Both softball and baseball have the Infield Fly Rule. It is, without question, one of the more complicated rules to comprehend in real time. The best way to explain this rule is to break it down into small steps and explain each one before moving on so that’s what we’re going to try and do for you today.
Let’s start with why the rule exists. Established in 1895, the rule has been around nearly as long as the game itself. It was created to stop infielders from intentionally dropping the ball so they could turn a double play with less than two outs and runners on. The rule is, as with all things in our games, about fair play. This is important to remember as you work your way through the path of the rule.
The first part of MLB rule 2.00, the Infield Fly Rule, begins, “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.”
So, to start, let’s look at where everyone is on the field. For this rule to even go into effect there must be less than two outs and runners on at least 1st and 2nd.
Next, let’s talk about how the rule is applied. The umpire is the only person who can declare if the ball qualifies under the rule. This takes the pencil out of the scorekeeper’s hand and can, in turn, lead to some unique accounting.
This is especially true because, under the ruling, “The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder that stations him/herself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.”
So two or more on base, batter at the plate, pitch is thrown and contact is made. The ball pops up. What happens now?
If, in the umpire’s judgment, an infielder can catch it using ordinary effort, then it will be deemed eligible under the rule. Where the ball eventually lands is not relevant. It is whether an infielder, using their normal positioning, could have fielded it. This makes sense seeing most second basemen, shortstops and third basemen play their position from the outfield grass inward.
Okay, so the ball is popped up and the umpire wants to apply the rule. What’s the call? The call is both audible and physical and any umpire on the field is eligible to make the decision.
When the umpire yells “Infield Fly” the batter is automatically ruled out.
This video is a bit complicated at the start so we recommend starting at :55 seconds in. There they give a few good examples of the fielding position of players and when an umpire might call infield fly, as well as when they wouldn’t, based on the positioning of the infielder.
“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.”
Why the runners you ask? Here’s where the rule gets complicated. While the batter is out, the ball is still live so the runners need to wait to see if the ball is caught.
If the ball is caught then the runners must tag up before advancing to the next base. If it is dropped, then they are free to continue forward on the base path.
Here’s an example of a dropped ball infield fly ruling and how it plays out.
Regardless of what happens, the ball is still live despite the out at the plate. Runners and fielders need to act accordingly.
“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.”
Here’s an example of runners getting it right. They tag up and then head off to the next base on the play.
And, naturally, we’ve got an example of someone who forgot how the rule works. Like we said, it’s confusing in real time. Even the best can get tripped up from time-to-time.
So those are the basics of the rule. Now let’s take a look at what happens when that pop up gets dangerously close to foul territory.
“If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare "Infield Fly, if Fair."
If the umpire follows the infield fly call with the words “If Fair” then the ball, if it is uncaught in foul territory, is ruled a foul ball and the batter has another life at the plate.
Here’s a Video Demonstration of the call.
Just in case things weren’t already complicated enough for you, there’s an exception. The exception would be if the play originated off a bunt. The rule applies to bunts as well so a foul bunt with two strikes would mean that the batter has struck out, which is a different scoring decision than the putout that would be scored against a batter that pops up off a hit.
That is because, under the rules of bunting, a foul bunt not caught is always a strike, even if the foul would create strike three for the batter. It is easier to bunt than bat so there is no advantage given to a batter that tries to stay alive at the plate by fouling off with bunts. Again, it’s all about fair play.
So, exception handled, there’s just one other consideration. What happens when the ball is not caught and lands fair before bouncing 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.”
If it is ruled infield fly by the umpire and the ball rolls foul after being allowed to be dropped, the fielder is scored with an error on the misjudgment of the ball when the play allows runners to move. That’s because they should have picked up the ball and put it in play and the scorekeeper needs a reason the runners advance.
So, now you know how the play is scored, what to look for from the umpire and what the possible outcomes can be for runners and position players alike.
We’re going to close with some visual backup to help you get the hang of what to watch for when you suspect the infield fly rule might come into play in a game. We’ll start with an explanation of the rule in a more complex situation.
Now it’s time to test your understanding. Watch each of the videos below and see if you can find where the umpire makes the call and determine if you would have seen each situation the same way.