as runs) when one of their players is able to make it all the way around the diamond and back to home plate. The team with the most runs at the end of the game, wins!

Rather than periods or quarters, baseball is divided into nine innings, each with a top and a bottom half. At the beginning of an inning, the visiting team goes up to bat while the home team sends nine players into the field to play defence. Then the teams switch to play the bottom of an inning. It’s an advantage to be the last team up to bat because you have the last chance for a comeback win!

An inning is over after three outs (e.g., when a player strikes out on pitches, is thrown out at a base or their ball is caught in the air). And if the game is tied after nine innings, the game goes into open-ended extra innings until a winner can be decided.

But our fave part baseball? It’s got to be the seventh inning stretch.

How is baseball organized?

Baseball is played all over the world; however, the most popular league in the world is Major League Baseball (MLB) located in North America. There are 30 teams in the MLB, but just one Canadian team, the Toronto Blue Jays (shout out!). The league is divided into the National (NL) League and the American League (AL) which are further divided into three divisions: Central, East, and West.

Here’s where things get a little confusing (but that’s what you’ve got us for!). The AL and NL each have a slightly different set of rules they follow. For instance, in the NL, pitchers also come up to the plate to bat, but they don’t in the AL. Instead, the AL has a “designated hitter”, or DH, that comes up to bat.

There are 162 regular season games (that’s not a typo… the MLB by far has the longest season in major league sports), followed by the playoffs. Ten teams, five from the NL and five from the AL, make it into the postseason where all of the players’ blood, sweat, tears and bat flips go into winning the World Series (the MLB championship). More on the playoff structure here.

Who’s the current champ?

The Boston Red Sox won the World Series in 2018, defeating the LA Dodgers four games to one! It was also their fourth World Series win since 2004 (!!!) and had people calling them the team of the century. Unreal.

Looking at 2019…

This season, keep your eye on Bryce Harper (Philadelphia Phillies right field), Mike Trout (LA Angels centrefield and the highest paid athlete in baseball), Manny Machado (San Diego Padres third baseman and shortstop) and Klayton Kershaw (LA Dodgers pitcher).

And expect big things from the defending champion Boston Red Sox, the back-to-back runner-up LA Dodgers, the New York Yankees and the Houston Astros.

What about the Jays?

The Toronto Blue Jays were founded in 1977 (but didn’t serve beer until 1982) and have won two World Series championships, back-to-back in ‘92 and ‘93, but haven’t had much luck since. Their best recent efforts came in 2015 and 2016, winning the AL East title in both seasons, but posted losing records every season since.

The rebuild — when a team trade away their older talent and starts to build again with young up-and-comers — is officially in full swing. Keep your eye on 21-year-old shortstop Bo Bichette and 20-year-old third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr., affectionately known as '“Vladdy Jr”, who you might recognize thanks to his superstar father (same name) who played the majority of his MLB career with the Montreal Expos (when Montreal used to have a team). Rebuilds can take time, but we have high hopes for the future of this squad.

Women who bat

For whatever reason, women do not have a pro league for “hardball” (another name for baseball). Instead, women pay softball professionally — a similar game but with a bigger ball where pitchers throw underhand.

Women DO play baseball at the amateur level. It’s an Olympic sport (including at Tokyo 2020!) and is played at the Pan Am Games (for North, South and Central America).

Fun fact: Canadian hockey superstar and Hockey Hall of Fame inductee, Hayley Wickenheiser, ALSO played for the Canadian softball team in the Olympics. What can’t this woman do? Hint: the answer is nothing.

Channel your inner fan!

Here’s some fun stats to break out at your next office ball game outing:

  • The lifespan of a MLB baseball is only five-to-seven pitches, meaning about 70 baseballs are used during a game. Just wild.

  • The New York Yankees have the most World Series titles, winning 27 in their 116 (!!!) year history. And they’re not even the oldest MLB team.

  • Unfortunately, no woman has ever played in an MLB game. BUT sports executive Effa Louise Manley (1897–1981) is the first and only woman inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. ‘Atta be, Effa!

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Glossary

Top of the inning:

Each team gets a chance to bat (hit the ball), and a chance to field (play defence). The top of the inning is when the visiting team is up to bat.

Bottom of the inning:

...and the bottom of the inning is when the home team is up to bat.

Runs:

A run is scored when a player makes it all the way around the diamond (first base, second base, third base and back to home plate where they started).

Extra innings:

There are nine innings (where each team gets a turn to bat and a turn to field) in a baseball game. If it’s tied at the end of the nine innings, they play more innings until there is a winner.

Up to bat:

A players turn to hit the ball.

ERA:

Stands for ‘earned runs average’ and is used to determine how effective a pitcher is. Basically, you count up the amount of runs a pitcher allows per inning, and average that amount out over the nine innings. The lower the better.

