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Think Baseball Isn’t A Contact Sport? Here’s Why You’re Wrong

Sports are usually classified by risk of contact between players. The more contact between players, the more risk of injury. Contact with other players is usually how athletes decide which sport is safe and which is not. When you watch a baseball game, there is minimal contact between players, but you will also see players dressed in protective gear. So which one is it? Is baseball a contact sport or not?

Baseball is considered a limited-contact sport, meaning players come into contact with each other and the equipment at some point during the game. Most baseball plays don’t require players to come into contact with each other, but there are some plays where contact between players is inevitable.

Baseball player in white uniform slides headfirst into home plate while the catcher in a maroon uniform applies the tag

The concept of sports being contact, non-contact, or limited-contact can be difficult to grasp, so let’s look at what these terms mean.

Contact SportNon-Contact SportLimited-Contact Sport
DefinitionAllows or requires physical contact or force between participantsRequires zero contact between playersContact between players and objects is infrequent
Sports Examples– Boxing
– American football
– Rugby
– Hockey
– Swimming
– Tennis
– Running
– Golf
– Bowling
– Baseball
– Basketball
– Handball
– Softball
Characteristics of Baseball– Tag outs
– Breaking up double plays
– Physical separation of players
– Playing in turns
Brief/light physical contact rules:
– Catchers must provide a sliding lane
– Baserunners can’t go outside direct path to initiate contact

What are Contact Sports?

Contact sports allow or require physical contact or force between players. The type of impact can include actions such as tackling, blocking or striking using players’ bodies or game equipment like a stick or a ball.

Examples of contact sports include:

  • Boxing
  • American football
  • Rugby
  • Hockey

Because of the nature of these sports, they are also classified as collision sports. That is why most athletes playing these sports have to wear protective gear such as helmets, mouthguards, or pads to protect them from regular forceful impact from other players.

In these sports, almost every play requires physical contact between players.

What are Non-Contact Sports?

Non-contact sports are sports that require zero contact between players.

Examples of non-contact sports include:

  • Swimming
  • Tennis
  • Running
  • Golf
  • Bowling

It is usually unexpected and unintended when players come into contact with each other in these sports.

What are Limited Contact Sports?

Limited contact sports are sports where contact between players and objects is infrequent. These sports usually have rules that set boundaries to how much contact is allowed or prevent it.

Examples of limited contact sports include:

  • Baseball
  • Basketball
  • Handball
  • Softball

Excess force and specific types of contact with objects can result in a penalty or disqualification from these sports.

For example, slapping a player’s arm in basketball results in a foul, loss of possession, possible free throws, and counts towards a running foul total that can result in being removed from the game.

With the above definitions, it should be easy to categorize baseball, right? Unfortunately, the debate on whether it is a contact or non-contact sport is still on. So, let us look at both sides of the coin.

4 Reasons Why Baseball is Considered a Contact Sport

Baserunner sliding headfirst into second base while the shortstop prepares to catch a throw and apply the tag

In baseball, players usually have more contact with the ball than other players on the field, but there are a few exceptions.

When you watch baseball bloopers, you almost always see players colliding (which also makes the game more exciting). 

Such instances during the game are why people argue that baseball is a contact sport. Below are some examples.

1) Tag Outs

There are many types of outs in baseball, but a tag out is the most common out where players come into contact with each other.

To record a tag out, a fielder in possession of the ball must touch a runner with the ball before that runner reaches a base.

A tag out is most exciting when it is a rundown. This physical contact between the two players is within the game’s rules. The touch does not require physical force, nor does it take a lot of time.

2) Home Plate Collisions

Runs are exciting to watch during a baseball game, but close plays at home can result in some severe injuries. Baserunners are usually at top speed, trying to get to the plate, where a catcher is waiting to catch the ball and take the player out.

This has resulted in forceful impact between players resulting in broken legs, arms, and other serious injuries. For this reason, people consider baseball a contact sport even though the players do not do it intentionally.

Major League Baseball also implemented the home plate collision rule in 2014 to minimize and prevent these violent home plate collisions. Some cheered the rule, while others considered it a knee-jerk reaction to catcher Buster Posey’s season-ending injury.

3) Running Over the Catcher

Blocking the plate was a common play in baseball used by catchers to prevent runners from scoring. This technique accounted for a lot of physical contact between players during the game and resulted in many star athletes being injured.

The video below shows how Buster Posey got injured in a home plate collision. This is when it was legal for players to run over the catcher.

Basically, the runner would run full speed at the catcher and forcefully collide. The goal of the runner was to get the catcher to drop the ball or miss the ball while the goal of the catcher was to prevent the runner from touching home.

In 2014, the MLB decided to ban catchers blocking the plate unless they have the ball. They must also leave part of the plate open because the rules state that a runner’s path to score should not be blocked.

