Infield Fly Rule

This is the first of a series of articles on how knowing the finer points of baseball rules will help coaches give their teams an edge on their competition and teach players what to do in each situation.  To read more tips, or other thoughts on rules and dealing with umpires, check out  The Rulebook Edge or The Rulebook Guru’s Blog.

Today, we will cover the infield fly rule.  Let me start by listing some beliefs that over the years I have heard players, coaches, and even umpires state on different occasions:

  1. A batter is automatically out if he hits a routine fly ball in the infield.
  2. Runners should be prepared to run to the next base, in case a declared infield fly ball is dropped.
  3. Once an infield fly is called, the play is dead, and the runners can take their time walking back to their bases.
  4. Once an infield fly is called, it makes no difference whether the fielder actually catches the ball or not.
  5. If an infield fly is called, but the wind carries it into the outfield and it falls untouched, the batter can try to beat out the throw to first.
  6. If an umpire does not call an infield fly, with less than 2 outs and a runner on 1st and 2nd, and the ball falls untouched to the ground, the defensive team can point it out to the umpire who can declare the batter out after the fact.
  7. If an umpire does not call an infield fly, and the ball falls untouched, and the defense turns an easy double play as the runners were expecting the ball to be caught, the offensive coach can point it out to the umpire who can declare the batter out and put the runners back on their bases.
  8. If an infield fly is declared, the batter is automatically out, no matter what else happens in the rest of the play
  9. If a batter pops a bunt right to the pitcher with the bases loaded, it should be declared an Infield Fly, and the defense won’t be able to turn a double play on it.
  10. If an infielder intentionally drops a fly ball, even with the infield fly rule not in effect, the batter is automatically out.

What are the realities behind each of these sometimes commonly held beliefs?

1.  FALSE – certain conditions need to apply.  Specifically, there must be less than 2 outs, and at least runners on 1st and 2nd base (and the ball must be deemed to be able to be caught with ordinary effort by an infielder).  For example, if under other situations, the batter hits a routine fly ball to the shortstop, and he drops it and the batter runs to first base before the shortstop throws the ball to 1st base, the batter is safe, and there is no reference to an infield fly.  Typically the only individuals who get confused by this point are young players or first time coaches who first hear of the infield fly concept.  If you don’t have runners on 1st and 2nd and less than 2 outs, don’t even think about an infield fly.

2.  FALSE – well, they can, but they will likely be tagged out.   The batter is automatically out whether or not the ball is caught, so the runners do not need to try to advance.  Doing so on a ball in the infield is very risky at best.

3.  FALSE – the ball is live, and if it’s caught and the infielder throws to a base that a runner has just vacated, the runner will also be called out.

4.  FALSE – the batter is out in either case (except for the exception noted in #8 below), but base runners can advance without having to tag up if the ball is dropped.   This doesn’t often happen, but can in a hit and run situation, where the base runners are almost at the next base by the time an infield fly is called.  If it drops, it may be easier for the runners to continue to advance, than try to retreat.  There is no force play on any base if the ball is dropped.

5.  FALSE – the batter is automatically out once an infield fly is called as long as it is a fair ball.  It does not matter whether it is caught or if it stays in the infield.

6.  FALSE – an infield fly must be called before the ball lands.  It cannot be called retroactively, and in a situation like the above, the umpire could have deemed that it was not catchable with ordinary effort, and the play will stand.

7.  FALSE – have you read this far??  See the answer for the previous point.  An infield fly is a judgment call and cannot be made after the fact.

8.  FALSE – well, usually, but if the ball isn’t caught and lands foul or lands fair and then rolls foul untouched, then it is just a foul ball.  An umpire should declare “Infield Fly, If Fair” if there is doubt as to whether it will be a fair or foul ball, but the rule applies whether or not he calls out the “if fair” part.

