Baseball is a sport that was invented in the United States of America when immigrants were being taught how to play cricket, by first learning rounders, a simple version of cricket, making baseball a child of cricket, in sports terms. Prior to the invention of baseball, cricket had been very popular in USA and Canada, but it is now virtually unheard of in those countries. Baseball is most popular in United States, Canada, the Dominican Republic, Cuba, and Japan, and is taken much less seriously in other countries in the world. It is not truly an international sport and for that reason it was taken out of the Olympics. All cricket-playing countries also play baseball (including Australia, England and India) and in those countries they learn baseball as a precursor to learning the more advanced game of cricket.
Baseball teams typically have 9 players per side and when fielding there is typically 1 player assigned to each of 3 bases plus a 4th as the catcher and a 5th as the pitcher. The remaining 4 players can be placed anywhere that they want to be, with typically 3 in the outfield beyond the bases and 1 other in the infield, typically as short stop.
The pitcher throws the ball as hard as he can towards the batter, aiming for a designated spot that is called the "strike zone". If it lands in that spot and the batter does not hit it, then it is a strike. Similarly, if the batter swings and does not hit it, regardless of where the ball lands, it is also a strike - even if not hitting it would have meant it was a ball! After 3 strikes the batter is out. If the ball is outside of that designated spot, in the opinion of the umpire (who stands directly behind the catcher, who in turn is crouched directly behind the batter), then it is called a ball. After 4 balls, the batter is allowed to walk to 1st base, and if anyone is already on 1st base then they can walk to 2nd base and so forth, potentially even getting a walk home.
If the batter hits the ball, they must hit it between the 1st and 3rd bases, also known as the "V". They can hit it in the air or along the ground. If they hit it outside of the "V" then it is a foul ball and counts as a strike. If a foul ball is caught by a fielder then the batsman is out, the same as if they were caught by a good hit. While a batter can be struck out with 3 valid strikes, they cannot be out by a foul (unless caught), and it will remain on 2 strikes.
If the batter hits the ball in a valid spot and it is not caught, they must run towards the 1st base before the fielding side can tag them, with the ball in hand and 1 foot on the base. Usually a designated "first baseman" is positioned next to the 1st base primarily to make the tag.
If the batter is tagged, then they are out. If they make it then they are safe.
If the batter hits the ball really well, they can try to run to 2nd base, 3rd base or even all the way home. If they make it all the way home then they get a run for their team. They do not get any score simply for making it to 1st base (or to 2nd or 3rd bases).
After the batter is either out or gets safely to a base (or home), the next batter comes to bat and the process is repeated.
This continues on until a total of 3 batters have been out. At that stage, all batters who are on bases have to stop and the team is out for the innings.
The sides swap places from being the batting and fielding side, with the other side getting a chance to bat and score runs.
The game lasts typically for 7 innings (at elite level), extending to 9 innings if scores are tied, with the 9th innings then continuing on indefinitely until there is a winner - what is often described as the "9th innings stretch".
At any time in the game, players can be interchanged with other players, such that a full team may be many more than the 9 designated players. Typically, there are 5 starting pitchers and 6 relief pitchers while at any stage a designated hitter may be called in to replace a player who may not be expected to hit the ball too well. Various rules and regulations relate to interchange, which can be quite complicated and vary place to place.
Unlike the more advanced sport cricket, baseball is a very precise sport, whereby a tiny error can cost a run, and the number of errors are often recorded in team statistics. Since a typical baseball game may have as few as 4 or 5 runs per side, that error that costs a run may change the entire match, especially if it costs a home run when bases are loaded, which amounts to 4 runs. In cricket, in comparison, mistakes can be made up for later on and it is more a matter of overall skill rather than individual moments of luck. Baseball is, in summary, a much simpler version of cricket, in much the same way as Gaelic football is a simpler version of soccer or Rugby League is a safer version of Rugby Union and Touch football a much safer version of Rugby League, or Ice Hockey is a more dangerous version of regular hockey (sometimes referred to as field hockey).
Finances and popularity
Baseball is officially the national sport of the United States, whilst in actual fact American football is the most unique sport played in the United States, as baseball is played fairly seriously also in Cuba and Japan, while American football isn't played seriously anywhere else (although Australian Rules football is fairly similar). Baseball is one of the 4 most popular sports in the United States, alongside American football, Basketball and Ice Hockey, with most American sports followers following one or more of those sports. Of the 4 sports, currently Baseball is the least popular of the 4, with many concerns that it may be cancelled entirely on an elite level. While Lacrosse is also a sport that was invented in the United States, it does not have a big following in comparison to the big 4 sports. While United States are very successful also in 2 of the world's most popular sports, namely golf and tennis, these are not amongst United States's most popular sports.
In spite of the lack of popularity of the sport and its failing in recent years, Baseball remains a very lucrative sport, with players earning several million dollars per year, far more than they would earn playing the elite level of the more popular sport of cricket, an incentive for baseball followers not to move towards the more popular worldwide sport.
Baseball was for many years included in the Olympics, although the United States won almost every contest, with Cuba and Japan the only others to win. It was eventually removed from the Olympics due to the fact that only 3 countries played the sport seriously and it was effectively gifting United States a free gold medal every year. It is not truly an international sport with little major following outside of the United States. Most of the other countries who were competitive were countries which were good at cricket, who had former cricket players making up their national teams. Indeed, it has long been argued that if the powerful cricketing countries were to take baseball seriously, they would easily defeat the United States team in a baseball match. They simply choose not to as cricket is more advanced and more interesting.
There is a strong push from the international cricket community to convince the United States to change from baseball to cricket but at this stage it is not amounting to much, largely due to the United States national cricket body having many and various corruption scandals.
- Cricket for Baseball Players - explaining Cricket in terms of Baseball terminology (primarily for USA audiences)