Baseball Rules

The following information provides a general overview of professional baseball rules and regulations. For official details, please visit the Major League Baseball Website.

Laws of the Game:

  1. Objectives of the Game
  2. Definition of Terms
  3. Game Preliminaries
  4. Starting and Ending a Game
  5. Putting the Ball in Play
  6. The Batter
  7. The Runner
  8. The Pitcher
  9. The Umpire
  10. The Official Scorer
Rule 1 - Objectives of the Game

Baseball is a game played on an enclosed field, consists of two teams of nine players each, and is under the jurisdiction of at least one officiating umpire. Each team functions under the direction of a manager. The team that scores the most runs in a regulation game is the winner.

The Playing Field

The infield must be 90 square feet. The outfield is bordered by two foul lines extending from home base through the first and third bases, and perpendicularly upward from the outfield fence. From home base to the nearest fence or fair territory object there must be at least 250 feet. There should be a distance of 320 feet along foul lines, and about 400 feet to center field. It must contain a graded infield that levels base lines and home plate.

More playing field rules:

For detailed information regarding playing field measurements please refer to Rule 1.

Uniforms and Equipment

In General

For details regarding uniforms, see Rule 1.11.

The Glove

Catcher

The catcher's mitt may be leather, and not more than 38 inches around and 15-1/2 inches long.

First Baseman

The first baseman's mitt may not be more than 12 inches long, and not more than eight inches wide across the palm. See Rule 1 for details.

Fielder

Fielders may wear leather gloves. See Rule 1 for details.

Pitcher

The pitcher's glove may not be white, gray, or distracting in color. It is at the umpire's discretion. The pitcher may not attach a foreign material to the mitt different from its color. Any gloves in violation should be removed from the game.

For more information about the use of gloves, see Rules 1.12-1.15.

Helmets

Players up to bat must wear protective helmets, as well as catchers while in position, and bat and ball boys and girls while performing their duties. National Association League players must wear helmets with protective earflaps while at bat. Players entering the major leagues since the 1983 season must wear single earflap helmets, with exceptions (see Rule 1.16).

Playing Equipment

Playing equipment may not unnecessarily display advertisement of the product. For details, see Rule 1.17.

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Rule 2 - Definition of Terms

Please visit our Baseball Glossary.

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Rule 3 - Game Preliminaries

Before every game the umpire must check that:

In Addition

The Pitcher

The pitcher must pitch to the batter until the batter is either out or reaches first base, unless the pitcher gets hurt. This rule applies to his substitute as well. In the case of improper pitcher substitution, the original pitcher must return to the game until he is correctly replaced. For details see Rules 3.05- 3.08.

Player Decorum, Officials' Duties, and General Responsibilities

Uniformed players, managers, and coaches may not interact with spectators (3.09).

The home team manager generally decides, with exceptions, if a game is played or cancelled due to weather or field conditions. See Rules 3.10-3.11 for details.

The umpire must call "time" when suspending play, at which time the ball is considered "dead", and must call "play" when resuming the game (3.12).

The home team manager will report to the appropriate officials any ground rules regarding overflow of spectators, and possible mishaps during the game (3.13).

The offensive team is responsible for carrying equipment off the field and to the dugout while their team is at bat (3.14).

No one is allowed on the playing field during the game except uniformed players, coaches, umpires, managers, and other authorized personnel. See Rules 3.15-3.16 and 7.08 for information about spectator interference.

Team players and substitutes must remain on their bench when not in play (3.17).

The home team should arrange police protection. In the case of interference, the visiting team may refuse to continue play until the interferer is off the field (3.18).

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Rule 4 - Starting and Ending a Game

The umpire(s) must enter the playing field five minutes before the scheduled game, and report directly to home base to meet with team managers.

The umpire-in-chief must receive copies of the batting order first from the home team manager, and then from the visiting manager, making sure that copies are identical with the originals. From then on, the umpires are officially in charge of the game.

The home team takes position, followed by the first batter of the visiting team taking his post at the batter's box. The game begins when the umpire calls "play".

When the ball is in play, all fielders but the catcher must be on fair territory. The catcher must be in position directly behind the catcher's plate except when catching the ball. The pitcher must be in position.

The batting order must be followed unless a substitute is called in.

The batting team must station two base coaches at first and third bases. Coaches must remain in their boxes, and must be wearing their team uniforms. For details, see Rule 4.05.

Managers, players, subs, coaches, trainers and batboys may not incite a demonstration by spectators, or use language that refers to, or reflects upon, opposing players, the umpire, or spectators.

