Baseball, the so-called "National Pastime" of the United States but also played throughout the world, is a sport that uses a small, hard, spherical ball and a wooden or aluminum striker called a bat. It is played between two teams of nine players each on a baseball diamond whose square circuit, called a diamond, is defined by four bases in the corners. Baseball as played professionally in the United States is called Major League Baseball.
The goal in each game is for one team to score more points, called "runs", than the other. Unlike many sports, there is no fixed time limit within which a game must be completed. Games are normally divided into nine sections called "innings": at the end of the nine innings, if each team has scored the same number of runs, the game continues until one team has more runs than the other. The quickest Major League game ever played took only 51 minutes; the longest took eight hours and 6 minutes.
The two teams alternate between taking up positions as fielders and batters, exchanging roles when 3 outs are recorded against the team that is at bat. Each complete alternation (with each team having one turn at bat) is called an inning. Nine innings constitute a regulation length game. Batters attempt to strike or hit a pitched ball in such a way as to enable them or their teammates to run a complete circuit of the four bases, thus scoring a point (run). At the end of nine innings, the team which has scored the most runs is declared the winner, with extra innings being played to break ties.
For many years, American tradition held that the game was invented by Abner Doubleday in 1839 in Cooperstown, New York, the site, since 1939, of the National Baseball Hall of Fame. However, the modern game actually developed out of the 18th-century English game of rounders, which thus is the immediate predecessor of baseball in its present form. (The name "baseball" (or "base-ball") was also in use in England before 1839, being found, for example, in the writings of Jane Austen.) This development occurred in 1845 when Alexander Cartwright formulated the rules that to this day serve as the basis of the modern game.
In time, the game of baseball came to be considered the American national pastime, particularly in the early part of the 20th century as European immigrants perceived it as being an intrinsic part of being an American and made special efforts to interest their sons in the sport. 
Over the years, the game has been so much a part of the American cultural fabric that many of the major social issues of the day have found their expression in the game including labor strife, racial segregation (and integration),. the role of sport in society, the development of sport as big business, and certain social ills such as professional gambling and doping. Innumerable words and phrases from baseball have become parts of the American language, such as "three strikes and you're out", to denote the absolute finality of failure, and "so-and-so is the Babe Ruth of whatever it may be" to extol someone or something as the epitome of excellence.
It was not until the early 1960s, with the sudden explosive popularity of professional football, aided to a large degree by its symbiosis with the new television culture, that baseball's previously unbreakable grip on America's sports imagination began to wane. Attendance at today's games is at record highs, but with year-round competition from endlessly televised football, basketball, hockey, tennis, and golf, all of which had, for the first part of the 20th century, been comparatively minor sports, baseball is now just another component of the sporting world.
The United States has not been alone in claiming baseball as its National Pastime, as the sport has had over a century-long history in Cuba, Japan, the Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Canada, Korea and Taiwan. In Europe it is mainly played in Italy and The Netherlands. The game has received international recognition, first as an Olympic sport, and more recently through the World Baseball Classic (WBC) and various regional tournaments.
Baseball is played at several levels and the rules of the game, though they are alike in broad outline, vary in their details depending upon whether we are referring to Major League Baseball (MLB), collegiate baseball, high school baseball, or Little League. Each version is governed by its own particular jurisdictional authority which has control over the adoption and implementation of the rules for that level of play. The following outline refers to the common features of all games of baseball.
Field of play
The baseball field is divided into two basic areas: the infield and the outfield. The infield contains four bases which are arranged in a square. In one corner of this square is located home plate. The other three bases are located at the other corners of the infield square and are called (in counterclockwise order) the first, second, and third base.
The entire field of play is defined by: a) two lines (called the foul lines) extending from home plate down to and beyond the first and third bases; and b) the outfield fence, which is a roughly circular arc connecting the two foul lines at some distance (in major league baseball, typically varying between 250 and 400 feet) from the home plate.
The area contained within the right angle defined by the first and third base lines and extended out to the outfield fence is called fair territory. The region outside these lines to the right and left is foul territory. The region beyond the outfield fence but within the extension of the foul lines is home run territory.
Within fair territory the infield is separated from the outfield by a quarter circle just outside of but including the square with the bases. The region of fair territory beyond this circular arc is called the outfield.
