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How many ways can a batter reach first base?

Common Ways to Reach First Base

Many of us think there are two primary ways to reach first base -- a hit or a walk -- and we're right. But we're also really underestimating the options.

In all, there are 23 ways to gain first base [source: ESPN]. (We were surprised, too!)

Of those nearly two dozen options, let's first look at ways a batter can get a free pass to first base — without putting bat to ball [sources: Major League Baseball; Encyclopaedia Brittanica]

  • A batter is pitched four balls and is given a walk to first base; a ball is a pitch that doesn't enter the strike zone.
  • A pitcher deliberately throws four balls so as to issue an intentional walk and improve the chance of getting outs.
  • A batter is touched by a pitched ball he's not trying to hit with his bat.
  • Interference, either to the batter or the bat, by the catcher.
  • Interference, either to the batter or the bat, by a fielder.
  • A catcher fails to catch the third strike thrown by the pitcher.

A batter also could travel to first base without the risk of being out after hitting the ball if any of the following occurs:

  • Batter hits a fair ball and the ball touches an umpire in fair territory before touching a fielder.
  • Batter hits a fair ball and the ball touches a runner before touching a fielder.
  • A fielder's choice play, allowing a batter to reach first base because a player in the field tried to get another base runner out. For example, a batter hits a ground ball stopped by a fielder who throws to second base to tag the runner from first and then throws to first for a double play. If the batter makes it to first before the throw, the batter is safe (but does not get a hit) [source: Merriam-Webster].

Other ways to reach first base include [sources: Sporting Charts, Baseball Reference]:

  • A hit (of course!)
  • Via a pinch runner (a player who is substituted for the player at bat because the at-bat player is slowed by injury).
  • Force out at another base.
  • Preceding runner put out (tagged out) allows batter to reach first.
  • Runner called out on appeal. MLB gives this example: "Batter hits a ground ball which an infielder throws into the stands but the batter-runner missed first base. He may be called out on appeal for missing first base after the ball is put in play even though he was awarded second base. If a runner is forced to return to a base after a catch, he must retouch his original base even though, because of some ground rule or other rule, he is awarded additional bases. He may retouch while the ball is dead and the award is then made from his original base."
  • An error, which is a mistake by a fielder that allows a batter to reach first base, and could include a dropped fly ball or throwing error.

What about the remaining eight ways a batter can reach first base? Well, they're a bit less common, as you'll see on the next page.