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5 Basic Baseball Rules for Beginners

When starting a new sport, learning the rules can be the most frustrating part. In addition to making plays and learning terminology, you also need to understand how the game works so you can be an effective member of the team. Learning to play baseball is no exception and one thing that can make people frustrated with baseball is just how many different rules need to be learned.

A shoulders-down view of three umpires and a catcher standing next to home plate with overlaying text that reads "5 Basic Baseball Rules for Beginners"

As someone who has played baseball his entire life, I have a lot of experience when it comes to learning all the rules in baseball. For this article, I was able to narrow down all of those baseball rules to the 5 most important rules that will help beginners understand the game.

The five most important basic rules in baseball are balls and strikes, tagging up, force outs, tag outs, and nine players allowed in the lineup.

These five rules may sound easy to understand at a high level, but if you were to dig a little deeper into each of them, you’ll start to understand the little nuances that surround these basic rules.

1) Ball and Strikes

A pitcher's view of a hitter taking their stance, a catcher ready to catch the pitch, and an umpire who is ready to call the play

One of the most fundamental elements of the game of baseball is understanding what is a ball, what is a strike, and how many of each a batter gets.

Every Batter Gets Four Balls and Three Strikes

Every batter gets four balls and three strikes for each at-bat. When a batter receives four balls, they are awarded a walk to first base. When a batter receives three strikes, they have struck out and the defense is awarded an out.

In order to get a strike called, a pitcher can throw the ball into the strike zone without the batter making contact, the batter can hit a foul ball, or the batter can swing and miss at any pitch. When the third strike on the batter is either a pitch through the strike zone or from the batter swinging and missing, the batter has struck out and the next batter will come to the plate.

When the batter has two strikes on them and they hit a foul ball while swinging, the batter does not get another strike called against them. When the batter hits a foul ball while bunting, another strike is called and that batter has struck out.

If you’re interested in learning more about this Foul Ball rule, check out my other article that explains why bunting with two strikes is usually a bad idea.

For a more in-depth look at how many ways a batter can get a strike, check out my other article that dives deeper into how many ways a batter can get a strike called on them.

Every Batter has a Unique Strike Zone

Not all baseball players are made the same so each batter’s strike zone is unique. And although the rules of the strike zone can vary slightly from league to league, most strike zones have the same set of rules.

For most baseball leagues, the strike zone is set when the batter is preparing to swing at a pitch. The width of the strike zone is the width of the plate, which is always 17 inches. The height of the strike zone usually goes from the batter’s knee to the midpoint between the shoulders and the top of the player’s pants.

Illustration showing where the strike zone is in baseball

Because each player is a different height and each player has a different batting stance, each player’s strike zone is unique to them. To learn more about the strike zone, feel free to read my other article that goes into detail about what is the strike zone in baseball.

2) Tagging Up

One of the rules new players tend to have difficulty understanding is tagging up. The idea of the game is that you want to advance to the next base without getting thrown out or tagged out, but this rule about tagging up on a fly ball prevents players from doing that. So what is a tag up in baseball?

The Tag Up rule in baseball is enforced when there are less than two outs and the batter hits a fly ball. A baserunner must touch their currently occupied base when a fielder touches a fly ball. Once a fielder touches the fly ball, the baserunner is allowed to advance to the next base at their own risk.

If the baserunner fails to tag up on a fly ball, the fielder who caught the ball is allowed to throw the ball to that base to retire the baserunner.

The tag up rule can be tricky to understand at first, so read my guide Baseball Rules: Tagging Up for Beginners to learn everything you ever wanted to know about the tag up rule in baseball.

To see a great example of how a player needs to tag up on a fly ball, check out the video below of a sacrifice fly ball. You’ll notice that before the runner takes off for home, he needs to wait for the fielder to touch the ball.

3) Force Outs

There are a lot of ways the defense can record an out, but the force out is probably the most common type of out. What is a force out in baseball?

A force out in baseball is when a player must advance to the next base during a fair ball, but the defense can record an out by simply stepping on the base the runner must advance to. When the defense has control of the ball and touches the base before the runner, a force out play has been made.

Because a batter has to run to first base, there is always a force out at first base after the batter hits a fair ball. The force-out rule benefits the defense because it is easier to touch the base than it is to touch the baserunner while maintaining control of the baseball.

Another example of the force out rule would be when there are runners on first and second base. When the batter hits a fair ball on the ground, that batter is forced to run to first base. Because the batter is forced to run to first base, the baserunner who was on first must run towards second base, which forces the runner on second base to run towards third base.

That means in this scenario, there would be a potential for the defense to get a force out at first, second or third base because those are the bases these runners are forced to advance towards.

To see an example of how the defense utilizes the force out rule to get a double play, check out the video below.

4) Tag Outs

Tag-outs are another common way for the defense to record an out.

A tag out in baseball occurs when a baserunner advances to the next base and is tagged out by the defense before reaching the next base. Tag outs usually occur when there is no force out to be made at the base.

When a baserunner is advancing to the next base, but there is no other baserunner behind them that is forcing them to run, the defense must tag the baserunner before that baserunner gets to that base. If the defense successfully touches the baserunner while maintaining control of the baseball, the rule is that the baserunner is out by a tag.

To see a great example of how a player must tag a runner to record an out, check out the video below where the catcher tags out two runners at the plate.

5) Nine Players Allowed in the Lineup

Another fundamental rule of baseball is that nine players are allowed to be in the lineup. There are only nine positions to play on defense so there are only nine positions to fill on the team’s batting order.

Blank baseball lineup on a small paper napkin that uses peanuts to show the defensive position of players

Of course, each division of baseball can have its own set of rules where additional players are allowed to be in the batting order, but the one constant rule across all baseball leagues is that a maximum of nine players are allowed to play on defense.

For a complete guide to every single defensive baseball position, check out another article where I dive into every defensive baseball position and their roles.

Even though there are only nine positions on the field, some baseball leagues allow additional players to be included in the batting order. Some baseball leagues allow a few extra hitters to be added to the bottom of the order while some other leagues don’t have a limit to the number of players that can bat.

So check your league’s batting order rules to determine just how many offensive players can be added to your team’s batting order.

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Steve Nelson

I'm the owner of Baseball Training World. I live in Denver, Colorado and I enjoy playing baseball in an adult baseball team in the surrounding area. Read more about Steve Nelson.

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