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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The Infield Fly Rule in baseball (in Major League Baseball, rule 6.05e, coupled with the definition in rule section 2.00) is intended to prevent unfair gamesmanship by the fielders that would result in an easy double play or triple play.


The rule

The infield fly rule applies only when there are fewer than two outs, and there is a force play at third or home. In these situations, if a fair fly ball is a hit that, in the umpire's judgment, is catchable by an infielder with ordinary effort, the batter is out regardless of whether the ball is actually caught in flight. The rule states that the umpire is supposed to announce, "Infield fly, if fair." If the ball will be almost certainly fair, the umpire will likely yell, "Infield fly, batter's out!" or just "Batter's out!" Umpires also typically raise one arm straight up to signal to everyone that the rule is in effect.

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 is caught. The ball need not be caught by an infielder, nor must it be caught in the infield. For example, if an infielder retreats to the outfield in an effort to catch a fly ball with ordinary effort, the Infield Fly Rule would be invoked, even if an outfielder ultimately caught the ball, and even if no infielder attempted to make a play on the ball. Similarly, a fly ball within the infield that could have been caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, but is caught by an outfielder, would also be covered by the rule.

On a caught infield fly, a runner must tag up (i.e., retouch, at or after the time the fly ball is first touched by a fielder, the base the runner held at the time of pitch) to be eligible to advance, as on any catch. If the infield fly falls to fair ground untouched, or is touched and dropped, runners does not need to tag up. In either case, because the batter is out, the force play on runners is removed.

In the fifth game of the 2008 World Series, Pedro Feliz of the Philadelphia Phillies hit a pop-up to the right side of the infield with runners on first and second and one out, in strong rain and swirling winds at Citizens Bank Park against the Tampa Bay Rays, and the infield fly rule was not invoked. Umpiring crew chief Tim Tschida explained that "The infield fly rule requires the umpires' judgment to determine whether or not a ball can be caught with ordinary effort, and that includes wind" and that the umpire's determination was that in this case there was no infielder who could make the play with "ordinary effort."[1]


This rule was introduced in 1895 in response to infielders' intentionally dropping pop-ups to get multiple outs by forcing out the runners on base, who were pinned near their bases while the ball was in the air.[2] For example, with runners on first and second and fewer than two outs, a pop fly is hit to the third baseman. He intentionally allows the fly ball to drop, picks it up, touches third and then throws to second for a double play. Without the Infield Fly Rule it would be an easy double play because both runners will stay near their bases while determining if the ball will be caught.


Participants and fans sometimes misunderstand the infield fly rule. The infield fly rule is not in effect if there is a runner on first only, as the rule-makers assumed fielders would not gain a significant advantage by forcing out the runner rather than the batter; in either case, the net result would be one more out and a runner on first base. Also, an infield fly does not affect baserunners other than the batter, with the exception that a runner hit by an infield fly while standing on a base is not out for interference. Just like any other fly ball, if an infield fly is caught, runners must retouch (or "tag up") their time-of-pitch base before attempting to advance; if an infield fly is not properly caught, no tag up is required and the runners may try to advance.

The infield fly rule cannot be invoked on line drives or bunts; also, the infield fly rule is not intended to cover all situations where the defense may wish to allow a fly ball to drop uncaught. For example, with just a runner on first, an alert infielder might intentionally allow a pop-up drop to the ground and get the force at second, if it happens that the runner on first is faster afoot than the batter-runner is, or if the batter is loafing on his way to first base. This is only legal if the fielder lets the ball hit the ground untouched, which carries some risk to the fielder as it might bounce away from him. However, in all situations where the infield fly rule does not apply, a different rule (6.05l) prevents fielders from touching a catchable ball and dropping it intentionally in an attempt to turn a double or triple play.

