The infield fly rule in baseball forces the umpire to automatically call the batter out when a pop fly is hit under certain circumstances; this protects the offensive team and the runners on base. The rule was introduced in Major League Baseball in 1895. Prior to that time, infielders would intentionally let pop-ups hit the ground in order to turn double plays on runners unsure whether to run or stay on base. In order to take this gamesmanship out of baseball, the leaders of the game came up with the infield fly rule.
Infield Fly Basics
The umpire must make an immediate judgment when a pop-up is hit. If the pop-up is judged as routine, there is a force play at third base or home plate and there are no outs or one out, the umpire loudly declares “batter’s out, infield fly.” That call immediately removes the force play that would be in effect if the ball is not caught. Even if the ball hits the ground, the batter is still out. Once the ball is caught or the ball hits the ground, the runners can stay where they are, or they can tag up and advance at their own risk.
The infield fly rule is not called on line drives or on bunts. It does not apply to foul balls. It is called when the umpire believes the pop-up will result in a routine catch by the infielder. Routine is the key word, because if the infielder has to sprint to catch a pop-up in center field, it is not routine. However, a second baseman who drops back slowly to short right field (without turning his back on the infield) can still catch an infield fly. An outfielder can also call off the infielder in the vicinity of the infield and catch the routine fly, provided the infield fly rule is already called.
The use of the infield fly rule in youth baseball should be quite limited. It should not be considered for use in games involving players who are nine years old or younger, because catching a pop-up is not routine for many youngsters who are just learning to play.
About this Author
Steve Silverman is an award-winning writer, covering sports since 1980. Silverman authored The Minnesota Vikings: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly and Who’s Better, Who’s Best in Football — The Top 60 Players of All-Time, among others, and placed in the Pro Football Writers of America awards three times. Silverman holds a Master of Science in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism.