Baseball Literacy: Reading the Game

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Gunther Kress and his ideas surrounding multimodality have matured into a whole different animal. Literacy has gone from involving only language into being an all encompassing idea that surrounds just about any activity that requires some sort of training, practice, or special vision for what is going on. Baseball is no exception to this and while on the surface there is only so much the layman can see, there is a hidden language that influences every pitch, swing, and throw.

Going position by position (infield, outfield, batter, pitcher, and manager) I will examine a few of the literacies required to get by and how multimodality is present in the game and sport of baseball.

Infield: Infielders use perhaps some of the least of their specialized literacies, but this is not to say they use none at all.


Infield shifts are just one the ways infielders use their literacies of the game. Scouting reports tell the players when batters like to pull the ball and with what percentage they hit the ball to a certain side of the infield. In the case above, David Ortiz, a slow, lefty, pull-hitter, has had the infield shifted to align with where he often hits the ball. The infielders are aware of this and have shifted a third infielder over to the right side of the field, assuming Ortiz will pull the ball.

Another example of infielders using their literacies involves the shortstop and second baseman. With a runner on first, the second baseman and shortstop will make a sign to each other, be it a nod of the head, an opening of their mouth, or a pre-though out plan dependent on the batter, on who will cover the bag on a stolen base attempt. The infielders do this so that if a ball is put in play both players are not covering the base leaving the infield wide open.


Outfielders, similarly to infielders, will shift according to who is batting, but they will also align themselves forward or backward depending on the batters ability to hit the ball far. With a power hitter up, the outfielders will move back, with a slap hitter, they will move in in hopes of catching a blooper.

The inning and score of the game also change the way outfielders align. With a tie game, the home team up in the bottom of the ninth, less than two outs, and a runner on third, the outfielders will play in so that if it is a fly ball they can attempt to throw the runner out at home on a tag play.

Another obvious example of outfield literacies is an outfielder knowing when to throw to a base to get a runner out instead of throwing to the cutoff man, possibly allowing the batter to advance a base.


The batter in baseball has to constantly adjust and prepare himself for every pitch, so that he has the best opportunity to get a hit or do his job. This varies every pitch as the pitchers tendencies, the runners on base, the alignment of the fielders, and the batter’s job at the plate all change how they will approach the at bat.

Reading and understanding a pitcher’s scouting report is the first way a batter will use their literacies to approach the game. Reading the scouting reports ¬†will let the batter now what pitches the pitcher will throw, how fact he will throw them, and where in the zone he likes to work. A batter going into an at bat without knowing about the pitcher will be at a severe disadvantage.

Another way the batter uses the literacies available to them is to read the pitch as it comes out of the batters hand. There are a few different ways this is done, but none of them are easier and it requires a trained eye to see what is happening.


Reading the ball and the way it spins is one way to see the pitch, but not all pitches have a readable spin and they vary pitcher by pitcher as well. Mariano Rivera, a famous and perhaps the best closer ever, had three pitches that he used primarily and batters still struggled to him them, even having the ability to see what the pitch is. The image above is how the pitches looked as they spun, but that is far from as easy as it sounds.

Another way a batter can read the pitch is by the movement of the pitchers arm. These are often extremely subtle tells, but they give the batter just enough to have an idea of what is being thrown. A curveball can be identified by the way the pitchers arm and hand create the motion of making the ball curve. A fastball and changeup are both thrown in a similar way of overhand and with the natural motion of the pitcher. And the easiest pitch to read is a knuckleball as you can see the way the pitch holds the ball and the ball makes no movement as it goes to the plate, but this pitch is one of the hardest to hit in baseball as it is completely unpredictable.



The pitcher in baseball has a number of different literacies, some similar and some different, from the other players on the field. Pitchers, like other players, read scouting reports so that they may get the best possible advantage over the batters. This can include what pitch the batter struggles on, where the batter likes to hit the ball in the zone, and on what counts they will swing.

Pitchers also have to read the signs the catchers throw down so that they know what pitch to throw. Catchers will flash a number of different signs to symbolize the pitch and location of the pitch to the pitcher. This allows the two to be on the same page so that the ball doesn’t get past the catcher.



The manager has the most literacies available to them and has to use the different literacies the most as well. Managers call signs like catchers, they read scouting reports like all players, the align the outfielders and infielders based on the batter, and they come up with game plans for how to pitch to batters. This is not limited to just the manager of the team, but is spread amongst the bench coach, pitching coach, hitting coach, and the other coaches on the team. The manager ultimately decides most of what he wants done, but it is with the advising of the other coaches that these decisions are made.

There are still many literacies on the baseball field that I passed over, but this is not because they are not important. The literacies involved in baseball are numerous and each play a different part in how the game is played. They all play equally important roles and are integral to the players’ abilities to read and understand the game.

As Tibor Koltay says in his paper “New Media Literacies: Amateurs vs. Professionals” there are many different literacies beyond what is the familiar term of literacy relating to reading and writing. The literacy most related to baseball literacies is that of information literacy. It is the one that involves the retrieval of information in regards to all aspects of personal decision making. This is obviously what is present in the literacies of baseball, though perhaps baseball literacy could be a a thing all its own.