Baseball, by Abner Doubleday's rules, is a game of nine innings, with the only changes in that being if the game goes longer due to a tie, or if the home team has a lead going into the bottom of the ninth.
The game is changed slightly for younger players - the field dimensions are proportional but in a smaller measure, for example, and the number of innings that constitutes a full game are not always the same.
The biggest variance between child's play and professional competition would have to be the mercy rule - one that spares a team humiliation when it falls behind on the scoreboard by what is presumed to be an insurmountable lead.
Mercy rules exist in football in most states, in basketball in many; but in two sports, the mercy rule is virtually universal - baseball and softball.
The rule is quite simple: In a seven-inning game - the standard for scholastic sports - the game will end after five innings (or 4 1/2 if the home team has the lead) if the scoring margin is 10 or more runs. In Little League, where six innings is the norm, the early endpoint is the fourth. Youth leagues such as Babe Ruth and American Legion baseball have adopted this rule as well. The International Softball Federation has slightly different standards, but similar cutoff points.
Where this becomes an issue is not so much when it's a 10-run game after five, but when the game is an absolute blowout - especially if that occurs early in the game.
Several states - Pennsylvania among them - added a corollary to the 10-run rule: If the winning team has a margin of 15 or more runs after three innings, the game is over. This rule was in use by the 1990s for PIAA softball and baseball began using it in 2001.
Other states have modified versions. In New Jersey, for example, the 15-run rule - which did not exist until 2009 - says that both coaches and the umpire must agree to end the game that early.
But for the most part, youth organizations - the ones whose players deserve the most protection from absolute humiliation - do not have any statute that cuts a game off prior to the 10-run margin, two innings before the game would normally end.
Two games played this summer, one involving a local team, more than justify a review of these rules by two otherwise reputable national sports organizations.
The first came in the Little League District 5 11-12 tournament, in which State College handed Marion-Walker a 31-1 defeat in the first round. The second, which featured the most lopsided score I've ever heard of in a baseball game - one so great that I'm sure the winners felt as humiliated as the losers when the contest blessedly ended after five frames - was the 48-1 win by Mifflin County's 13-year-olds over Perry County in their Babe Ruth District 7 opener.
Mifflin County has had some pretty one-sided scores in its history, although the ones I've seen have been between two local teams, not between two teams that are supposed to be their leagues' best. So a game like this is not something that is new, but is something that always should be cause to review the rules - and determine if they're in the best interest of the players as well as the integrity of the game.
In this case, I'm told, the coaches could have appealed to the district commissioner - who happened to be at the game - to end it early. And if I was the Perry County manager, I can't imagine asking my young players to go on after falling behind by more than 30 runs in three innings, in a game that was effectively over when Mifflin County's 20-run first was unmatched.
This is not unlike the New Jersey mercy rule, and I have no doubt that both the Mifflin County staff and the commissioner, not to mention the umpires and any adult present with a sense of decency, would have concurred.
The problem is, would such a ruling have stood the test of the organization's rules? And more important: Why hasn't someone proposed such a rule, in line with the standards of the National Federation of State High School Associations (which writes the rules adopted by most state organizations, including the PIAA)?
You can't account for every situation, and under the most comprehensive set of rules, there are still going to be lopsided scores. Conscientious coaches will look for ways to minimize the damage in those cases, as I believe the Mifflin County staff did in the District 7 game.
But I'm wondering why an outfit using the revered name of baseball's Sultan of Swat would allow a dozen eighth graders to be swatted around like flies when a simple rule could have prevented it.
Jeff Fishbein is sports editor of The Sentinel. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.