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Explaining the Infield Fly Rule
The infield fly rule is perhaps the most misunderstood rule in baseball. But it shoudn't be. It's actually very straightforward, and it's based on a very simple idea: that if ballplayers aren't watched closely, they will take advantage of any break they an get, even if doing so is a little bit sleazy. As you will see, the infield fly rule allows the umpire to take control of a game to avoid intentional errors, purposely dropped balls, and other deceptive conduct by infielder defenders just to gain an unfair advantage over their opponents on the bases.
When the Infield Fly Rule Applies
The infield fly rule applies when there are fewer than two outs, and there is a force play at third (meaning that there are either runners on first and second base, or the bases are loaded).
Under these circumstances, if a fly ball is hit into fair territory, and the umpire judges that it should be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, the umpire will immediately call the batter automatically out. Once the umpire's call is made, the batter is out and the play moves on (this is true even if the fielder ends up dropping the ball.)
According to the rule, the umpire is supposed to announce, "Infield fly, if fair." If the ball will almost certainly be fair, the umpire will likely yell, "Infield fly, the batter is out!" or just "Batter's out!" Umpires also usually raise one arm straight up to signal to everyone that the rule is in effect.
The Nuts and Bolts of the Infield Fly Rule
The rule covers any fly ball that is hit into fair territory and which should be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort. This is true regardless of where the ball is caught, or by whom it is caught.
For example, if an infielder retreats to the short grass in the shallow outfield in an effort to catch a fly ball with ordinary effort, the Infield Fly Rule would be invoked, and once the umpire said so, the batter would be out. This is true even if the ball is caught by the infilder while standing in the outfield, and it is also true if the ball is ultimately caught by an outfielder. What matters is this: once the ball was popped into the air, was there a force at third base? Was the pop-up one that a reasonably skilled infielder should have caught? If yes to both, then the batter is out, regardless of what happens after the call.
Another Interesting Nuance of the Infield Fly Rule
On a caught infield fly, the runners must tag up (retouch their base at the time of pitch) in order to be eligible to advance, as on any fly ball or pop-up catch. But, if the infield fly falls to fair ground untouched, or is touched and dropped, runners need not tag up. In either case, since the batter is out, the force play on other runners is removed. So if the defender drops the ball after the infield fly call is made, then the runners can advance freely (as if a pop-up had simply been dropped), but bcause the hitter is out, there is no longer a force play at any plate. To stop a runner from advancing, a defender must now tag the runner out.
How the Infield Fly Rule Came into Effect
The National League introduced the rule in 1895, in response to infielders who were intentionally dropping pop-flies to get multiple outs by forcing out the runners on base, who were pinned near their bases while the ball was in the air.
Circumstances When the Infield Fly Rule Does Not Apply
The infield fly rule does not apply to line drives or bunts. Nor does the rule cover all situations where the defense may wish to allow a fly ball to drop uncaught.
For example, if there is just a runner on first base, a quick-thinking infielder might purposely let a pop-up drop to the ground and get the force at second if the runner on first is faster afoot than the batter-runner is, or if the batter is loafing on his way to first base. This is only legal if the fielder lets the ball hit the ground untouched, which carries some risk to the fielder as it might bounce away from him. However, in all situations where the infield fly rule does not apply, a different rule prevents fielders from touching a catchable ball and dropping it intentionally in an attempt to turn a double or triple play.
I hope this was helpful. Only 23 days until pitchers and catchers report!