RBI:

Stands for ‘runs batted in’. An RBI occurs when you or one of your teammates who is already on base comes around to score a run. For example, Lisa is up to bat and hits a home run while her teammates Linda and Lucy are on first and third. Lisa scores three RBIs.

RBIs count even if you get out! Like by using a sac fly (see below) to help get your teammates home.

Outs:

To end an inning, a team must get three players “out.” You get people out by catching ball before it bounces, by touching the base or player before they can make it to a base, or when the pitcher throws three strikes.

Double play:

Getting two players out on the same play. You’ll hear commentators say “inning ending 6, 4, 3 double play”. In this instance, it means that the baseball was hit to the shortstop, who threw it to the second baseman, who stepped on the base to get the runner from first to second out. Then, the second baseman threw it to the first baseman who has his foot on the bag (base) to get the runner from home to first out. Click here for a visual of the numbers in correlation with the positions in baseball.

Sac fly:

Sac is short for SACrifice. This means that the person at bat literally “sacrifices” themselves for the good of the team by hitting the ball as high and as far away from the infield as they can so that his teammate can advance. Once the ball is caught, the teammate can tag up (see below) and run to the next. So the farther away the ball is hit, the better!

Pop fly:

Contrary to a sac fly, a pop fly is by accident. Whoops. It’s when the ball is hit high into the air and the fielder catches it.

Tag up:

After a sac or pop fly, a player can run BUT they must tag up to the base they’re on first. This means they have to wait until the ball is caught, touch their base (just with the foot is okay) and THEN sprint their lil’ hearts out to the next base.

Strike zone:

The strike zone is anywhere over home plate and between the knees and the middle of the torso. When a pitched throws a ball through this area and it isn’t hit, it’s called a strike by an umpire standing behind the catcher. Did we mention these balls can travel over 100 mph? Oh yeah, no pressure or anything.

Umpire:

AKA umps, who act as referees and keep things in line. One stands behind the catcher calling all the balls, strikes, fouls and outs. Three supporting umps usually stand at each base, but it can be up to six total in important games.

Strike:

SSTTTTEEE-RIKE! This is when a player doesn’t swing at the ball when it’s in the strike zone OR when a player swings at the ball but misses OR when they hit a ball foul (only for the first and second strikes). And remember “for it’s one, two, three strikes you’re out at the ollllll’ balllll game.” 

Ball:

When the pitcher throws the pitch outside of the strike zone and the player doesn’t hit it. If the pitcher throws four balls, the batter automatically gets to go to first base. This is called a walk.

Foul:

If a ball gets hit outside the field of play. Think of the field like a big triangle, with the top of the point being home plate. If the ball travels too far to the left or right, it will be considered a foul. Remember though, a ball can still be caught in foul territory (the area outside of the triangle) to get a player out.

Single:

When the player hits the ball and is able to run to first base before the ball gets there. See guys, being single isn’t so bad!

Double:

Similar to above, a double is when the player hits the ball and is able to bust his chops to pass first base and get all the way to second. A double is also awarded when the ball bounces and then goes over the back wall in the outfield. This is called a ground rule double.

Triple:

A triple is a rarity on the diamond. This happens when the player his the ball and runs THREE bases. This player will also henceforth be called Speedy McSpeederton.

Home run:

A home run usually happens when a player hits the ball out of the park. This means they hit it beyond the wall/fence/marking of the diamond. On very special occasions, there are in the park home runs, meaning the ball doesn’t leave the playing field but the batter still manages to make it all the way around the diamond. These normally happen because of errors made by the fielding team.

Walk off:

Okay so picture this: things are all tied up in the bottom of the ninth inning. You’re super nervous heading up to bat, because you know you represent the winning run. You absolutely smash the baseball and get a hit, home run or grand slam and are able to win the game! A “walk off” is basically the term used to describe that final action to win the game, so that you can ‘walk off’ the field and into the clubhouse to celebrate. You get it?

Errors:

A fielding player dun goofed and cost her team a base or run.

IP:

Innings pitched. Another v. simple acronym.

Bullpen:

No bulls here! This is just the area where pitchers warm-up before entering a game. Pitchers are either starters (self-explanatory), relievers (they come into the game when the starter gets tired or is having a bad game) or closers (they generally only play one or two innings at the end of the game to “close” out a win).

Steal:

This is when a player is super sneaky and runs from first to second, second to third or RARELY third to home behind the pitchers back. A player has to be exceptionally fast to get to the next base without getting thrown out. A steal is also finding anything at Club Monaco for under $50.

Balk:

When a pitcher pretends like she’s going to pitch but then goes “JK don’t feel like it” and stops his pitching motion. If the ump determines it’s a balk every player gets to advance one base.

