To those new to the sport of baseball, it may seem like a relatively simple game but there is much more to it than you might think with regard to rules and regulations.
We are sure you have heard of the expression ‘three strikes and you are out’ before, but what does ‘out’ mean exactly? One assumption is that a player’s game is over and they must watch from the bench, but this is far from the case.
A standard game of baseball is played over nine innings with each inning consisting of two halves, or frames.
Each half will see one team attacking (batting) and the other team defending (fielding) and each half lasts until the batting teams gets three outs.
At this stage, the teams will swap and the second half of the innings will continue until the other team also gets three outs themselves.
Once this is over, this concludes one of the nine innings.
Down But Not Out
When a batter is on the receiving end of three strikes, for example, you might think they are required to sit out the remainder of the inning, or perhaps even the whole match.
Let us look at this latter point first and say that, much like Test cricket, which has two innings, baseball too has multiple innings (nine as mentioned) and a batter can take part in each. So whilst they may be out of one inning, they are far from out of the match as a whole and each member of the team, irrespective of how many outs they suffer during the game, will bat multiple times in a game.
People with a basic knowledge of the sport would be aware of that, but fewer baseball newbies would know that a batter made to walk can return later in the very same inning (as well as all future innings). Often the inning will end before it is their turn to bat again, but they would be required to bat if it was their go, even if they were called out during their previous attempt. So, in this sense ‘three strikes and you’re out’ really means ‘three strikes and your current go on the plate is over but you will be back soon either during this inning or a later one’.
Not quite as catchy.
Team Out Not Player Out
When a player is struck out, either following three unsuccessful swings, being caught, tagged, or forced out, they are deemed to be ‘out’. It is something that will go against the batter’s name in the match statistics but it does not see them treated any differently during the game itself.
This is because an ‘out’ applies to the whole team and it is largely irrelevant who is responsible for it. The whole team simply keeps on playing an inning until they reach three outs.
This is why a player who has been struck out can return to the plate during the same innings. Due to this standard baseball rule, it is theoretically possible for one player to be responsible for all three outs during an inning. This has never happened before in MLB history though and do not expect it to happen any time soon. The main obstacle is that simply getting the chance to bat three times in one inning, let alone messing every attempt up, is incredibly rare. So rare in fact that one player having three hits in one inning is headline worthy by itself.
The reason for this, as we will discuss very soon, is the rule relating to the batting order. Even seeing the same player make two outs during an inning is highly unusual, which is for the best as it would be rather embarrassing. Here again, the issue is simply a numbers game as for any player to get two stints at the plate, there would need to be 10 batting turns during that inning.
This is what is known as ‘batting around’, although there are those that argue batting around is just everyone batting once (so all nine members of the team batting, as opposed to the leadoff getting a second bite of the cherry too). It is actually quite the hotly debated topic in MLB circles but sensibly we will avoid stepping into the debate here.
So, while we have stablished that an ‘out’ player is able to try their luck again during the same inning, the likelihood is they will not get the chance.
Even if they were the very first out, chances are that their team will suffer two more outs before the originally struck out batter is due back in. This is because the batting order for any baseball game is fixed in place prior to the first pitch, meaning teams cannot simply shuffle things around as they see fit.
Imagine if you will that team’s best hitter gets caught out, they cannot send him back in after a couple of teammates have had a go, because the fixed order must be worked through first.
Failure to stick to the stated sequence will come with penalties so batting out of order is not something you tend to see, certainly not at higher levels of baseball. This is a large reason why struck out players batting twice in the same inning is such a rarity, despite leagues such as MLB having so many fixtures per season.