Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Baseball Works

Special Rules

Now that you know the basics, you can see how on the face of it baseball is a simple game. Of course, while it is simple in concept, it can also become extremely complex based on different rules that have been put in place over the 140 years the game has been played. Here are a few of those:

  • Ground rule double - As has already been discussed, if a ball is hit over the outfield fence in fair territory, it is a home run. However, if a ball bounces over the fence, it is an automatic double.
  • The foul pole - Because balls traveling in the air over the outfield fence can never hit the ground in fair territory, poles are set up on the foul line in left and right fields. These have always been known as foul poles. However, a ball hitting one of these poles is considered a fair ball, and therefore a home run.
  • Tagging up - If there is a runner on base, he must not advance from his base until a hit ball hits the ground. The exception to that is if the ball is caught by a fielder, the runner can advance once the ball is caught, but only after touching the base he was at when the ball was hit. This is called tagging up, and the fielder can attempt to record another out by tagging (or assisting his teammate in tagging) the runner before he advances to the next base. This can often result in one of the more exciting plays in a game, a close play at home plate.
  • Dropped third strike - As discussed earlier, a batter is out if he has three strikes during an at bat. However, if the catcher drops or otherwise does not catch the pitched third strike, the batter can still be awarded first base if he can reach it before the catcher is able to either tag him or throw the ball to first base before he reaches it. While this is still a strikeout, it does not count as one of the three outs for that half inning. This odd quirk presents the pitcher with a strange opportunity, the ability to record four strikeouts in one inning.
  • Infield fly rule - If there are two or more runners on base with fewer than two outs, a fly ball that is not hit far enough into the field is an automatic out as a result of the infield fly rule. Since when a ball is still in the air, runners must remain on base, this rule prevents a fielder from purposely letting the ball drop and then recording an easy double play, since neither of the runners would have moved yet.
  • Balk - Similar to the infield fly rule, this rule is designed to prevent the defensive team, in this case the pitcher, from misleading base runners. Because runners who are trying to steal bases must do so based on timing the pitcher's throwing motion, pitchers are prohibited from trying to deceive the runner by starting their motion and then stopping. Once the motion has begun, the pitcher must deliver the pitch to the plate. If a balk is called as a result of the pitcher making what is ruled by the umpire a deceptive move, the runner or runners are all awarded one base.