The above persons may also not call "time" or do anything with intent to make the pitcher commit a "balk". Nor may they intentionally make contact with the umpire.

Fielders may not stand in a batter's line of vision, or do anything with intent to distract the batter (4.06).

If a player or official is ejected from the game, he must immediately leave the field and not take any more part in that game (4.07).

Players on the bench may not show any violent opposition to the umpire's decisions. See Rule 4.08 for penalties for violating this rule.

Scoring

A runner scores when he legally contacts all four bases before three "outs" end an inning. For exceptions, penalties, and further details, see Rule 4.09.

A regulation game consists of nine innings, unless it is extended due to a tie, or is shortened. For details and exceptions, see Rule 4.10.

During a regulation game, a game is called when:

A regulation game is suspended when it is called with a score tied (see Rule 4.12).

A game is called, "no game" by the umpire if called before it becomes a regulation game.

No rain checks will be given a regulation or suspended game that has progressed to, or beyond, the point of play.

The final regulation game score is determined by the number of runs a team earns when the game ends, which is when the visiting team completes its half of the ninth inning, provided the home team is ahead. If the visiting team is ahead, the game ends when the ninth inning is over. For tie cases and exceptions, see Rule 4.11.

Suspensions

A suspension is a game that is stopped for various reasons, and must be completed in the future. A game is stopped when:

Doubleheaders

For further details, see Rules 4.12-4.13.

The umpire will decide when lights must be turned on at night, because playing without them may be hazardous.

Forfeited games

A game forfeited to the opposing team may happen when a team fails or refuses to:

Deliberately trying to shorten or delay a game is also grounds for forfeit, as is groundskeepers failing to prepare the field for continued play after a game is suspended.

For more information and details about what to do in the case of forfeited games, see Rule 4.14-4.18.

Protesting Games

Leagues must adopt their own rules governing protesting games when a manager believes that the umpire violated rules, in which case the League President will make a final decision. However, no game will be replayed unless the League President decides that the violation adversely affected the game's outcome. For more information, see Rule 4.19.

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Rule 5 - Putting the Ball in Play

The umpire calls "play" when it is time to begin. At this time the ball is considered "alive" until the game is suspended at the umpire's call, at which time the ball becomes "dead" (Rule 5.02).

The pitcher pitches the ball to the batter, whose object is to become a runner and advance other runners through the bases and ultimately score runs for his team.

The defense's object is to prevent the offense from becoming runners and advancing through bases.

When three offensive players are out, that team takes the field and the opposition becomes the defense.

If the ball accidentally touches a coach or the umpire, the ball remains alive. However if the coach interferes with the ball, the runner is out.

Cases where the ball in play may become "dead" include:

On a dead ball, the game resumes when the pitcher with ball takes his stand on the pitcher's plate and the umpire calls "play".

For detailed information, see Rules 5.01-5.11.

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Rule 6 - The Batter

Each offensive player must bat according to batting order. The names of the first batters in each inning, after the initial inning, must follow the last player who legally completed the previous inning (for details, see Rule 6.01).

Should the batter refuse the batter's box, it is a strike as called by the umpire.

The batter must keep at least one foot on the box during his entire time up to bat, with exceptions (see Rule 6.02). If the batter willingly leaves the box and delays play, the umpire will call a strike and the ball is dead.

The batter may leave the box area when a "time" is called for a substitution or conference.

The batter must keep both feet in the batter's box while actually batting.

The batter's time is ended when he's put out or becomes a runner. The batter is considered "out" when:

For further details, see Rules 6.01-6.05.

The batter is out for illegal reasons when:

Batting Out of Turn - See Rule 6.07.

The batter becomes a runner to first base without the possibility of an out when:

The batter becomes a runner when:

For more information about batting rules, see Rules 6.06-6.09.

The Designated Hitter Rule, see Rule 6.10 for information about.

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Rule 7 - The Runner

The runner earns base when he safely touches it until he is put out, or must advance to make room for another runner. The runner must touch bases in the correct order - first, second, third, and home. If forced to return home, he must touch them in reverse order unless the ball is dead, in which case he must return directly to his original base.

Two runners may not occupy one base. If, while the ball is alive two runners are touching one base, the second runner is put out when tagged and the base is awarded the first runner. If a runner must advance by virtue of the batter becoming a runner, and two runners are touching a base advanced toward by a following runner, the follower is awarded the base and the preceding runner is out.