Challenge:

When the coach/general managers (GMs) don’t agree with a play on the field they can call a challenge. They get one challenge over the first six innings, and then two from the seventh inning until the end of the game. There are some MLB employees in an office in NYC that review the video with the ump and help decide what the call should be. Ruling on the field stands if there’s not enough evidence to change it.

Ejected:

Sometimes coaches, GMs and players simply get fired up after what they think is a poor call by the ump, or if they are nastily chirping the other team. It’s not uncommon to see staff or players get all up in an ump’s face to dispute a call, but then see them get tossed from the game. This can also happen when players brawl. Bye, Felicia!

Batting average:

Take a player’s number of hits and divide it by their number of at-bats. The higher the batting average, the better. It is usually reported to three decimal places and read without the decimal. For example, a player with a batting average of .300 is "batting three-hundred” and anything over .300 is considered to be v. good.

Dinger:

Slang term for a home run. “He hit three dingers last night and won the game!”

Field:

“To field” the ball or “fielding” the ball just means that you’re the team playing defence since, you know, you’re out in the field and all.

Infield:

The area of the field from the base-path inwards. If you picture a baseball diamond, the infield is the centre sandy part with the pitching mound in the middle.

Outfield:

Beyond the infield diamond. The three players in the outfield are responsible for catching those long balls and for throwing the ball back to the infield as fast as humanly possible.

Seventh inning stretch:

A sweet little point in the game in between the top and the bottom of the seventh inning where you literally get to have a stretch. The entire stadium generally sings the classic “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.”

Softball:

Softball is basically a modified form of baseball. It’s played on a smaller field and over only seven innings, but with a bigger ball and the pitcher throws underhand.

Fastpitch:

Softball where the pitch is thrown with some nice HEAT because the pitcher spins their arm around like a windmill. Vroom, vroom.

Slow pitch:

Instead of throwing a pitch fast you throw it nice and slllooooowwwww with an arc three to 10 feet high.


 

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FAQs

Why are numbers used when discussing a play? Like, when an announcer says: “5, 4, 3, inning ending double play”?

Great question! Each position in baseball is associated with a different “number.” You can check out the positions and the associated numbers here. A part of the reason why announcers use the numbers to call a play is because the ball moves SO FAST in baseball that there’s a zero percent chance the announcer would be able to say “third baseman, to shortstop to second baseman” just as quick.  

Why do people say there’s a track in baseball fields? Isn’t that just in track and field?

Ah yes! That’s got to be the “warning track” in the outfield. This track is basically an area that tells the outfielder they are closer to the wall at the back of the field and could end up crashing into it when trying to make a leaping catch. Safety first, kids!

Why do pitchers walk batters on purpose (intentionally walk)?

There’s often a lot of strategy behind this, but the main reasons would be:

  1. The current batter is on FIRE and the pitcher doesn’t want to risk them getting a hit. Sometimes, they’ll walk that player so that they can have a more favourable (less good) next batter.

  2. This ALSO means, that the fielding team can have a better chance at “turning a double play.” Think about it. Let’s say there’s already one out. To end the inning there needs to be two more outs. When a player is on first, the defence has no choice but to run to second when the player behind them gets a hit. So the idea is that they’ll have a better shot at getting the “lead runner” out, and then can fire it to first from there.

Does that make sense?

What does “threw out” the first pitch mean?

At the beginning of every game, before the actual game starts, there’s usually a ceremonial first pitch. Here’s some great ones from past seasons.

What is a three-run shot?

A three-run shot is a three-run home run, which means the batter and two other players already on base all made it home to score.

Why does baseball sometimes take sooo long?

Baseball is a nine-inning game with no set timeline. It’s all based on outs. So, if those outs are taking a while to get, the game is going to take a lot longer. The longest game in MLB history? A 25-inning marathon on May 8th, 1984 when the Chicago White Sox beat the Milwaukee Brewers, 7-6. The game lasted eight hours and six minutes. Sheesh.

What’s a bunt?

A bunt, not be confused with blunt, is when a batter takes a short swing so that the baseball stays within the infield. A bunt is normally a lot easier to control because a batter actually holds the bat differently so that they can place it to where they want it. A bunt is normally used as somewhat as a “sacrifice” so that a player already on base can easily advance. If you’re more of a visual person, check them out here.

What’s up with the walk-up songs in baseball?

We love the walk-up songs! When each home team player comes up to bat, there’s a little clip of music that plays to get them “pumped up”. Here’s the walk-up songs the Blue Jays are currently rolling with. What would yours be? Ours would probably be Beyonce

What’s a ‘save’ in baseball?

A team almost always has to use more than one pitcher to complete a game. If a team is up by a few runs late in the game, they bring in a ‘relief’ pitcher to close-out the game (also called a ‘closer’). These pitchers normally don’t have the stamina and/or consistency to pitch a full game or to start a game, but are great at getting players to strike out. When a closer comes in and successfully maintains a win, they call it a “save” in baseball.

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