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Baseball Vocabulary

This page covers the vocabulary and language of baseball by looking at its background, equipment and people. Check your understanding with the vocabulary quiz and comprehension quiz.

baseballFor hundreds of years people in many parts of the world have played "bat and ball" games. In these games, a player on one team throws a ball and a player on the other team tries to hit the ball with a bat and score runs. Today, the two most popular bat and ball games are cricket and baseball. While cricket is popular in England, Australia, India, Pakistan, South Africa, and many other Commonwealth countries, baseball is popular in the U.S.A., Canada, Japan, South Korea, Taiwan, and many Central American countries. Baseball is becoming more and more popular in many other countries as well, especially in China where it's being actively promoted by the American leagues as they try to make it the world's number one bat and ball game.


In the eighteenth century, many people from Great Britain and Europe travelled to the new colonies in North America to settle and build new lives. These settlers took along traditional games that their families had been playing for generations, including several bat and ball games such as Ireland's "rounders" and Germany's "schlagball". During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, new variations like "town ball", "goal ball" and "round ball" appeared. Each form of the game had its followers, but none really dominated until the 1840's when New York fireman Alexander Joy Cartwright helped develop a new variation of "town ball" called "baseball". In 1845, he formed the Knickerbocker Baseball Club with his friends at the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company, and they then wrote out a set of rules which became the basis of modern baseball. Cartwright umpired the first officially recorded game on June 19, 1846 in New Jersey, between the Knickerbockers and the New York Nine, and today he is seen as one of the most important pioneers of the game.

In 1857 the National Association of Baseball Players was established, and in 1871 the first attempt at forming a "major league" was made when the short-lived National Association was set up. Several other attempts were made to set up professional baseball leagues, but most of them failed. The two leagues that did survive were the National League, founded in 1876, and the American League, founded in 1901. These two leagues competed for top players, commercial sponsorship and popular support. Both leagues claimed to have the best players and teams, so in 1903 the "World Series" competition was established in which the top teams from each league competed for the honor of being known as "world champions".

The World Series is still baseball's biggest prize, and the U.S.A. and Canada still have the strongest teams in the world, with top managers and players earning millions of dollars a year. Professional leagues have also been established in many other countries as well, including Cuba, the Netherlands, Australia, Japan, Puerto Rico, Italy, Venezuela, Mexico, the Dominican Republic, Korea, Taiwan and China, and the game seems sure to become even more popular around the world in the future.

Baseball has traditionally been played by men and boys far more than by women and girls. However, leagues for women and girls now exist in several countries, and international competitions have been held since 2001.

How the Game Works

baseball diamond Baseball is played between two teams of nine players on a specially-built baseball field, with up to four umpires in charge of a game. The teams take turns throwing the ball, or pitching, and batting. The pitcher throws the ball from the pitcher's mound (see diagram at right), aiming to throw it over a pentagonal rubber slab known as the home plate. The batter stands to one side of this plate, and tries to hit the ball when it is pitched. If the batter doesn't hit a pitch that is in the strike zone, meaning it's over the plate and not too high or too low, the umpire calls a strike. If three strikes are called, the batter is out. If the batter hits a pitch and the ball is caught by one of the fielders, the batter is also out. But if the batter hits a pitch into fair territory and it isn't caught, he drops his bat and runs towards first base (see diagram). If a fielder gets the ball and touches the batter with it, or tags him, before he gets to first base, he is out. But if he gets there without being tagged, he is safe. He can either stop at first base, or if he thinks he can get to second base safely, or even further, he can keep going. Once he stops at a base, the next batter comes in. If the next batter hits a pitch, the first batter can run to the next base, and so on. If he can run all the bases and get back to the home plate without being tagged, he scores a run for the team. His team will keep sending out new players to bat until three of them have been given out by the umpires and the team's turn at batting is over. The opposing team then has a chance to bat and score some runs. When both teams have had a turn to bat, an inning is over. In professional baseball, the team with the most runs after nine innings have been played is the winner.

