Infield Fly Rule Explained
The infield fly rule is perhaps the most misunderstood rule in baseball. Understandably, the rule can be a little confusing since it is ultimately left to the discretion of the umpire as to when it is applied. Designed to ensure good sportsmanship and fair play during the course of a game, the rule deals with those strategies that undermine the game and create unfair (if not altogether shady) advantages.
Added in 1895, the rule was established to prevent infielders from intentionally dropping pop-up fly balls and then using the strategy to force out runners who were on base but unable to run while the ball was in the air. The addition of the infield fly rule was seen as a way to promote talent and skill rather than the use of technicalities.
When does the Infield Fly Rule Apply?
For the infield fly rule to be invoked, there must be fewer than two outs and there must be a force play at third base (bases loaded or at least runners on first and second base). Without these two requirements, the rule will not be applied. The infield fly rule is not in effect if there is a runner on first base only.
Basically, any fair fly ball that could have been caught by an infielder with ordinary effort is covered by the rule, regardless of where the ball was caught. The ball does not need to be caught by an infielder, nor must it be caught in the infield. In fact, the ball does not need to be caught at all. Once the umpire makes the call, the batter is out. If an infielder moves into the outfield to catch the ball or if an outfielder moves into the infield area and ultimately catches the ball in flight, the rule applies at the umpire's discretion. The infield fly rule does not apply to line drives or bunts.
The main thing to remember is that the rule is a judgment call made by the umpire. If the umpire determines that a player can make the catch with ordinary effort, then the rule can be applied. The umpire is required to yell "Infield fly, if fair" and will typically raise one arm straight up to signal to everyone that the rule is in effect. If the umpire believes the catch is a sure thing, he can call the play as an infield fly and declare the batter out, even if the ball was not caught.
On a caught infield fly, runners must re-touch (or "tag up") in order to advance to the next base. This portion of the rule applies the same as with any catch. If the infield fly falls to fair ground untouched, or is touched and dropped, runners do not need to tag-up. However, since the batter is out, the force play on the other runners is removed.