What’s Fair is Fair

The word of the day: Foul!

In every sport there is the field of play and the space that surrounds it acting as a buffer. In most sports this is called in and out of bounds. In baseball and softball, the terms are fair and foul territory.

Fair Territory is any place within the chalk lines, including home plate and the lines themselves. Foul territory is anything that lies outside the chalk lines such as the backstop, coaches box, on-deck circle and the warning track.

There are several terms related to foul territory in the sports. We are going to take a look at each then go over the affect they have on the game.


Foul Lines – The foul lines are the white chalk lines drawn from the apex (point) of home plate down to 1st and 3rd base respectively.

Diamonds are chalked so that the outer edge of the chalk line butts up against the foul territory. That means the line itself remains in fair territory. If any part of the ball hits any part of the line, the ball is fair.

You will see the lines meet up, visually, with a yellow line on the wall in some parks and, in others with a large yellow pole. These lines help the umpire see the extended field in order to determine fair and foul as a ball gets further away. Because home teams often wear white, and the ball is also white, with the distance and clouds, the yellow makes for a more discernable backdrop to the ball.

Foul Poles – A foul pole is the large yellow pole that extends in the air over the fence at the edge of fair territory on both the 1st and 3rd base sides of the field. The pole often has a wire cage extending into fair territory attached to its side.

Just like the lines themselves, the poles and their cages are in fair territory. Anything that hits them will be considered a playable ball because it is in fair territory.

Not all parks have poles due to their construction. Petco Park in San Diego, for example, does not have poles because it is constructed with buildings in their foul territory. In their case, the lines are painted on the building itself.

The poles help the umpire determine if a ball that goes over the fence, or into the stands, is inside fair territory. If the ball strikes the pole, just like hitting the chalk line, it is fair. Where the ball lands is not relevant to the call.

When the ball makes a direct hit on the foul pole, without first having come in contact with the ground, it is a homerun.

If the ball first bounces, then hits the pole and bounces out of the playable territory, then it is ruled a ground rule double. This means that the batter automatically advances to 2nd base and all base runners move up two bases.

Foul Ball – When the ball is hit it will either be deemed fair or foul. Because home plate is surrounded by foul territory this can get confusing. Here are the basics:

1) If the ball strikes home plate and remains in fair territory, it is a fair ball.

2) If the ball rolls back into fair territory before coming to a stop, it is fair.

3) If the ball strikes home plate and bounces into foul territory between either home and 1st or home and 3rd base, it is ruled a foul ball if it stops in foul territory.

If the ball is on the line, that’s when the call gets a bit tricky. Here’s how it works…

Any ball that is bounding, meaning it hits the bat and then the infield and rolls, is not judged fair or foul until:

(1) It stops…. OR

(2) The ball is touched – where it is touched determines fair or foul in relation to the line… OR

(3) As the ball passes 1st or 3rd base. If it crosses the base the ball is fair regardless of where it lands because the base itself is fair.

This is why you will see players chase a ball down a line but not make an attempt to pick it up. They are waiting to see if it goes foul. Especially on the 1st base side with no runners in scoring position, they have the luxury of time on their side to beat out any necessary throw should the ball remain fair.

This rule has lead to some of the best baseball antics you’ll ever witness.

The call is made in relation only to the baseball and it’s contact with a player in terms of whether the ball was in fair or foul territory when touched or stopped. Where the player is standing, or where the ball lands once it makes contact with the player’s glove is irrelevant to the call.

When the ball does not make contact with the ground before crossing the base. If the ball lands fair it’s fair, foul it’s foul.


Airborne balls

In the outfield, a fly ball is judged fair or foul by the relationship of the ball to the foul line at the moment it first touches the ground or a player.

This is the reason you’ll see a player hold the ball and glove in place on a questionable catch. They want the umpire to clearly see where the ball was when caught because it makes a difference in their call.

In the infield however, it’s a bit different. You will often see a catcher tear off their mask and dive for a ball at the fence or a 1st or 3rd baseman seemingly sacrifice their life at the dugouts to make the catch. If a ball in foul territory is, a strike against the batter or, at worse simply a do-over, you may be wondering why bother? Why do players seemingly risk life and limb to catch these foul balls?

An airborne foul ball, cleanly caught in a fielder’s glove is an out. That’s why. They cannot, however, bare hand it or use any other piece of equipment, such as a hat, mask or shirt, to make that catch an out. Doing so renders it simply a foul ball.


Foul Tip – A batted ball that goes sharp and direct from the bat to the catcher’s mitt and is legally caught. A caught foul tip is counted as a strike and the ball remains in play which means runners are free to advance.

This is a very important thing to remember. If the ball is a foul tipped, it remains live. In all other foul ball instances, the ball is dead and play comes to an end.

Foul Strike Rule – In an at-bat, the first two times a batter swings, makes contact but the ball lands foul, it is a strike against the batter. After that, the batter can swing and hit the ball foul as much as they like without being called out on strike three.

Foul Bunt – With two strikes against the batter, a foul bunt is counted as a third strike. This is an exception as, generally, a batter can hit as many foul balls as they like to remain at bat.

The reasoning is that a bunt is a far easier swing to handle and it would be too much of an advantage to the batter to be able to control a bunt, continuing to hit it foul, in order to remain live in their at bat until the pitch they wanted came along.

Foul Mouths - In most cases these will lead to an ejection when shared anywhere within the parameters of the foul lines. This is especially true when foul language is spoken in direct relation to a call by the umpire and within their immediate vicinity.