Runners other than the batter may safely advance a base when:

Runners, including the batter-runner, may safely advance:

In the case of an obstruction, the umpire must call or signal as such (7.06).

The pitcher will be charged with a balk and the batter awarded first base if, while a runner is on third base he tries to score by way of a squeeze play or a steal, or other conditions (7.07).

A runner is out when:

For additional details, see Rule 7.08.

For rules on interference by a batter or runner, see Rule 7.09.

For rules on runners being called out on appeal, see Rule 7.10.

The players, coaches and offensive team members must leave any space needed by a fielder attempting to field a batted ball (7.11).

The status of a runner is not affected by a preceding runner's failure to touch base (7.12).

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Rule 8 - The Pitcher

There are two legal, interchangeable pitching styles - the Windup Position and the Set Position. The catcher will signal the pitcher while on the pitcher's plate.

The Windup Position

While standing facing the batter, and with both hands in front and with his foot on the pitcher's plate and the other one off, the pitcher may deliver to the batter without interruption. Feet must remain planted except while actually delivering the ball, he may take one step backward while the free foot may take one step forward. For details, see Rule 8.01.

The Set Position

In this position, the pitcher stands facing the batter with his pitching foot on the plate and the other in front. Preparing for the position the pitcher will have one hand at his side.

Completely stopped, he will hold the ball with both hands in front of his body. In this position he may deliver the ball to the batter, throw the ball to a base, or take a step backwards off the plate with his pivot foot. The pitcher may choose to perform any number of pitching styles, including the "stretch" so long as he maintains set position before delivery.

Following the stretch the pitcher will hold the ball with both hands in front of his body and come to a complete stop, otherwise the umpire may call a "balk". The pitcher may throw the ball to any base so long as he steps directly toward the base before the throw. If the pitch is illegal while bases are loaded, the umpire may call "ball" unless the batter advances to first base on a hit, an error, base on balls, or hit batter. If the pitcher steps backward off the plate, he becomes an infielder. For details see Rule 8.01.

Pitcher Restrictions - See Rule 8.02

At the start of every inning or when relieving another pitcher, a pitcher is allowed eight pitches to the catcher during a suspension (8.03).

The pitcher must deliver the ball to the batter within 12 seconds of receiving the ball while bases are loaded (8.04).

When there are runners, a balk is called when the pitcher:

For more information see Rules 8.05.

Visiting the Pitcher During an Inning

The manager or coach may only visit a pitcher once per inning, unless a second pitcher is called in to substitute. A violation can amount to the pitcher's automatic removal. For details, see Rule 8.06.

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Rule 9 - The Umpire

Umpires for League championship games are to be chosen by the League president. As professional baseball representatives, they are expected to enforce all rules. Umpires are responsible for the conduct, discipline and order of the game. An umpire's decisions are official. In a case where an umpire's decision is in question, the manager may appeal the decision to that umpire.

An umpire is irreplaceable unless they are ill or injured (Rule 9.02).

If only one umpire is overseeing a game, that person will have sole jurisdiction. If two or more umpires exist, one is designated umpire-in-chief.

The umpire must stand behind the catcher.

For details on specific responsibilities, see Rule 9.01-9.04.

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Rule 10 - The Official Scorer

The League President chooses the official scorekeeper for League championships. The scorekeeper will perform his duty from the press box and will have sole authority to make final decisions as set in Rule 10. The scorekeeper must communicate those decisions in a manner outlined in the Rule. For details, see Rule 10.01.

Score Report

The official score form must include the number of:

Fielder records must include the number of:

Pitcher records must include the number of:

Also included are names of the winning and losing pitchers, starting and finishing pitchers for each team, and any pitcher credited with a save, as well as:

For additional rules about the score report, see Rule 10.03.

Runs Batted In

This is a statistic awarded by the official scorer to a batter who causes at least one of the following runs:

Runs that do not score include:

For more information, see Rule 10.04.

Base Hits

A base hit is a statistic awarded by the official scorer to a batter who reaches base safely under the following circumstances:

For exclusions to crediting a base hit, see Rule 10.05-10.06.

Determining the Value of Base Hits

The official scorekeeper tracks base hits as a one, two, or three-base hit, or home run with no errors or outs. For details, see Rule 10.06.

Stolen Bases

A stolen base is credited to a runner whenever he advances one base without being assisted by an out, a hit, an error, or other determining factor. For details see Rule 10.07.

