What is the Infield Fly Rule in Baseball?

The infield fly rule is a rule implemented to serve the runners on base. This rule is useful for the defense, but not something that can be taken advantage of.

The infield fly rule was written in order to stop teams exploiting the rules involving double and triple plays on popups.

At its core, the infield fly rule is made up of several key elements. 

  1. There should be less than two outs.
  2. The fly ball can’t be a bunt or line drive.
  3. There must be players on the first, second and third – Or on the first and second.
  4. An infielder should be able to catch the ball with regular effort. 

“Regular effort” means that no additional effort or skill is required to catch the ball. Additionally, it also means that the ball cannot be caught in the infield dirt or grass.

If these conditions are met, an infield fly is declared by the umpire

How does the Infield Fly Rule Work?

The infield fly rule works by stopping the batter from running once the infield fly rule is called. The rule is called by the umpire, but players and coaches need to be aware of what to look for on the chance that the umpire doesn’t call it. The umpire’s decision on the infield fly rule is final and the batter is unable to reach first base, even if the ball falls on the ground. 

The infield fly rule can also be affected by the foul and fair territories. An umpire has the opportunity in this case to call “Infield fly, if fair” meaning that the infield fly rule will only apply if the ball lands in fair territory, but won’t apply if landed in foul territory. The infield fly rule cannot be called on a foul popup, as it would be considered an out regardless. 

Runners on base during an infield fly call can advance at their own discretion, but need to be aware that they do so at their own risk as they can still be tagged to record an out since there is no force play in effect.

Along with this, if a high pop fly is hit to the shallow outfield area and a fielder attempts to make the catch, but is called off by a fellow fielder or drops the ball, in infield fly rule can still be enforced, providing it was clear that the fielder is deemed to have been able to catch the ball with “ordinary effort”. 

 The infield fly rule is not judged by the markings or poles on the pitch, but is instead judged based on the discretion of umpires. 

A bunt can also never be an infield fly. Bloopers to the infield also cannot be considered an infield fly, based on the way that they fall and the intention of the batter.

To call an infield fly, there needs to be players on either the first and second, or first, second and third bases. This is because there needs to be at least two runners on bases to be subject to “force play”. If this wasn’t implemented, then the defense can’t gain any advantage for letting the ball get dropped.

Having two outs is also necessary for the infield fly rule, as it would be equally easy to get an out by catching the flyball as it would be if the flyball was dropped to get a force out. 

Why does the Infield Fly Rule Exist? 

The infield fly rule may come across as fairly pointless or meaningless to someone who is unfamiliar with it. And whilst it’s complicated, it does have its uses and applications. 

The infield fly rule was designed in order to prevent fielders from purposely dropping a routine infield pop-up to try and earn an easy double or triple play by exploiting the chance for multiple force plays.

The infield fly rule is in place to benefit the runners against exploitation of the rules involving double or triple play. Without it, runners would be in two minds as to whether to run or not. 

The infield fly rule offers some more security to runners, as without it they’re faced with two situations – Firstly, the third base player could potentially let the ball drop and achieve multiple outs by tagging the runner on third if they stay close to their bases. Secondly, if the runners decided to stray too far from their bases, the third base player could catch the ball and double them off.

The infield fly rule disperses the overuse of double or triple plays on popups. When the infield fly rule is called by an umpire, the player isn’t obligated to run if the ball drops.

History of the Infield Fly Rule

The infield fly rule wasn’t implemented as we currently know it until the 1895 season, but was seeing success before then in earlier games. Like most important rules of baseball, the infield fly rule was added early on into the sport’s lifetime, and continues to be used today.

The infield fly rule was created initially to combat the abundance of players purposely dropping pop-ups to turn double-plays.

Initially, the wording of the infield fly rule was vague and deemed to be confusing, and didn’t fully protect baserunners in the same way it does now. The most recent change to the rule occurred in 1931, which cleared up confusion caused by the phrasing surrounding the intention of catching and dropping the ball. The current rules are a lot more clear, and now protect baserunners a lot more thoroughly.