What Is the Infield Fly Rule in Baseball?

Demystifying the Infield Fly Rule: Protecting Base Runners and Leveling the Playing Field
Written by Mark Bailey
Last updated on

The infield fly rule in baseball, though rarely invoked, is crucial in safeguarding base runners. It prevents the defense from manipulating a situation by intentionally dropping a fly ball to set up a double or triple play. If you’re unfamiliar with it, this article will shed light on its purpose and significance.

KEY
POINTS
  • The infield fly rule in baseball was created to protect base runners from intentional drops by the defense.
  • A set of conditions must be met for the rule to come into effect, including fewer than two outs in the inning and baserunners on first and second or the bases loaded.
  • When an umpire calls an infield fly under these conditions, the batter is automatically out, and no runners can advance until the ball is caught.
  • Criticisms of the rule have arisen in moments like the 2012 National League Wild Card Game when an umpire made a bad call, though this does not affect its overall positive impact on baseball.

Overview of the infield fly rule

The infield fly rule can come into play only in specific situations. Before the rule can come into play, there are four mandatory factors. 

To start off, there must be fewer than two outs in the inning. Second, there must be baserunners on both first and second, or the bases will be loaded. Next, the fly ball cannot be a bunt hit into the air or a line drive. Lastly, the infielder must be “camped” under the ball. This means they are directly under the fly ball and will not struggle to make the catch. 

Now that we have established the requirements of this rule, let’s take a look at what the rule actually is. As stated earlier, the infield fly rule was created to protect the baserunners. If all the requirements are met, any fly ball hit high in the air and to an infielder will be ruled an infield fly. When this is ruled by an umpire, the batter is automatically out. Even if the fielder drops the ball, the batter is still out if the ball is ruled an infield fly. 

No runners can advance during an infield fly. They can advance by tagging up, though. This rule protects the runners by ensuring the defense doesn’t drop the ball on purpose to get an easy double play. If a fly ball is hit in the infield with runners on base, it would be too easy to drop it and catch the runners off-guard. The MLB implemented this rule to prevent that from ever happening again.

How the infield fly works

To get a better understanding of this rule, let’s take a look at a specific situation. 

The Orioles are up to-bat in the bottom of the 8th inning. The score is 7-6, with the visiting Braves winning. The Orioles have runners on first and second with one out. The batter hits a sky-high fly ball to the shortstop. The SS eases his way under the fly ball. At this point, the umpire will signal the ball as an infield fly. 

The umpire made sure all the requirements were met before making the call. Once he makes this call, the batter is automatically out, whether the catch is made or not. Both runners at first and second will be forced to remain at their bases. 

If there was no infield fly rule, the shortstop could have let the ball drop and thrown it to 2nd and then to 1st for an easy double play. With one out in the inning, this would have gotten the Braves out of the inning while still having the lead. 

With it being so late in the game, this moment has the potential to decide the outcome of the game. Instead, the rule was established, and the Orioles had another chance to get a hit to tie the game.

This video can help give you a more visual understanding of this rule if you are having trouble with it.

Examples of the infield fly rule in action

The infield fly rule has been put into action many times since its establishment in the MLB. While it has paid off most times, it has also caused some controversy. 

While the rule states the ball must be hit in the infield, there is perhaps a gray area surrounding the rule. Many instances have seen fly balls hit into the shallow part of the outfield called infield fly’s. 

It is surely a tough call since many balls can change direction or distance while in the air. When put into action at the right time, it helps make the game more efficient and fair. The rule protects the runners and gives them a fair chance. 

Criticisms and controversies of the infield fly rule

As mentioned earlier, there is a bit of a gray area on the infield fly rule. It isn’t always an easy decision for an umpire to make. While the rule is a good one, it has created some bad situations. 

The most famous one is certainly one that will never be forgotten. On October 5th, 2012, the infield fly rule was implemented in quite possibly the worst moment. The Atlanta Braves were playing host to the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card playoff game. It is a win-or-go-home game. 

The Cardinals were up 6-3 in the bottom of the 8th inning. There was one out in the inning, and runners were on 1st and 2nd. A fly ball was hit high into the air toward the shortstop. However, the ball continued to drift and ended up nearly 50 feet into the outfield. 

A mix of miscommunication and a bad read led to the ball dropping without being caught. This was huge for the Braves because now they would have the bases loaded with one out. 

Hidden in the chaos, one of the umpires ruled the ball an infield fly. The call should have never been made since the ball was so deep into the outfield. However, the call was made, and it would now be two outs with runners on 1st and 2nd. 

Fans threw trash all over the field, and the game continued under protest by the Braves. The Cardinals went on to win the game 6-3, which ended the Braves season. This is a call that will go down in history. 

Unfortunately, this moment gave the rule a bad name. In such a big moment, it can be expected. However, the rule is and continues to be a good thing for the game of baseball. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What happens if you drop an infield fly rule?

Once a ball is ruled an infield fly, the batter is automatically out. It is irrelevant if the ball is caught or not at this point.

Can an infielder drop a ball on purpose?

There is no punishment for dropping a ball on purpose. It can even be done effectively if there is only one runner on base. However, dropping an infield fly on purpose does no good since the batter is already out. 

When can you run on an infield fly?

Runners still have the ability to advance on an infield fly. They must wait until the ball is caught to advance. It is the same situation as it would be if the runner were tagging up on a fly ball. This rarely happens.

What happens if an infield fly is not called?

If an infield fly is not called, the fielder would be able to drop the ball on purpose in order to attempt an easy double play. The umpires do a pretty good job of applying the rule when necessary.

When did the infield fly rule begin?

The infield fly rule began in 1895. The idea was created by the National League. The rule was a direct response to an ongoing issue of fielders purposefully dropping fly balls. The rule was and is always meant to protect the runners.

Conclusion

The infield fly rule is one that can fly under the radar or go unnoticed. It takes big moments like the 2012 Wild Card Game to truly bring it to light. After that moment, criticism of the rule was rampant. 

However, it was not the rule’s fault. It was the umpire’s bad call that created the situation. The infield fly rule is a healthy rule that protects base runners from intentional drops from the defense. Its creation has created a great thing for the game of baseball.

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