Sacrifices

The official scorer will record a sacrifice when:

Before two are out, the batter advances at least one runner with a bunt and is put out at first base, or would have been put out except for a fielding error. The exception is if the scorer believes that the batter was bunting only for a base hit and not sacrificing his own chances of reaching first base (see Rule 10.08).

Putouts

A putout is a statistic awarded a fielder for outing a batter or runner.

The official scorekeeper will award such a statistic to a fielder who:

Automatic putouts are credited when a batter:

In addition, a runner is called out for refusing to run from third base to home.

For information on crediting automatic putouts, see Rule 10.09.

Assists

Fielder plays that result in runners being put out are scored as Assists. For details, see Rule 10.10.

Double and Triple Plays

A fielder earns double and triple play credits for putouts and assists when two or three players are put out from the time a pitch is delivered, to the time the ball becomes dead or is safely in the hands of the pitcher (Rule 10.11).

Errors

The official scorer will charge an error, or a statistic against a fielder who assisted the offense when:

For details, see Rule 10.12.

Wild Pitches and Passed Balls

A pitcher is charged a wild pitch when a legitimate delivery is so high, wide or low that the catcher cannot control the ball, allowing runners to advance. A passed ball is a statistic charged against a catcher who causes a runner to advance (10.13).

Base on Balls

A statistic scored whenever a batter is given first base because four balls were pitched outside the strike zone. When the fourth pitch touches the batter it is scored as a "hit batter" (Rule 10.14).

Strikeouts

A statistic charged to a batter but credited to a pitcher when three strikes are called on the batter (Rule 10.15).

Earned Runs and Runs Allowed

Faulty pitches result in earned runs. A score is charged against the pitcher whenever a runner reaches home base aided by safe hits, sacrifice bunts, sacrifice flies, stolen bases, fielders' choices, putouts, bases on balls, balks, wild pitches or hit batters before fielders can put out the offense. For details, see Rule 10.16.

Winning and Losing Pitcher

A pitcher whose team assumes the lead while he is in the game, or during an offense inning in which a pitcher is removed from the game but does not relinquish the lead, is the winning pitcher, with exceptions.

A losing pitcher is the one responsible for the run that gave the winning team its lead.

For details, see Rule 10.17.

Shutouts

A statistic credited to a pitcher who allows no runs in a game is a shutout (10.18).

Saves for Relief Pitchers

A Save is a statistic credited to relief pitcher when a pitcher meets four conditions as follows:

  1. He is the finishing pitcher of a game won by his team.
  2. He is not the winner pitcher.
  3. He is responsible for at least a third of an inning pitched.
  4. He satisfies one of three conditions (see Rule 10.19).

Statistics

The League President appoints an official statistician whose job is to maintain accurate records of all batting, fielding, and running records for League championship players.

For details on statistician duties, see Rule 10.20.

Determining Percentage Records

There are six baseball averages/percentages that must computed:

  1. To determine the percentage of games won and lost, divide the number of won games by the number of lost games.
  2. To calculate the batting average, divide the number of safe hits by the total times at bat.
  3. The slugging percentage can be calculated by dividing the total bases of safe hits by the total number of times at bat.
  4. To determine the fielding average, divide the number of putouts and assists by the total number of putouts, assists, and errors.
  5. On-base averages can be determined by dividing the total hits, bases on balls and hits by the number of times at bat, bases on balls, hits from pitches, and sacrifice flies.

Minimum Standards for Individual Championships

Champions for professional leagues must meet certain performance standards in order to assure uniformity in establishing batting, fielding and pitching championships. For detailed information, see Rule 10.22.

Guidelines for Cumulative Performance Records

There are four categories under this ruling: Consecutive hitting streaks, consecutive game-hitting streaks, consecutive game-playing streaks, and suspended games.

1. Consecutive Hitting Streaks

If a batter's plate appearance results in a base on balls, hit batsman, obstruction or sacrifice bunt, or defensive interference, a consecutive hitting streak will not be terminated. Only a sacrifice fly will terminate the streak.

2. Consecutive Game-hitting Streaks

If all of a ball's plate appearances in a game result in a base on balls, hit batsman, obstruction, sacrifice bunt, or defensive interference, a consecutive game-hitting streak will not be terminated. Only a sacrifice fly and no hit can terminate a streak.

3. Consecutive Game-playing Streaks

If on defense a player plays one-half inning, or if a player completes a time at bat by being put out or reaching base, such a playing streak will be extended. The only thing that cannot extend a consecutive-game playing streak is a pinch-running appearance.

4. Suspended Games

Completions of suspended games are recorded as having been played on the original date of the game.

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