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“Touch ‘em all,” says the broadcaster after the player hits a towering home run.
The average baseball fan knows exactly what he means by that phrase, but for the person who knows little about the game, this saying causes quite a bit of confusion:
“What is he touching? Why is he touching them? Why does he have to touch all of them?”
In this scenario, the broadcaster is talking about the base.
In baseball, there are four bases, first, second, third and a home plate. When a player crosses home plate, his team gets a run on the scoreboard, but before he crosses home plate, he must touch first, second, and third base.
The goal of baseball is to score more runs than the other team, making these bases an important part of the game. They are placed 60 feet apart (on a regulation size field) in a diamond formation in the infield. This is why many people refer to a baseball field as a diamond.
Knowing about the bases and their importance to the game is so basic for many baseball lovers that they often take for granted just how important and complex they can be.
The History of Bases
The number of bases on the field hasn’t changed since the game was invented, but a few things about them have.
Originally, first and third bases were located outside of the foul lines making any ball that hit first or third base a foul ball. In 1887, the National League and the American Association moved the bases inside the foul lines putting them in fair territory.
This change has withstood the test of time as both first and third bases remain in fair territory, and any ball that hits either base is considered playable. After all, it didn’t make much sense for the second base to be in fair territory and first and third to be in foul territory.
Former Minor League Baseball player Jack Corbett is credited with developing the bases we see on the field today.
In the early 1900s, bases were filled with sand, dirt, or sawdust and simply just placed on the field where they belonged. Corbett believed the bases to be too soft and dangerous for the players as they ran through and around them. He wanted a more durable base.
Corbett invented a base that included a metal rod on the bottom that fits into a hole in the ground to keep the base more secure. It was also tapered off around the edges like the bases we see today.
MLB purchased the patent for Corbett’s invention which he called the “Jack Corbett Hollywood Base Set”, and the rest is history.
Some Rules About Bases
Understanding the role of bases in baseball is crucial to understanding the game itself.
The bases are named, quite simply, for the order in which runners are to reach those bases. Everything starts and ends at home plate as players hit in the batter’s box at home plate and attempt to reach first, second, and third base before eventually crossing home to score a run.
Here are some common rules that apply to the bases and their purpose in baseball:
- Touch ‘em all- The player must touch every base in order to be considered safe. If a player runs past a base without touching it and advances to the next one, he is out.
- Returning to a base- If a runner has advanced to a base but wants to return to the previous base, he must make sure that he touches the base in front before returning. He is not allowed to cut through the middle of the field.
- Example- The runner on first takes off to second and is part of the way to third when the outfielder catches a fly ball. To return to first, he must touch second again. If he cuts through the field without touching second, he is out.
- One at a time- Only one runner may occupy a base at a time.
- Force outs- Anytime a runner must advance to the next base, the defense can get the runner out via the force out rule. All the defenders have to do is touch the base to which the runner is advancing while having possession of the ball, and the runner is out.
- Example- With runners on first and second, the defense can potentially get a force out at any of the three bases because all runners must attempt to advance when the ball is in play.
- First Base- After a batted ball in play, the hitter must run to first, and the defense may get him out via force out. The runner may run through the base at first in order to prevent him from coming to an abrupt stop. When running to second and third, he must stop on the base if he does not wish to advance.
- Sliding- In order to slow themselves down and avoid a tag, players may slide feet first or head first into bases. They must not slide with their cleats up to prevent injury to the defender. It is not recommended to slide into first base, but it is legal (in most leagues).
- Blocking Bases- Defenders may not interfere with a runner’s ability to touch a base if he does not have possession of the ball.
Some of the defensive positions are named after the bases. There is a first baseman, a second baseman, and a third baseman on defense.
A common mistake among young players is to assume that they must stand on top of that base on defense. That is not the case. The first, second, and third baseman should stand near their base, but not on top of it.
The first baseman plays slightly to the right of first base in fair territory, and the second and third baseman play slightly to the left of their respective bases. The shortstop mirrors the second baseman’s positioning between second and third base.
Why is home plate not called fourth base?
Home plate is not named fourth base because hitters must start their trek around the bases at home plate. It does not make much sense to start at fourth base. Also, home plate serves another purpose not related to running the bases in establishing the strike zone.
What materials are used to make bases?
Today’s bases are made of a hard rubber. They are secured into the ground by a metal rod on the bottom of the base. They are almost always white in color but can be painted any color.
Why are there two bases at first base in softball?
In softball, there is a base in both fair and foul territory at first base. They are connected, and the one in foul territory is normally painted orange. The base in fair territory is for the defensive player, and the one in foul territory is for the runner. It is there for safety reasons so that the first baseman and the runner do not collide with each other. The safety base has been considered for younger levels of baseball as well.