9.  FALSE – The infield fly rule does not apply to bunts or line drives.

10.  You’re expecting me to say false again, aren’t you???  This one is actually true, but has nothing to do with an infield fly.  This is rule 6.05 (l):  “A batter is out when an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out.  The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases”.  Note the word intentionally, and he must drop the ball.  If he lets it fall untouched to the ground the rule does not apply.

MLB TV

Summary of rule:

  • Batter is automatically out when an infield fly is called on a fair ball.
  • Ball is live – runners may attempt to advance at own risk.
  • An infield fly applies when there are at least runners on 1st and 2nd, and less than 2 outs.
  • Does not apply on a bunt, line drive, or foul ball.
  • Does not matter if the ball is caught by an infielder or outfielder or where it ends up or even if it’s caught.  Once it’s called an infield fly, the ruling is final, the batter is out, as long as the ball is fair.
  • If the umpire does not call it then the infield fly rule does not apply.

The only difference between an infield fly and any other fly ball is that the batter is automatically out and, thus, no runners are forced to advance on the play. Runners can still try to advance, but they do so with the same risks as any other fly ball.

So, now that you have a better understanding of the rule, what should players be taught to do when an infield fly is called?

Batters:

  • When an umpire declares “Infield Fly” you are out.  (Unless the ball lands foul without being caught, in which case it is treated like a regular foul ball.)
  • However, you should continue to run to first base.
  • If the defense does not catch the ball, a player may see you running to first base, forget that you are already out and throw the ball.  If he makes a poor throw, the other baserunners can advance.  (You are still out regardless.)

Base Runners:

  • Remember that you are not forced to run.
  • Do not be fooled by thinking you need to run if you see an infielder misplay a fly ball.
  • Also don’t be fooled because you see the batter running towards you.  He’s trying to fool the defense – not you!
  • If you are on a base away from the play, you can take a small lead (ensure you can get back to the base if the ball is caught and the fielder snaps throws the ball back to your base).   If the ball is not caught, there is a possibility you can advance to the next base.  (For example a fly ball between 1st and 2nd.  If you are on 3rd base, you can take a few steps towards home.   If the fielders collide/kick the ball into the outfield etc, you can keep running home.  If it is caught, get back to 3rd base right away.)
  • Also stay alert for fielders who don’t catch the ball, hurrying a poor throw to 1st base.  If it’s wild, the ball is live and you can advance, without having to tag up again.
  • If an infield fly ball is landing close to you, STAY ON YOUR BASE!  If you step off to avoid being hit by it, and it hits you anyways when you are off the base, you and the batter are both out.

Fielders:

  • Try to catch a ball that is declared an infield fly. If you don’t, and it rolls foul, you have given the batter another life.  As well, if a runner is running on the play, and you catch it, you can get a double play.  If you let it fall, the runner may advance on the play.
  • DO NOT throw the ball to first base.  Remember that the batter is out, regardless of what else is happening.   (You may throw to first base to get the runner if he’s strayed too far off the base.)
  • Remember that even though the batter is automatically out, the ball is live and in play.  If you catch the ball, a runner can tag up and score.  Also, if you throw the ball away when trying to get it back to your pitcher, the runners can also advance.
  • To summarize… CATCH THE BALL!

Below are the rulebook references (as per OBR rules):

Rule 2.00 DEFINITION: An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.  When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, if Fair.”  The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul.  If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to  the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an  Infield Fly.

Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball  could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder—not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass,  or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.  When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05(l).  The infield fly rule takes precedence.

6.05 (e):  A batter is out when an Infield Fly is declared.

6.05 (l): A Batter is out when an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases.

APPROVED RULING: In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the Infield Fly rule applies.

7.08 (f): Any runner is out when he is touched by a fair ball in fair territory before the ball has touched or passed an infielder.  EXCEPTION: If a runner is touching his base when touched by an Infield fly, he is not out.  If runner is touched by an Infield Fly when he is not touching his base, both runner and batter are out.

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