Object and overall course of the game
A baseball game is divided into separate segments called innings (defined below), with 9 innings constituting a complete, regulation-length game. In the course of the game, the opposing teams attempt to score runs (as described below) with the team having the most runs at the conclusion of the game being the winner.
At the start of the game, the host, or home, team sends 9 of their players onto the field of play. Except for the pitcher and catcher (see below), these players are positioned and move about, in dependence on the actual game situation, in such a way as to prevent, to the best of their ability, the other team from scoring runs.
Meanwhile, the opposing team (the visiting team) is at bat and they send their 9 players, one at a time, in an order designated by their team manager prior to the start of the game, up to the home plate area where they attempt to successfully reach base (as described below) and then, usually with the help of their teammates who follow in the batting order, traverse the bases in order until they arrive safely back at home plate, thus scoring a run. For its part, the team in the field (the defensive team) attempts to record 3 outs after which the side at bat is said to be retired and the two teams then switch positions with the team which was just at bat going out into the field of play to take up defensive fielding positions and the team which was just in the field coming off the field to take its turn at bat.
When the team now on the defensive is able to record 3 outs in their turn, one alternation is then completed with both teams having had a turn at bat. This completes the first inning. Nine such innings, or alternations, constitute a complete, regulation-length game. The team with the most runs scored at the end of these 9 innings is the winner. If both teams have scored the same number of runs, additional innings are then played until one team or the other is able to obtain a lead by having scored more runs then their opponents.
Play of the game
Once the game actually commences (the umpire shouts "Play ball!"), the pitcher, who is stationed, in accordance with the rules, in contact with a small rectangular piece of hard rubber located on a raised mound of earth (the pitcher's mound) situated roughly in the center of the infield area, takes up the baseball and prepares to deliver a pitch. The pitcher will attempt to hurl the baseball in the direction of the home plate area in such a way as to get it past the batter (who will try to hit or strike it with the bat) and within an area, called the strike zone, located just above home plate and in front of the batter. The defensive team's catcher is positioned in a specified area just behind home plate in order to receive the pitched ball.
The pitcher will employ various strategems, including varying his stance, the grip on the ball, the spin imparted to the ball, and the pitching motion itself, so as to produce a variety of different pitch locations, speeds, and ball movement in the attempt to fool the batter and accomplish his objective.
For his part, the batter attempts to strike or hit the pitched ball using a long, smooth, rounded stick (the baseball bat) so as to put the ball into play (in fair territory) in such a way that the defensive team's fielders will be unable to record an out against the team which is at bat.
Over 95% of all put-outs, as they are called, are recorded in one of four ways:
- Batter strikes out;
- Fly ball is caught;
- Batter or base runner is thrown out; or
- Base runner is tagged out.
If a batter accumulates three strikes against him before putting the ball in play or otherwise reaching base, he is out.
A pitched ball crossing the plate area within the strike zone is called a strike if the batter either does not swing at it or he swings at it without making contact with it. If the batter does hit or strike the ball with the bat, whether the pitch was within the strike zone or not, but, in the result, the ball is not put in play (in fair territory) but instead goes into foul territory, that also is called a strike. However, in this case, it will not count as the third strike against the batter (exception: an attempt to bunt the ball which results in the ball going into foul territory will always be a countable strike, even if it is the batter's third strike).
Suppose the batter, striking at the pitched ball with the bat, makes contact with the ball with the result that the ball then travels into either fair or foul territory. If one of the players on the opposing team (a fielder) is able to catch the ball in the air, whether in fair territory or foul territory, before it strikes the ground or some other obstruction, then the batter is out.
Thrown out and tagged out
Suppose the batter strikes the ball with the bat, with the result that the ball is put in play (sent into fair territory) and is not caught in the air by a member of the fielding team. The batter will then attempt to run to first base before a member of the fielding team can touch or tag the first base bag while having possession of the ball. If the batter (now a batter-runner) cannot accomplish this, he is out (thrown out).
A base runner (that is, a member of the team which is at bat who has previously reached base safely) and the batter-runner either before he has reached first base safely, or afterwards should he attempt to advance beyond first base, may be tagged out if a fielder, having possession of the ball, touches (tags) the runner either with the ball itself or with the hand or glove controlling the ball while the runner is not in contact with a base.
Under certain circumstances, it is not necessary to actually tag or touch a base runner in order to record an out. As described above, the batter-runner can be thrown out at first base - there is no need to actually tag the runner in that case. In all other cases involving a baserunner attempting to reach a base, or to return to a base, the driving consideration is the rule which specifies that no two baserunners can legally occupy the same base at the same time.
