Basic Rules of Baseball and How to Play (Complete Guide)

The rules of baseball can incur a love-slash-hate relationship for both new and seasoned athletes. At first, it can be frustrating; but remember that these guidelines will help promote fair play for everyone. So what are the basic rules of baseball and how can you start playing this sport?

The five essential yet basic rules of baseball are balls and strikes, tag outs, tagging up, force outs, and the player lineups among teams. League officials govern and promote these laws. Breaking these guidelines can result in different consequences ranging from mild (e.g., time-outs) to serious (e.g., suspension or expulsion from the league).

These rules tend to be fairly easy to understand even for baseball beginners. However, each baseball players, regardless of position or skill, need to follow these laws. Keep reading to understand the details surrounding these basic rules. Plus, you’ll learn more about how to play baseball as you continue with the article.

Basic Rules of Baseball

The basics will help you stay on the righteous path to become a better baseball player. Understanding the basic guidelines will aid you in getting to know the game better than before. Plus, these officiated instructions prevent you from experiencing serious consequences.

The 5 basic rules of baseball that you need to know if you’re a beginner are the following:

1. Ball and Strikes

baseball strike

What is a Ball?

Baseball beginners will usually hear the umpire shout ‘Ball’ during a pitch. A ball is called if the pitch misses the strike zone. Many see this call as a penalty, regardless of whether the pitcher threw the baseball outside the strike zone intentionally or unintentionally.

Batters, on the other hand, find balls to be appealing. It’s because four balls in a single pitching session can result in a ‘walk.’ Walking in baseball means that the hitter and the other baserunners will move to the next bases unimpeded.

What is a Strike?

A strike generally happens when the hitter misses hitting the baseball. However, the umpire can call a strike under different scenarios, such as:

2. Tag Outs

tag out

Also called tags, tag-outs happen when a baserunner gets an out when he touches the fielder’s hand, glove, or other parts of his body while the fielder is still holding a live ball. Additionally, if the baserunner steps outside the base at any point while he’s unsafe, nearby officials can declare that player to be tagged out.

On the other hand, if the fielder fumbles or drops the ball during a play, particularly when trying to make the tag, the baserunner won’t receive an out. If the events that would otherwise incur a tag out are unclear, officials can use an instant replay to review the series of events.

Take note that baserunners need to touch the bases successfully to score a run. If the athlete fails to touch the base at any point, the fielder can tag him out.

3. Tagging Up

Not to be confused with a tag out, tagging up in baseball happens when the game allows a baserunner to advance one or more bases safely. This event generally happens when the batter hits the ball and the baseball becomes airborne. Then, a defender catches the ball before it touches the ground.

However, a tagging up call needs to qualify three conditions, which are:

Here’s an example scenario when tagging up happens in baseball:

For example, a batter receives walks to the first base because the pitcher threw the baseball outside the strike zone four times. At this point, out are non-existent in the inning.

Then, a second batter takes the plate. This time, the second hitter hits the baseball and sends it to the right field. The first baserunner sees the opportunity and runs for the second base. However, the right fielder seems to have a good chance of catching the baseball, which would promote an out if he left the first base. Therefore, the baserunner makes a quick retreat back to the first base.

However, the right fielder fails to catch the ball properly. At that moment, the first baserunner decides to go for the second base. If the runner reaches the second base quickly and before the second baseman tags him with the ball, that baserunner will be safe.

4. Force Outs

Also called a force play, a force out happens when a baserunner is forced (hence the name) to leave the base he’s currently on because the batter becomes the new baserunner. This event generally happens when the fielder tags the baserunner before he reaches the base. At this point, a run isn’t scored. Additionally, if the game is at its final inning and a final out is about to be called, a force out will be called instead. This scenario can happen even if the runner crosses the plate.

5. Player Lineups

player lineups

Each team will have nine players in their lineup for relatively any baseball match. Also called the batting order, the manager sets this sequence before each game. Any team that puts players out to bat that’s not in the registered order, said team will incur a penalty.

In some cases, particularly in modern American baseball, the batting positions have specific nicknames. These aliases are:

No common nicknames are meant for the fifth to seventh batters. Still, take note that the fifth, sixth, and sometimes the seventh hitter is generally the athletes assigned to have acquired the most number of runs batted in (RBI) a particular baseball match. If you want to know more about RBI in baseball, check out our post on What Does RBI Mean In Baseball? (Explained).

Moreover, the seventh and eighth hitters tend to have the highest batting averages in the team, particularly because these positions tend to save the team from lost points.

However, teams should always remember that player lineups aren’t one-dimensional orders. Team officials can change the lineup per game, depending on the order that they see fit. For example, a leadoff batter might become the seventh hitter when in a new game. On the other hand, the last hitter can also become the two-hole under a new hitting lineup.

