“Baseball is 90 percent mental and the other half is physical.”
So said Yogi Berra, a 10-time World Series winner famous for his quirky nuggets of wisdom about the sport known ‘America’s National Pastime’.
Many British sports fans perceive baseball as a glorified version of that schooldays staple, rounders.
Others see the connections between its rich traditions and those of cricket, our own national summer sport, not least in its fervent devotion to team and individual statistics.
With the 2017 season just around the corner, here’s our beginners guide to understanding what those ‘boys of summer’ will be getting up to between now and the World Series in October-November.
The new season will officially begin on April 2nd, when the reigning World Series champions, the Chicago Cubs, take on the St Louis Cardinals.
The regular season is scheduled to end on October 1, with the post-season or play-offs beginning two days later, and the best-of-seven-game World Series scheduled to start on October 24th.
Major League Baseball (MLB) explored the possibility of bringing some regular season games to the London Stadium, home of West Ham United, but the plans were dropped due to a lack of time for negotiations.
There are 30 MLB teams, split between the National and American Leagues, and split within those into regional divisions.
Each team plays a massive 162 games in the regular season in a schedule that includes contests against their divisional rivals as well as cross-divisional and cross-league encounters.
Teams consist of nine players and take turns fielding and batting, with the home team batting second.
An inning consists of batters from each team taking their turn at bat until three batters are out. A game lasts nine innings, but is extended into extra ones if the scores are level.
“Baseball is like church. Many attend, few understand” – New York baseball legend Leo Durocher
The fielding side consists of a pitcher, catcher, four infielders, and three outfielders.
Pitchers throws overhand, using a variety of deliveries from a raised mound to the home plate.
If the batter misses three legitimate pitches, or fails to swing at three judged hittable by the umpire, he is out on strikes.
But if the pitcher throws four pitches outside the strike zone, the batter gets a walk to first base.
A strike is also called when the batter swings at a pitch whether it is deemed to be in the strike zone or not.
If a ball is struck out of the field of play, also known as the ballpark, it’s called a home run.
A tactic within baseball is to load up first to third base, then get the designated hitter to hit a home run; the team batting gets four runs on the scoreboard due to all of the players on the bases.
Brief History of Baseball
The origins of baseball are the subject of much debate and dispute, but the first recorded game in America took place in 1838.
In 1871, the first professional baseball league was born. By the beginning of the 20th century, most large cities in the eastern United States had a professional teams.
The sport really came of age in the 1920s, when Babe Ruth (perhaps it’s most famous-ever player) led the New York Yankees to several World Series titles and became a national hero thanks to his unrivalled ability to hit home runs.
The first World Series was played in 1903 and has taken place every year since. The New York Yankees have appeared in 40, winning 27 times – no-one else even comes close to their feats.
And yet, the World Series seen as the greatest ever didn’t involve the Yankees, but featured the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves in 1991.
Five games in this series were decided by a single run, four games were decided in the final at-bat, and three games went into extra innings.
Both Game Six and Game Seven went beyond the 9th inning, with Minnesota winning both at their Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome home.
Game Six was won in the 11th inning on a walk-off home run by Minnesota outfielder Kirby Puckett.
In Game Seven, Minnesota pitcher Jack Morris threw a 10-inning, complete game shutout, with Twins utility man Gene Larkin getting a series-winning RBI single in the bottom of the 10th. (AXS, 2015)
Baseball statistics play an important role in evaluating a player or team’s progress.
Since the flow of a baseball game has natural breaks, and normally players act individually rather than performing in clusters, the sport lends itself to easy record keeping and statistics.
Statistics have been kept for professional baseball since the creation of the National and American Leagues, now part of Major League Baseball.
A lot of people agree that the statistical side of the game helps people to understand what is going on on the field.
However, not everyone likes the influx of statistical measurements that now go on in the MLB.
An interview between MLB Network’s Brian Kenny and Chicago White Sox TV play-by-play announcer Ken Harrelson shows this.
What started out as a pleasant conversation quickly devolved into Harrelson decrying the use of numbers in baseball and introducing the most interesting metric of the past 25 years, ‘The Will To Win’.
Give it a go
The statistical side of baseball can be very complicated but don’t let that put you off of potentially going to watch a game live or watching a game on ESPN which is part of the BT Sport package.
The atmosphere at baseball games is second to none, and nothing beats watching a home run soar into the stands.