The main contest in a game of baseball is between a pitcher and a batter. The pitcher tries to win the contest by striking the batter out, or by making him hit the ball into the air so a fielder can catch him out. The batter tries to win the contest by hitting the ball and helping his team to score runs. The pitcher works closely with his catcher, who is the player standing behind home plate who catches the ball whenever it isn't hit by the batter. The catcher often decides which type of pitch the pitcher should throw, and uses secret hand signals to communicate with him. Pitchers use a range of pitches, including fast balls, curve balls, sliders and change ups, with one of the arts of pitching being to disguise the type of ball one is pitching in order to confuse the batter. But if the batter hits a pitch, he could hit a fly ball high into the air, a pop fly almost straight up and down, a line drive fast and low to the outfield, or he could hit a gentle bunt into the infield. If the batter hits a pitch high and far and "out of the park", he scores a home run. If he does this when the bases are loaded, meaning there are base runners already waiting on all three bases, all of the runners will score a run on the same play. This is called a grand slam, and it's the highest-scoring play in baseball. The dream of every major league player, and the fantasy of every young baseball fan, is to come out to bat in the final inning of a World Series, on a grand slam play with the bases loaded, and to win the series by hitting a home run. Nothing in baseball could be finer than this.

Most Famous Player

Babe Ruth

Babe Ruth"Babe Ruth" is without doubt baseball's most famous player. He changed the game forever in the 1920's from a low-scoring, defensive contest into an exciting spectacle of huge home-run hits, and the game became far more popular as a result. George Herman Ruth, Jr. was born in Baltimore, Maryland, in 1895, into a poor family of German immigrants. They could barely afford to raise young George, so he was sent to a Roman Catholic missionary school where he lived for twelve years, rarely seeing his family. He learned to play baseball while there, and before long it was clear to everyone that he was a very talented player. In 1914, one of his teachers introduced Ruth to Jack Dunn, owner and manager of the Baltimore Orioles, who signed him on as a pitcher and dubbed him "Babe". Dunn then sold him to the Boston Red Sox, where he played for the next five years. In 1920, he was sold to the New York Yankees, for whom many believe he played his best baseball over the next fourteen years. By this time, Babe Ruth was far more famous for his power hitting than for his pitching, and he was setting many batting records, some of which stood for decades after he retired from the game in 1935. Ruth died in 1948 after a long battle with cancer, but the legend of the great Babe Ruth will live on forever.