Other Important Baseball Rules to Know and Follow

other baseball rules

Aside from the 5 basic rules mentioned above, baseball players should also follow other essential guidelines in the sport. If you look at the Official 2019 MLB Rules, you’ll see that there are 188 pages with in-depth instructions about the different aspects of the sport. Some of these important laws include the following:

1. Uncaught Third Strike

Also called the dropped third strike rule, this law is the same for all baseball levels, including Little League, high school, the National Club Baseball Association (NCBA), and the Major Leagues. This rule takes effect when:

If these three elements exist at any given time in a baseball match, the batter turns into a baserunner. Furthermore, that athlete will have the opportunity to run to the first base. Additionally, the baserunner will stay on the first base and he won’t be tagged as an out even if the defender in the first base gets the force out. Therefore, an uncaught third strike is akin to a second chance for a hitter to reach the first base.

Still, some baseball players find it frustrating to get rewarded with an uncaught third strike. It’s because some athletes may find the act pitiful, considering that they weren’t able to hit the ball but they were still rewarded with holding a base. Therefore, it’s still best to improve your batting average instead of relying on the uncaught third strike rule. Check out our post on How To Hit A Baseball – 5 Essential Tips to help you in that regard.

2. Infield Fly Rule

The infield fly rule is a relatively straightforward guideline in which a flair fly ball (deemed as the infield fly ball) that doesn’t include a bunt or a line drive is caught by an infielder. Moreover, this action should be done when the first and second, or the first, second, and third bases are occupied by baserunners. Then, the catcher, pitcher, and any outfielder in the infield during the play will become infielders during the duration of this scenario.

Furthermore, the infield fly ball remaining alive will allow baserunners to advance to the next bases. However, the baserunners will still be at risk of being outed. If the batter hits the infield fly ball and it becomes a foul ball, the hit will be treated as a regular foul ball.

3. Automatic Strike

An automatic strike is a rare occurrence in baseball games. It happens when the hitter refuses to take his position at the time to be at-bat. This occurrence isn’t the same when the batter requests a time-out when he’s already at-bat. If so, the baseball will be considered dead, and all the runners staying in their respective bases cannot travel to the next bases.

Here’s one occurrence of an automatic strike that happened to Vinnie Catricala of the Midland RockHounds in 2013:

What do I need to play Baseball?

Like any other sport, baseball players need to prepare themselves with the right gear, mindset, and skills before they can play the activity properly. In this section, you’ll know the important things that you need to gather to play baseball properly.

1. Equipment

baseball equipment

Unless you want to catch a 40 to 50-mile-per-hour baseball with your bare hands, you need an appropriate baseball glove to comfortably and effectively catch baseballs. Aside from a good catcher’s mitt, you should also consider the following items to be part of your standard arsenal of baseball gear:

Take note that the items in your baseball bag will differ depending on your preferred playing position. For instance, you might not be required to bring a baseball bat if you’re primary role is the pitcher for your team.

2. Good Throwing Technique

baseball throw

If you’re looking at baseball experts playing the game from afar, pitching or throwing the baseball might look like the easiest position in the entire sport. Despite its relatively straightforward-looking appearance, throwing a baseball can become the most challenging endeavor you might come across in the sport. Keep in mind that throwing a baseball and pitching it accurately are two different scenarios.

Here’s a quick guide on the fundamentals of baseball throwing while practicing great accuracy:

3. Good Catching Technique

For some players, the act of catching might be more challenging than throwing. Take note that you tend to have more time to throw a baseball than to catch it, particularly when you’re the pitcher. But if you’re playing as the catcher, infielder, or other defensive position, you need to think on your feet to catch a baseball. These occurrences can sometimes even happen within mere milliseconds.

Here are some pointers to remember as you practice for that perfect catch:

You can also watch the following video for a more detailed explanation of these guidelines:

4. A Strong Hit

Many proficient baseball hitters follow seven absolute rules when trying to hit the ball. These absolutes are the following: 

5. Base Running

base running

In many cases, base running is generally the relatively straightforward act of moving from one base to another at the fastest attainable speed possible by any given player. However, running haphazardly might get you more outs than safes.

Here are a few tips to take note of when you’re running bases:

Final Words

This guide aims to help beginners to learn about the basic rules of baseball and how to play the game properly. If you’re already quite versed in the sport, let this article be your refresher guide to help you play the game better than before. 


Remember to take note of the rules governing balls, strikes, force-outs, and player lineups to name a few. Plus, keep in mind the proper hitting, throwing, catching, and base running positions to help you and your team come out as the victor in matches.  

Recommended Reading: What does PO Mean in Baseball?

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