Karl's Mailbag 7

Q: If a ball hits the top of the wall then goes over is that a homerun? Bradley from Alabama
A: Great question, Bradley. Yes, it is a home run as long as the ball stays fair when it goes over the wall. It is also a home run if a fair fly ball is deflected off an outfielder and goes over the wall!

Q: What does it mean in baseball to hit for the cycle? Brian from Colorado
A: Good to hear from you, Brian. When a player hits a single, double, triple and home run all in the same game, it is called a cycle. It does not have to happen in any particular order. In history, fourteen players have hit a natural cycle, starting with a single and ending with a home run in one game. It's quite an accomplishment!

Q: Do they really put mud on the balls before baseball games? Eric from Missouri
A: Very interesting question, Eric. Baseballs come from the factory with a shiny gloss on them that pitchers find hard to grip. A long time ago, players used to put shoe polish or dirt on the balls. In 1938 Lena Blackburne, a coach with the Philadelphia Athletics, got some mud near his home to put on the balls for his team. The mud was fine enough to not scratch the balls or make them black and still made it easier for the pitchers to handle. Every Major League team now uses the special mud from a secret location in New Jersey to prepare the balls before the game. Pretty cool, huh?

Q: When did baseball teams start putting player's names on the back of their jerseys? Stan from Vermont
A: I love these types of questions, Stan. The Chicago White Sox in 1960 were the first major league team to put players' names on their uniforms. The popularity of baseball on TV prompted the change. The New York Yankees, in a nod to the old tradition, are the only team that currently does not have players' names on their jerseys.

Q: How is a baseball field different from a softball field? Camryn from Arizona
A: Camryn, though they look similar, there are a several differences between baseball and fast-pitch softball fields. Softball fields are actually a bit smaller than baseball fields, about two-thirds the size! In baseball there are 90 feet between the bases, and 60 feet in softball. Also, in baseball the pitching mound is raised and sloping while in softball it is a flat circle.

Q: In sports standings, when it says that a team is 1/2 of a game ahead, what does that mean? Jonathan from Wisconsin
A: Great question, Jonathan! In sports standings, "games ahead" shows how a team is doing compared to their opponents. A ˝ game lead happens when the number of games played is not equal between the two teams. So, to figure out where your team is in the standings you might have to do a little math. Take the total number of wins minus the total number of losses for each of the two teams you want to compare. Subtract the smaller number from the larger one and divide that answer by two. This shows how many games the team with the better record is up.

Q: Will the MLB make a rule that a hitter can not step out of the batters box, similar to high school rules, to speed up the game? Paul from Florida
A: Paul, the answer to your question is complicated. Rule 6.02 of Major League Baseball states that "the batter shall not leave his position in the batter's box after the pitcher comes to set position, or starts his windup." Prior to that, the batter is allowed to call "time" after he has stepped into that batter's box. When a batter gets a bug in his eye or a bee is buzzing around his head during the at-bat, he has to be able to step out for his own protection. Baseball will always encourage hitters to stay in the batter's box, but a hard and fast rule against stepping out is difficult to enforce.

Q: Why doesn't baseball have instant replay? Dennis from Massachusetts
A: Dennis, I think you will be surprised to learn that baseball actually does use instant replay! Starting late in the 2008 season, baseball introduced video replay for "boundary calls." This means replay is used to judge whether a home run was fair or foul, if a fly ball went over the fence, or if there was fan interference on a potential home run. In all other situations, it is still up to the umpires to make the call based upon what they saw live.

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