Baseball Vocabulary

word example sentence meaning
ball I walked to first base after the pitcher threw four balls. a pitch thrown outside the strike zone
base If the ball gets to the baseman before you do, you'll be out. one of four "safe havens" to be reached in turn by a runner
base hit He had a good game, getting five base hits altogether. a play in which the batter hits the ball into fair territory and gets at least to first base
bases loaded I was very nervous because our bases were loaded and we'd get 4 runs and win if I hit a home run. situation in which a runner is waiting on each of three bases
bat He hit the ball so hard that his bat was broken. instrument made of aluminium or wood that is used to hit the ball while batting
batter The batters wait in the dugout until it's time to bat. player whose job is to hit the ball with a bat
batter's box The umpire makes sure the batter is standing in the batter's box. an area around home plate marked by white lines in which a batter must stand
bunt He hit a bunt and the ball rolled slowly along the ground while he ran quickly to first base. light hit made by letting the ball hit the bat without swinging it
catcher Our catcher spends a lot of time practising hand signals with our pitchers. player who squats behind home plate and catches pitches the batter doesn't hit
change up One of his best pitches is his change up as most batters can't spot it and they have trouble hitting it. a slow pitch thrown with the same arm action as a fastball, intended to deceive the batter
curve ball His curve ball is hard to hit and he strikes out lots of weaker batters with it. a pitch that moves unexpectedly in the air because of spin put on the ball by the pitcher
double I hit the ball deep into the outfield and ran to second base for a double. a hit from which the batter reaches second base
double play We got two of their runners out on a double play and the inning was over. a defensive play in which two base runners are out from two quick throws
dugout The manager sat in the dugout chewing gum and shouting to his players. area beside the field in which a team's players and coaches can sit
fair territory He hit the ball over the fence, but it wasn't over fair territory so it wasn't a home run. area of the field from home base out to the bottom of the home run fence and between the foul lines
fastball Pitchers with good fastballs can throw them over 100 mph (162 km/h). a pitch that is thrown as fast as possible
fly ball He hit a fly ball into the outfield and a fielder caught it, so he was out. batted ball that goes high in the air
foul ball The hit went just outside the foul line, so it was called a foul ball. batted ball that goes outside the foul lines
foul line If a ball lands on a foul line, it is in fair territory. lines extending from home plate through 1st and 3rd bases to the outfield fence
foul territory Umpires decide whether a hit is into fair or foul territory. all parts of the playing field outside the foul lines
grand slam My son was so happy after hitting a home run on a grand slam play that he couldn't stop smiling. a home run hit with a runner on every base, by which 4 runs are scored
ground ball I knew I couldn't hit it far enough for a home run, so I hit a ground ball so it wouldn't be caught. a batted ball that rolls or bounces in the infield
home plate A pitcher usually tries to pitch the ball over the home plate. the fourth base to which a runner runs, over which a pitcher pitches and a batter bats
home run Babe Ruth held nearly all the home run records for many years. a ball hit out of the playing field in fair territory, scoring a run for the batter and any base runners
infield A bunt is a gentle shot played into the infield. area inside the square formed by the four bases
infielder The infielders have to have speed and very good reflexes. player who fields in the infield, including first, second and third basemen and shortstop
inning In professional baseball, a game usually lasts for nine innings. a period of play in which each team bats until 3 batters are out
line drive Good batters can hit line drives between fielders so they don't get caught. a ball hit hard and low in the air
out I hit the ball a long way, but a fielder caught it and I was out. to be dismissed, or to have one's turn ended
outfield How many fielders are usually placed in the outfield? area between the infield and the home run fence
outfielder Outfielders must be able to throw the ball a long way. a player who fields in the outfield
pitcher's mound Our relief pitcher walked slowly out to the pitcher's mound. a raised section in the middle of the diamond on which pitchers stand when pitching
play They threw the ball quickly and got both runners out on the same play. a move or manoeuvre in a sport or game
run We got three runs in the first innings, but didn't get any more until the eighth. a score earned when a base runner safely gets to home plate
shortstop The shortstop is near the batter and must be brave enough to catch or stop hard hits. fielder whose position is between second and third bases
slider Our best pitcher has four good pitches; his fastball, his curve ball, his change up and his slider. a pitch that acts like a fastball until it breaks suddenly as it reaches the plate
steal A pitcher has to keep an eye on the runners in case one tries to steal a base. to run a base between pitches without the batter hitting the ball
strike I was nervous because I'd already had two strikes called and if another one was called I'd be out. a strike is called if a batter swings at a pitch and misses, or if the pitch passes through the strike zone without being hit
strike out Joe's pitches are difficult to hit, so he strikes out a lot of batters. to be out for having three strikes called
strike zone Different umpires have different ideas on how big the strike zone should be. the area over home plate and between the batter's armpits and knees as he stands ready to bat
tag The fielder got the ball and tagged me out just before I got to the base. to get a runner out by touching them with the ball or with the glove holding the ball
triple I hit it way into the outfield and managed to run to third base for a triple. a hit from which the batter reaches third base
triple play Fielders must throw fast and accurately to make a triple play. a defensive play in which three base runners are tagged out with three quick throws
walk Their pitcher was replaced after walking three batters in a row. free pass to first base given to a batter after a pitcher throws four balls outside the strike zone
Contributor: Matt Errey. Matt is the author of several books including 1000 Phrasal Verbs in Context and Common English Idioms for learners, and Matt's ESL Games and Quizzes for teachers.