On Deck vs In The Hole – What Does It Mean?

Avid baseball fans know how rich and extensive baseball terminology is.

For outsiders, it may often seem that baseball and its fans have their own language where everyday phrases can mean something completely different.

While some baseball terms often make a move into the standard language used outside the game, the opposite occurs even more often.

Baseball slang borrows plenty of terms from the other aspects of life and assigns them whole new meanings.

However, this may be baffling to more casual fans, so some explanation is often needed.

A classic example of these terms is on deck and in the hole, often used when speaking about batting order.

Those new to the game are often unsure of what they mean and how they differ.

Below, I’ll look into the difference between on deck vs in the hole and explain how these expressions found their way into baseball slang.

What is On Deck in Baseball?

In baseball, the expression on deck is used to refer to a hitter that is scheduled to hit after the current one.

So, the on-deck hitter is next in the batting order after the one that is currently at-bat.

Normally, the on-deck hitter will warm up, take practice swings, and prepare to enter the game in the on-deck circle, located in the foul territory, near the home plate.

Many players have their own particular on-deck routines that, besides warm-up swings, also include elaborated movements and stretches.

The purpose of this is to have the next hitter already prepared and fully equipped with his helmet, bat, and other equipment, so he can quickly come to the plate and waste as little time as possible once his turn comes up.

If he were to wait in the dugout and still not properly equipped, this would cause an unnecessary delay in the game.

Does The On-Deck Hitter Always Follow The At-Bat Hitter?

Even though he’s next in the batting order, after the hitter currently at-bat, the on-deck hitter is not guaranteed to follow his teammate at the home plate.

The only situation when he’s certain to bat in the particular inning is if there is one out or less and the total number of outs and runners (including the batter) is fewer than three.

This is because a double or triple play is still possible at this point.

Plus, the on-deck hitter is still to be announced into the game while he’s waiting at the on-deck circle.

So, the manager may still decide to pull him out and replace him with a substitute from the lineup.

Often the managers will send the pinch hitter to the on-deck circle, only to change their minds depending on game circumstances and replace him with a hitter scheduled to bat or a different pinch hitter.

What is On-Deck Circle?

View of the baseball field from the one deck circle.
On Deck by Jon Gudorf Photography (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The on-deck circle marks the spot where the on-deck hitter, or the hitter next in line to bat, warms up and waits for his turn.

In earlier years, the on-deck circle was simply a bare-dirt area or a circle drawn on the turf. This is still often the case at lower levels of competition.

In the MLB, however, the on-deck circles are marked with circular mats made of artificial materials, commonly with a team name or logo on them.

The rules say that there have to be two circles on the field, one for each team. They’re 5 feet in diameter and their centers are 74 feet apart.

Also, if an imaginary line drawn between the centers of two circles needs to be 10 feet behind the home plate.

As the MLB rules on on-deck circles are rather loose, on-deck hitters often leave them to move closer to the home plate to get a better view of the pitcher they’re about to face.

What is In The Hole In Baseball?

The expression “in the hole” is used in baseball to refer to a hitter that is next in line to bat after the on-deck hitter.

It commonly serves to indicate where exactly a team is in the batting order at a certain point of a game.

Basically, the hitter who is described as being in the hole is due to bat third at any given time.

Hitters who are in the hole usually stand in the dugout, near the exit or in front of it, preparing to leave and start warming up at the on-deck circle once the current hitter finishes his turn at the plate.

They also use their time in the hole to determine their strategy during the at-bat, depending on how many runners are on bases.

Why Is It Called On-Deck and In The Hole?

The origins of terms on deck and in the hole in baseball are not completely clear.

However, they were most likely borrowed from maritime terminology and come from the phrases describing life on ships.

“On the deck” commonly referred to the main, above-board, area of the ship, while “in the hole” (originally in the hold was used to describe the holding or cargo space below the deck.

The terms entered the baseball slang soon after WWII. Their popularity likely had to do with the association of these expressions with the aircraft carriers.

While waiting their turn to take off, a pilot would be in his plane on the flight deck. Just as the on-deck hitter waits for his turn at the plate.

“In the hole” was a designated spot for pilots below the flight deck level, where they would spend time before boarding the plane.


The expressions such as “on deck” and “in the hole” are important in baseball as they help avoid confusion and make following the game easier for everyone.

The “on deck” vs “in the hole” distinction help fans understand and figure out where the team is in its batting order at any point of the game.

It also helps managers and coaching staff strategize and make their advice to players in the batting lineup clearer.

This is particularly significant in youth baseball, as kids often don’t pay too much attention to the batting order.

So, reminding them who’s on deck or in the hole helps the game move along smoothly.

Paul Hall
Paul Hall

Hello, I’m Paul, a 45 year old passionate baseball fan and the owner of this website. I hope my article could help to answer your questions.

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