Baseball can trace its origins back to the English stick and ball games of cricket and rounders, arriving in America with the early colonists. Baseball mythology attributes the creation of the game to Abner Doubleday in 1839, who is said to have come up with the rules and the name "baseball" during a game of "town ball" in Cooperstown, New York. The "creation myth" associated with Doubleday is credited to Albert Spalding and the Mills Commission whose controversial ruling in 1905 solidified the myth that baseball was created by the Civil War General in his youth in Cooperstown, New York. Subsequent research has proven that Doubleday was not in Cooperstown, NY in 1839, nor had he ever mentioned baseball in any of his subsequent memoirs. Spalding and Harry Wright had a friendly bet over the origins of the sport. Wright claimed the origins of baseball to be in the British game rounders, while Spalding and his strong sense of nationalism claimed that the sport and its attributes matched the character of Americans. Spalding's Mills Commission attributed the founding of the sport to Doubleday through the supposed testimony of Abner Graves, who claimed to have seen Doubleday write the rules of the sport in a schoolyard in Cooperstown, New York sometime in the late 1830's or early 1840's. It was Spalding who pinpointed the exact date of the genesis of baseball to 1839. However, it can be more accurately attributed to Alexander Cartwright. In 1845, at the urging of Cartwright, a group of young gentlemen from Manhattan formerly organized themselves as the New York Knickerbocker Base Ball Club. At the time, baseball had no standard set of rules and could be played differently from game to game. The Knickerbockers developed the first formal set of rules for the game, including establishing foul lines, the strikeout, and runners now were to be tagged or thrown out instead of being thrown at. The Knickerbockers played their first game on July 19, 1846 at the Elysian Fields in Hoboken, New Jersey, against the New York Base Ball Club, losing by a score of 23 to 1. New York City was growing rapidly and new clubs continued to be created, leading to more formal games. In 1857, the 16 organized clubs formed he National Association of Base Ball Players, which played under Knickerbocker rules. The 1850's also saw the adoption of more modern rules; nine players on each team, the bases moved to 90 feet apart, the ball was modified from the current lightweight ball to a harder, horsehide covered rubber ball designed to be hit and thrown harder and faster, and declaring the team with the most runs at the end of nine innings the winner.
The popularity of baseball spread rapidly, reaching most of American in the 1860's. Up until 1869, baseball was played as an amateur game. That changed with the Cincinnati Red Stockings, the first professional team, which was financed by Harry Wright.
Major League Baseball
The primary baseball league, "Major League Baseball," has 30 Franchises. The franchises are divided into two Leagues, the American League and National League, each with three divisions.
Baseball is a sport driven by statistics, with records kept for every facet of a players career from batting average to innings pitched. The all-time leaders in areas such as home runs and strikeouts are revered by fans of all teams.
Statistics are deemed to be so important to the game of baseball that in the 1970s statisticians developed various methods of using them in attempting to objectively analyze baseball performances. Pioneered by Bill James, the study of sabermetrics has become a popular tool used by general managers in Major League Baseball to fill out their rosters with players that bring the greatest value to the team.
Many years ago, one of baseball's most revered innovators and gurus, Branch Richey, famously declared, "There is nothing on earth anybody can do with fielding." Since then, however, many statisticians, including Bill James, the most famous of them all, have tried to spin gold from the limited dross of fielding statistics available, with limited success. On July 10, 2009, however, a new computerized recording system was announced by Sportvision and Major League Baseball:
The article goes on to say, perhaps with hyperbole:
The system has already been installed at the home park of the San Francisco Giants and, at the cost of several million dollars, will be working in all 30 Major League stadiums by the end of 2010. How useful the glut of new statistics derived from the system will be to fans and team executives remains to be seen.
Variations of baseball
The most popular variation of baseball is softball, where a somewhat larger ball is used and is pitched underhand rather than overhand—a wide variety of different pitching motions in softball, however, sometimes allows an underhand pitch to reach nearly the same velocity as that of an overhand baseball pitch. To distinguish baseball from softball, baseball is sometimes referred to as hardball. Another variation is wiffleball, in which a very lightweight, hollow, plastic ball (called a wiffleball) and a lightweight, hollow, plastic bat are used, making gloves unnecessary.