What Is The Infield Fly Rule In Baseball?

An infield fly rule refers to a fair fly ball that an infielder can easily catch when there are runners on first and second base or first, second, and third base with less than two outs. This rule is in place to prevent teams from intentionally allowing a shallow fly ball to drop in order to create a force play at second and third base or second, third, and home plate. Without this rule, teams would be able to force out baserunners who remained on their bases during a routine fly ball. 

History of the Infield Fly Rule in Baseball

Historically, the rule was introduced by the National League in 1895 as a response to infielders purposely dropping popups to get multiple outs by forcing out the runners on base. During that time, the rule only applied when there was one out. The current rule came into effect in 1901 and has since been amended. In 1904, line drives were excluded from the rule, and in 1920, bunts were also excluded.

Infield Fly Rule 2.0

Rule 2.0 provides the definition of the Infield Fly. According to this rule, an Infield Fly is a fair fly ball that can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, excluding line drives or bunts. This rule applies when there are runners on the first and second base or when the bases are loaded with runners on the first, second, and third bases, and there are either no outs or one out in the inning. 

The pitcher, catcher, and any outfielder positioned in the infield during the play are considered infielders for the purpose of this rule. It is important to note that the ball remains live, and runners have the option to advance at their own risk or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, just like on any other fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any other foul ball. 

How Does This Rule Work?

The infield fly rule is only applicable under certain specific conditions. 

  1. Runners must be present on the first and second bases, or all bases must be loaded with runners on the first, second, and third bases. 
  2. The inning must have either no outs or only one out. 
  3. The batter must hit a fly ball or popup, not a line drive, that goes over fair territory and is in the vicinity of the infield. It is not necessary for the ball to avoid reaching the outfield grass. Instead, the umpire must assess whether an infielder, pitcher, or catcher could catch the ball with “ordinary effort.”

The Process: 

When the situation of an infield fly arises, the members of the umpiring crew must communicate with each other. This can be accomplished using various methods. The most common method used today is touching the bill of the cap with a closed fist if there are no outs or with one finger if there is one out. Another method is placing the open right hand over the chest. Some experienced umpires point upward with both thumbs while moving them slightly up and down. In order for the rule to be applied, a fly ball must be hit that, in the judgment of the umpires, can be easily caught by an infielder with “ordinary effort.” 

Essentially, this means that the defensive player should be able to position themselves under the ball to make the catch. A fly ball caught while running is not considered an infield fly. It is important to note that there is no rush to make the call. Technically, the umpire has until the ball is caught to make the call, but if possible, the call should be made as the ball begins to descend or shortly after it has reached its highest point when the correct decision can be made. If the ball could have been caught by an infielder in this manner, the catch can be made either in the outfield or by an outfielder. 

Limitations such as the grass line or the baselines do not apply. If all the necessary conditions are met, the umpire should announce, “Infield fly, the batter is out,” or if the ball may drift foul, “Infield fly if fair, the batter is out.” If the ball drifts foul and is not caught, it is considered a foul ball. If it is a foul ball and is caught, it is simply the catch of a foul pop. 

Any umpire can make the call. Usually, the plate umpire makes the call while the other umpires point upwards, but some organizations prefer the umpire closest to the play to make the call. If the infield fly is intentionally dropped by the defense, it is still considered an infield fly, and the ball remains live. Since the batter is already out due to the infield fly, this rule takes priority. To avoid any confusion, the umpire should repeat the call that it is an infield fly and the batter is out. 

Why Is There No Infield Fly Rule With A Runner On First?

If there was only a runner on first base, the defensive team would only benefit from letting the ball drop if they could get the lead runner out at second base. However, if there were at least two runners on base and a “force play” was in effect, the defensive team could potentially record multiple outs, which is exactly what the rule aims to prevent. 

Conditions for The Infield Fly Rule

The infield fly rule in baseball or softball is only in effect under certain conditions. These conditions include: there must be less than two outs, there must be runners on first and second base, or the bases must be loaded, the ball must be hit up into the air (line drives or bunts do not count), the ball must be hit in fair territory, and the fielder must be able to catch the ball with “ordinary effort” as determined by the umpire’s discretion.

Why Do We Need The Infield Fly Rule?

If the infield fly rule did not exist, a scenario like this could occur: There are runners on first and second base with less than two outs. A pop fly is hit towards the third baseman. In a deliberate move, the third baseman intentionally allows the fly ball to drop, quickly picks it up, touches third base, and then throws to second base for a double play. This double play is easily executed because both runners are in the process of advancing to the next base, assuming that the ball will be caught. 

Conclusion for What Is The Infield Fly Rule In Baseball?

To summarize, the purpose of the infield fly rule is to prevent the defense from unfairly capitalizing on an unwarranted double or triple play. It is important for officials to take their time, assess the situation, and determine if the ball can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort. By having a thorough understanding of the rules and properly enforcing them, a pleasant and fair game can be ensured.

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