How many ways can a batter reach first base?

Kensuke Tanaka of the San Francisco Giants leads off first base after hitting a single during the fourth inning of a baseball game against the San Diego Padres. See more baseball pictures.
Denis Poroy/Getty Images

For Brewers shortstop Jean Segura, the April 19, 2013, baseball game against the Cubs began like any other. Before long, though, it would devolve into an Abbott and Costello routine.

Segura stole second, attempted to steal third, ended up on first and was thrown out stealing second – again [source: Stark]. And here's the kicker: Every move was within the bounds of the Major League Baseball rulebook.

An obscure addendum to a rule that forbids players to run the bases backward saved the play -- rule 7.08(i). Turns out, runners who truly become confused can trek the bases backwards [source: Major League Baseball].

So how did Segura go from third base to first and then second?

After reaching first base, Segura stole second on the next pitch. Three pitches later, Segura stole third before the pitch was sent. Segura got stymied by a watchful pitcher, returned to second -- and ran into the runner from first who also reached second base. Segura thought he was tagged by the ball and headed back to the dugout. And that's when he discovered he wasn't out after all. He headed back to first base. Two pitches later, Segura stole second and was actually tagged out. He stole second -- twice -- in the same inning. With only one at-bat [source: Stark].

Getting to first base isn't usually as complicated as Segura's run, but it definitely could be. In fact, there are 23 ways a runner can reach first base, many of which are so infrequent that few fans (and maybe even players) can identify them.

At its most basic, a baseball game pits two teams of nine players against each other. The idea is to score more runs than the opposing team and win the game. To do that, however, a batter must become a runner. And get to 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.

Uncommon Ways to Reach First Base

Jose Constanza of the Atlanta Braves runs to first base off a bunt in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field, Atlanta.
Jose Constanza of the Atlanta Braves runs to first base off a bunt in the fifth inning against the Cincinnati Reds at Turner Field, Atlanta.
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

There are a number of unusual ways to take first. Odds are, you won't see these rules come into play at most games, whether Major League or Little League. But if they do, you'll know exactly what's going on.

Some of the most unusual ways to reach first base include [sources: Major League Baseball, ESPN, Sporting Charts]:

  • Four illegal pitches thrown by a pitcher; an illegal pitch is one thrown to the batter when the pitcher's pivot foot is not in contact with the pitcher's plate or he makes a too-quick return pitch before the batter has time to set up
  • A pitcher who purposely delays and doesn't deliver the pitch within 20 seconds.
  • A game is suspended with a runner on first (maybe for rain) and that player is traded to another team before the makeup; another player can take his place.
  • A sacrifice fly, also known as a sac fly, is dropped by a fielder. For a batter to get to first with a sacrificial fly, there must be fewer than two outs in the inning, the ball must go into the outfield and instead of being caught for an immediate out, it is dropped, yet still causes a runner on base to score. (Hence the name, the batter is making a "sacrifice" so a teammate can score a run).
  • A sacrifice bunt, or sac bunt, fails to advance a runner; instead, the advancing runner is "out," allowing the batter to reach first.
  • The batter-turned-runner's path is obstructed by a fielder on the way to first base, but only if the batter's hit would have otherwise been sufficient for him to reach first base had he not been obstructed.

Two of the most interesting ways to reach first base have to do with spectators. After all, few other sports send the game's most essential element -- the ball -- into the stands with such regularity as baseball. Fans love it; fans catching a foul or fly ball is the stuff of viral videos and cheap souvenirs. However, this sometimes prompts an ump to make one of two calls:

  • Spectator interference or fan obstruction: A spectator who reaches from the stands or enters the playing field and touches a live ball or otherwise hinders a fielder commits spectator interference. A spectator who runs on the field and tackles a base runner or otherwise hinders a runner is guilty of fan obstruction. These almost always result in the ump sending the batter to first base [source: Imber].

There you have it – 23 ways! The next time you see a runner take first by taking the "rule less traveled," remember: You could be witnessing history.

Author's Note:How many ways can a batter reach first base?

Fresh off a Major League Baseball game, only the second I've viewed from the stands in my lifetime, this was a great article to research. I thought I understood (mostly) the rules of baseball, having watched dozens of rec league games. I was surprised to learn how many different ways there were to reach first base and, trust me, I'll be watching more closely to see if I can catch these rules in action.

Related Articles

Sources

  • Baseball Reference. "Error." (July 17, 2013) http://www.baseball-reference.com/bullpen/error
  • Bodlizsar, Todd. "The Top 10 Strangest Rules in Major League Baseball." Bleacher Report. July 6, 2010. (July 10, 2013) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/416049-the-top-10-strangest-rules-in-major-league-baseball/page/2
  • ESPN. "Can You Steal First Base?" (July 10, 2013) http://espn.go.com/magazine/vol4no10answerguy.html
  • Imber, Gil. "Foul Ball: Top 10 MLB Fan Interference Videos." Bleacher Report. Nov. 10, 2011. (July 10, 2013) http://bleacherreport.com/articles/933255-foul-ball-top-10-mlb-fan-interference-videos
  • Major League Baseball. "Official Rules: 6.00 The Batter." (July 10, 2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/batter_6.jsp
  • Major League Baseball. "Official Rules: 2.00 Definition of Terms." (July 10, 2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/definition_terms_2.jsp
  • Major League Baseball. "Official Rules: 7.00 The Runner." (July 10, 2013) http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/runner_7.jsp
  • Merriam-Webster. "Fielder's Choice." (July 10, 2013) http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/fielder's%20choice
  • Sporting Charts. "Pinch Runner." (July 17, 2013) http://www.sportingcharts.com/dictionary/mlb/pinch-runner.aspx
  • Sporting Charts. "Sacrifice Fly." (July 10, 2013) http://www.sportingcharts.com/dictionary/mlb/sacrifice-fly-sf.aspx
  • Stark, Jayson. "Jean Segura's Baserunning Adventures." April 20, 2013. (July 10, 2013) ESPN. http://www.espn.go.com/mlb/blog/_/name/stark_jayson/id/9193265/baserunning-adventures-milwaukee-brewers-shortstop-jean-segura