Only the umpire can determine if blocking the plate is legal. They make the call on different factors, such as “did the runner make an effort to reach the home plate?”, and “did they use their upper body to make the catcher lose possession?”.

4) Hitters Can Get Hit by a Pitch

Most of the time when a hitter reaches first base, they can do it without any sort of contact. However, if the hitter gets hit by a pitch, they can take first base.

I know from experience that getting hit by a pitch is not fun, but at least that’s one form of contact in baseball that allows you to take first base.

5 Reasons Why Baseball is Considered a Non-Contact Sport

San Francisco Giants preparing to field a batted ball

A non-contact sport forbids and punishes players whenever there is physical contact. That is why in many non-contact sports, players have designated areas in the playing area. For example, in tennis, each player is in their box on opposite sides of the net.

Some people consider baseball a non-contact sport because physical contact between players is rare, especially after the rules on home plate collisions were implemented.

Whenever there is physical contact between players in baseball, it is very brief compared to other contact sports.

The argument is that even though physical contact is possible in a baseball game, it can be avoided. It makes sense because even though contact is against the rules in other non-contact sports, it can still happen unintentionally.

Simply put, not all non-contact games are contact-free.

Let us look at the main characteristics of non-contact sports to see if we can put baseball in this category.

1) Physical Separation of Players

Backside view of number 5 in a blue uniform walking to his position in the outfield

Most non-contact sports separate competitors entirely. This is done by making individuals play sequentially (like in bowling) or placing them in designated lanes (like running, swimming, or tennis).

Baseball separates hitters by enforcing rules to keep them inside the batter’s box. Pitchers must be on the pitching rubber and catchers must remain in the catcher’s box. And the defense must set up in fair territory.

2) Playing the Game in Turns

Some non-contact sports require competitors to take the field one at a time. In golf, for example, each player takes their turn on the golf course, thus limiting the possibility of physical contact with each other.

Baseball allows one team to hit and one team to defend. After three outs, each team switches places.

3) Game Structure

In some competitive sports (like bodybuilding, horse riding, archery, and ice skating), the nature of the sport rules out the possibility of any physical contact.

Baseball players are separated and take turns on the field. Most of the time, players are not within 50 feet of another player when the pitch is delivered.

4) Stricter Rule Enforcement

Major League Baseball is constantly reviewing its rules to offer players better protection.

For example, rule 6.01 (i) is in place to prevent players from attempting the blocking of the plate play.

Also, the organization is enforcing stiffer punishment for players who intentionally injure others.  

5) Better Umpiring Methods

Several cameras around the park allow you to view the game from different angles. These help umpires call games better. For example, the extended instant replay rule allows umpires more time to determine if there are violations.

Several sports now use extra referees to verify decisions. For example, the video assistant referee in soccer is a team of three officials who the on-field referee consults when things are unclear. Teams can also appeal decisions when they feel cheated. 

Baseball is also a non-contact sport because players only wear minimal protective gear during gameplay. But on the other hand, catchers wear a helmet and chest plate to prevent injury while catching pitches.

Players can wear helmets on the field (John Olerud), hats (optional, surprisingly), or cups during active play, but all are optional.

Why is Baseball Considered a Limited Contact Sport?

Limited contact sports have rules allowing brief and light physical contact among players.

Players are warned or punished when they break these rules by issuing fouls and penalties or removing the player from the game after several instances of illegal contact.

Some limited contact sports go as far as barring teammates from touching each other during a game.

From the definition above, baseball fits better into the limited contact sports category.

So, what are some of baseball’s limited-contact rules?

  • A baserunner cannot go outside their direct path to initiate contact with a catcher or another player covering the plate. 
  • A catcher cannot obstruct a runner’s path to the plate unless they have a ball or making a legitimate attempt to catch a throw.
  • Catchers must provide a sliding lane when receiving a throw to lower the possibility of a collision with a runner. 
  • Fielders can tag runners out by touching them with the ball or their glove (with the ball inside).

How Can Baseball Players Avoid Unnecessary Contact

The scary reality in baseball is that home plate collisions, getting hit by the ball, or running into the outfield fence can cause serious injuries, including concussions.

Although the game has rules around contact, players are responsible for avoiding unnecessary contact. They can do this by:

  • Wearing protective gear – Batters and catchers must have the necessary gear to help protect them from getting hit by the ball.
  • Avoid sliding head first – sliding is a technique players use to avoid contact with the catcher, but it is essential to do it right. Players can injure their head or hand if they slide head-first into the base.
  • Avoid home plate collisions – the MLB has rules that ban blocking the plate to help minimize home plate collisions. Players must be smart and try to avoid the tag and avoid any collisions when sliding into home.
  • Catchers should practice caution when catching foul balls – while focusing on trying to catch the ball, catchers need to remain aware of their movement. Many players have smashed into a fence while following the ball, resulting in broken bones and other head injuries.
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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.