Baseball: Strikes, Balls, and the Strike Zone
Source: Library of Congress
What is a strike?
During each at bat in baseball the batter gets up to three strikes to hit the ball. A strike is anytime the hitter swings at a pitch and misses or any pitch that is in the strike zone (whether the hitter swings or not). Three strikes and the batter is out!
The batter is also given a strike when they hit a foul ball and they have less than two strikes. You can't get a third strike when hitting foul ball. A foul ball that is hit with two strikes doesn't count as a strike or a ball.
Walks or Bases on Balls
Any pitch that is outside the strike zone and the hitter doesn't swing is called a ball. If the batter gets four balls, then he gets a free pass to first base.
What is "The Count"?
The count in baseball is the current number of balls and strikes on the batter. For example, if the batter has 1 ball and 2 strikes, the count is 1-2 or "one and two". A "full count" is when there are 3 balls and 2 strikes, or a 3-2 count.
Umpire signaling a 3-2 count
The Strike Zone
When determining whether a pitch is a ball or a strike, the umpire uses a strike zone. The ball must be within the strike zone to be called a strike.
The strike zone has changed over time. The current strike zone in the major leagues is the area above home plate between the bottom of the batter's knees to the midpoint between the top of the batter's shoulders and the top of his pants.
The Strike Zone
In youth leagues the strike zone may be different. Often the top of the strike zone is at the armpits, to make it slightly larger as well as easier for the umpires to call.
Reality vs. The Rules
The reality is that different umpires will have different strike zones. Some may call strikes when the ball is actually a bit wide of the plate. Some umpires may have a smaller strike zone, while others will have a large strike zone. The important thing for baseball players to do is to recognize this and understand that the strike zone may not always be exactly the same. Watch how the umpire is calling strikes and try to take advantage of this during the game. DO NOT argue with the umpire over balls and strikes.
In 1876 the hitter got to choose between different strike zones. The hitter could call out a high, low, or fair pitch prior to the at bat. The strike zone would then move accordingly.
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