What exactly is the Infield Fly rule?
According to the Baseball Almanac…
"an infield fly is a fair fly ball--doesn't include a line drive or an attempted bunt--that can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are loaded. A pitcher, catcher, or any outfielder who positions himself in the infield on the play is also considered an infielder for this rule. When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire will declare "Infield Fly" for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, then the umpire will declare "Infield Fly, if fair." The ball is alive, and the runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or may retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes foul, then it is treated the same as any other foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls 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. With the Infield Fly rule, the umpire is to decide whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder not by some arbitrary limitations such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must also rule that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire's judgment, the ball could have just as easily been handled by an infielder. The infield fly is not to be considered an appeal play. The umpire's judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately. When the infield fly rule is called, then the runners can advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play."
In laymen's terms, this is a rule which prevents ‘cheap' double plays. Rather then runners having to stay on base until a ball is caught (or dropped, allowing for easy outs) they treat this kind of hit like they would a regular fly ball. Runners are allowed to make the decision as to whether or not they will take the risk of tagging and running, or staying put, rather than being "trapped" on base and allowing the opposing team to routinely make easy double plays. Let's look at some hypothetical situations for clarification on the Infield Fly rule:
1) You've got Sammy Sosa on first, Luis Gonzelez on second, and Derek Jeter up to bat. Jeter hits an infield pop, and the umpire calls "Infield Fly." As previously mentioned, this is for the benefit of the runners. The batter is now out, and instead of having to wait for the ball to be caught, Bonds and Sosa can now treat this ball like any other fly ball. They can either decide to stay where they are, on first and second, or tag up and run. Let's say that an infielder--we'll call him Nomar Garciaparra--decides to drop the ball intentionally, the umpire's decision governs, and the Infield fly rule applies. The runner is out, and in this hypothetical, Bonds and Sosa are safe and Nomar just looks like an idiot who can't catch.
2) Alfonso Soriano is on first, Todd Walker is on second, and Steve Finley is on third. Moises Alou comes up to bat. Alou hits a pop up very close to the third base line. The umpire calls "Infield Fly, if fair." The ball falls untouched to the ground inside the baseline, however, it bounces foul before passing third base. It is still considered a foul ball, and Alou is given another shot at the plate. If the ball drops, but drops in foul territory, it is a strike. If the ball drops in fair territory, and stays fair, the hitter is out and the base runners stay on their bases with no force outs applicable.
3) Jason Giambi is on first, Ken Griffey Jr. is on second, and Chad Tracy is on third. Ritchie Sexton comes up to bat, and hits a pop up towards first base. If the umpire does NOT call an infield fly, this allows an infielder (we'll call him Ortiz for the purpose of this exercise) to stand under the ball, and allow it to fall to the ground untouched, then throw home for the force out, and the catcher could potentially throw to third for a double play. If Giambi (or any of the other runners) strays off their base then Ortiz simply catches the ball, tags first, or throws to second or third, and again it's a double play. This case is exactly why the "Infield Fly" rule was established. The umpire calls "Infield Fly" when the ball is popped up. Sexton is out, but the runners stay on base, and only one out is made.
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