Quick Reference: Baseball Positions and Their Equipment

What do baseball players do once they take the field? See more sports pictures.
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Take me out to the ballgame, and I'll see pretty much the same thing whether I'm watching kids or professionals. Baseball teams have nine players. Each player takes turns at bat, and each plays a defensive position in the field. But who are they and what do they do?

The players are:

  • Pitcher. Starts each play by pitching the ball from the pitcher's mound to the batter on the opposing team. The batter hits the ball, gets out after three strikes, or walks to first base after four balls (pitches ruled not in the strike zone). The pitcher fields hit balls that come into his area of the infield.
  • Catcher. Positions himself, usually in a crouch, in the catcher's box behind home plate. Catches pitched balls that aren't hit and returns them to the pitcher. Catches hit balls when possible. Receives throws from fielders so he can put runners out at home plate, and throws from home plate to keep runners from stealing bases. He's the team's field leader, advising the pitcher on what pitches to throw.

The pitcher and the catcher are the only two players whose positions are clearly defined in baseball rules. At the start of each play, the pitcher must have one foot on the pitcher's plate (a rectangular piece of whitened rubber on the pitcher's mound) and the catcher must be in the catcher's box.

The other seven defensive players are divided into infield and outfield. Their positions on the team are determined by tradition and what works rather than rules.

The infield is the area enclosed by the base lines. The infield positions are:

  • First baseman. Stands near first base, between first and second. Defends first base by catching balls hit near him and by catching throws from other fielders so he can put the runner out at first base.
  • Second baseman. Stands near second base, between first and second. Defends second base by catching balls hit near it and receiving throws from other fielders. Is often key in double plays (getting two runners out) by receiving the ball from the shortstop, putting the advancing runner out at second and throwing to first to get the batter out there.
  • Shortstop. Stands near second base, between second and third. Catches balls hit into that area. Covers second base when the second baseman is fielding the ball.
  • Third baseman. Stands near third base, between second and third. Fields balls hit near the third base line. Catches balls thrown by other fielders to get runners out at third.

The outfield is the area beyond the infield. The left fielder, center fielder and right fielder spread out across the outfield and try to catch balls hit past the infielders. They also throw balls to the infielders to get runners out.

Now that we know the players, let's discuss their equipment on the next page.

Players and Their Equipment

Since 1973, the American League has an additional position that is offensive only -- the designated hitter. The designated hitter bats in place of the pitcher and does not play in the field.

All players on a team use the same basic equipment: They wear uniforms, caps and shoes with rubber cleats or metal spikes. On defense, fielders use a leather glove designed for catching balls. Rules determine the size of the glove and the construction of the webbing between the thumb and first finger.

Because they have to catch more balls than other fielders, catchers and first basemen have extra-large gloves, or mitts. Catchers' mitts have extra padding and cannot be more than 38 inches (96.52 centimeters) in circumference or more than 15 1/2 (39.37 centimeters) inches from top to bottom. First baseman's mitts can't be more than 12 inches (30.5 centimeters) from top to bottom and 8 inches (20.3 centimeters) across the palm. The space between the thumb and finger sections of the mitt can't be more than four inches (10.2 centimeters) across at the top [source: Major League Baseball].

Catchers wear special protective equipment including a facemask, chest protector and shin guards.

On offense, players wear batting helmets for safety and batting gloves to improve their grip. Bats in Major League Baseball are made of one piece of solid wood, not more than 42 inches long (107 centimeters) or 2 3/4 inches (6.985 centimeters) in diameter [source: Major League Baseball]. In most other leagues, bats are made of aluminum.

Author's Note

I love baseball. I love the orderliness, the rules. A baseball game is almost like an old-fashioned dance. It's so much more formal than a lot of team sports. So I was glad to get this assignment. I know a lot of the basics already, but it was interesting to read the rules and learn some things, such as that only the pitcher and catcher have their field positions clearly specified in the rules.

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Sources

  • Major League Baseball "Official Rules: 1.00: Objectives of the Game. MLB.com. (Aug. 6, 2012) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/objectives_1.jsp
  • Major League Baseball: "Official Rules: 8.00: The Pitcher." MLB.com. (Aug. 6, 2012) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/pitcher_8.jsp
  • Rosclam, Chuck. "The Evolution of Catcher's Equipment." Society for American Baseball Research. (Aug 4, 2012) http://sabr.org/research/evolution-catchers-equipment
  • Schlossberg, Dan. The Baseball Book of Why. Jonathan David Publishers, Inc., New York. 1984.
  • World Book Encyclopedia. "Baseball." The World Book Encyclopedia, Vol. 2. World Book Inc., Chicago. 1984.