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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