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The infield fly rule takes effect on a fair fly ball that, in the judgment of the umpire, can be caught by an infielder, pitcher, or catcher with ordinary effort and when there are runners on first and second or first, second, and third and less than two outs. Line drives and bunts do not apply to this rule.
Perhaps the most misunderstood rule in baseball is the infield fly rule. 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 by Major League Baseball 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. In the instance that an infield fly is called, the batter is out, and the ball remains “live”, regardless of if it is caught or not. Therefore, baserunners are allowed to advance (at their own risk) seeing that the ball either hits the ground or the runner tags up once the ball is caught.
The main concept of the batter being called out on an infield fly rule is to protect runners on base against a team allowing a shallow fly ball to drop in with the intention of causing a force play that would not occur if the ball were caught in the air. In the instance of a shift put on by players in the field, any player who positions themselves on the infield on the play will be considered infielders if the situation occurs where this rule must be called. 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.
If there were just a runner on first the only advantage the defensive team would have by letting the ball drop is to get the lead runner out at second. With at least two runners on base subject to a “force play”, the defensive team could potentially record multiple outs, which is what the rule aims to stop.
Due to the infield fly rule being a judgement call by the umpire, it may be called differently depending on game conditions and of course, the umpire that is calling the game. The umpire understands to make the call immediately once they determine the play meets the criteria of the rule, based solely on their judgement.
On a caught infield fly, runners must tag up in order to advance to the next base. This 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.
No, a line drive cannot be ruled an infield fly. However, there is another rule in place to ensure that a fielder may not intentionally drop any ball hit in the air to gain a defensive advantage by not catching it; this includes line drives. Therefore, a line drive will not be called an infield fly in any situation.
Regardless of if the ball is caught or not, once the umpire calls infield fly, the batter is out. The ball is still live and base runners are allowed to advance at their own risk. However, there is no longer a force play on the runner(s) and fielders must now tag them out instead of just touching the base.
The infield fly rule ONLY applies to a fair ball. If the ball is dropped or caught in foul territory it is not an infield fly. In the instance a ball appears to be fair and the umpire calls infield fly, once it drifts into foul territory at all, caught or not, it is no longer an infield fly.
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