The Infield Fly Rule and legal theory

The infield fly rule was the subject of one of the most clever and widely cited articles in U.S. legal history. William S. Stevens was a law student in 1975 when he anonymously published “The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule” in the Univ. of Pennsylvania Law Review.[3] The article was humorous but also insightful on how common law related to codified regulation of behavior. It has been cited in numerous legal decisions and in subsequent literature.[4]

Game theory of the Infield Fly Rule

In order to understand the impact of the infield fly rule it is necessary to consider how the game would be affected if the rule were not in place. In those situations where the rule is in effect, a zero-sum game-within-the-game ensues and this game can be analyzed to find the optimal strategy. This analysis has been carried out by Jeff Ely, a game theorist and author of the blog Cheap Talk.[5]

Interestingly, even without the Infield Fly rule, it is occasionally possible that best play by the team on offense can avoid a double play and in fact ensure that the result is exactly the same as if the rule were in effect. This is true under any circumstance whereby the batter is able to overtake a baserunner before a force play is executed (even when bases are loaded). The batter can run to first base and stand there, while all other baserunners stay where they are. If the fielder allows the ball to drop, then the moment the ball touches the ground, the batter can advance toward second base, passing the runner who is standing on first and causing himself, the batter, to be called out, according to rule 7.08H. And according to rule 7.08C, this nullifies the force so that all the baserunners can stay where they are, leaving the bases loaded.

Potential unassisted, untouched, triple play

Among the many unlikely but bizarre scenarios that involve the Infield Fly Rule, in the April 6 2009 issue of Newsweek, George Will has postulated an "Unassisted, Untouched" Triple Play. In this scenario, there are runners on first and second. The Infield Fly Rule is invoked so the batter is out. The runner on first base advances to second and continues, passing the runner on second, making him automatically out. Finally, the pop-up drops and hits the runner on second base, making this the third out. All of this happens without a single defensive player touching the ball.

The bizarre twist to this is how it would be scored. In the case of an infield fly rule, the official scorer decides which fielder was most likely to have caught the ball, and assigns the first out to that player. The out for passing a runner is assigned to the closest fielder, as is the third out for being hit by the ball. It is quite possible in such a scenario that the same fielder would be given credit for all three outs, most likely the shortstop or second baseman.

A "Judgment Call"

In the official Major League Baseball rulebook, the infield fly rule is considered a judgment call, which means that the judgment of the umpire must govern. It also states that the rule is called immediately and is solely based on the umpire’s discretion. (1) The umpire must determine whether or not the ball is able to be caught with an “ordinary effort” of an infielder. Since different umpires may have different definitions of “ordinary effort,” the rule can be implemented differently depending on the acting umpire and the umpire's “judgment” in a given situation. (2) This is not an appeal play, meaning that the umpire has the only say in the matter and the umpire’s discretion is the sole factor in determining whether the hit ball is an “infield fly”. (1) The fact that different umpires can have different interpretations of “ordinary effort” and that the rule is called on the sole basis of an umpire’s discretion makes the infield fly rule a “judgment call.” (2)


  1. ^ Sheehan, Joe. "Unconventional Thinking: MLB makes right decision to cancel", CNN Sports Illustrated, October 28, 2008. Accessed October 29, 2008.
  2. ^ Marazzi, Rich. "Baseball rules corner: many players unaware of tag requirements when Infield Fly rule is called", Baseball Digest, January 2004. Accessed September 30, 2007. "The batter is automatically declared out, but the runners may attempt to advance at their own risk. The purpose of the rule that was instituted in 1895 is to protect runners from deceitful acts by members of the defense."
  3. ^ "Aside, The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule," anonymous, 123 Univ. Penn. Law Review 1474 (1975).
  4. ^ E.g., "The Contribution of the Infield Fly Rule to Western Civilization (and vice versa)," Anthony D'Amato, Northwestern University Law Review, Vol. 100, No. 1 (2005)
  5. ^ Minimax Solution of the Infield Fly, [1].


(1) and (2)



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