Hey guys! Welcome to Ropsport.com. I’m your host, and this week’s Baseball Basics is a doozy.
This one comes by request, and it is probably one of the most… kind of contentious, weird, hard to explain, and hard to grasp rules in baseball. So I think this will be a popular one, and I hope it helps explain things for you guys, but it is a tough role to explain, and it’s even harder to kind of pinpoint in a game, so be aware.
Yes, that’s right, this week we’re talking about the infield fly rule. At its most basic level, the infield fly rule assumes that a ball will be caught even if the infielder fails to catch it, or drops it on purpose. So with the infield fly rule, the umpire is going to rule a batter out regardless of whether or not the infielder catches that fly ball or not. “But Ashley!” you might be asking yourself” How can you rule a batter out if the ball isn’t caught?” Let me tell you because I’m glad you asked! The entire point of this rule is to prevent the defense from using the infield fly as an opportunity to induce a double or triple play.
So basically if they could easily catch it, but drop it instead so that they’re more readily able to throw out runners as they advance from the second to third, or first to second, etc, etc, etc, it’s meant to prevent that from happening. Basically keeping the defense for making multiple outs by intentionally dropping the ball. Still, confused? It’s okay, you’re not alone. So let’s get a little bit deeper into this.
When any ball is hit, the baserunners must make a decision whether or not they’re going to advance to the next base or stay put. In the case of a normal fair hit, the batter would then become a baserunner, and any runners who are already on base would need to advance to the next base. However, if it is caught the runners won’t advance, or will return to the base which they’ve previously held.
With the infield fly, the runners are at a much greater risk of being tagged out as they proceed to advance because if the ball drops it becomes a hit, and the runners must advance. Defensive players could let the ball drop to keep those runners live, and because of the position of the ball in the infield, it’s much easier than to throw the ball to the close bases: third, second, first, and get more runners out that way. Now the infield fly rule is not always in effect.
There are times when a ball will go up in the infield as a flyball but will not be ruled as a part of the infield fly rule. The only time the infield fly rule really takes effect is in positions where it benefits the defensive players on the team to not catch that ball. It only applies if there are fewer than two outs because if the team already has two outs they donated to induce a double or triple play, they only need one out to finish that inning. It also only takes effect if there’s a force play at third base. So for example if there are runners at first and second, or if the bases are loaded.
If one of those does not apply then the infield fly rule will not be in effect. A great example of this is actually a game in which Ian Kinsler was playing for the Detroit Tigers and DID intentionally let a ball fall, but because it didn’t meet the requirements for an infield fly rule, it is actually allowed to continue as a play. And I’m going to show a clip of that if I can. [Mario Impemba] Pops it up. To the grass. Oh, I lost it! Not going to matter. [Rod Allen] He wanted Rasmus off the basepaths, and he wanted White to be the base runner at first base, that’s why Ian Kinsler dropped that ball. Rasmus is a much faster baserunner than Tyler White, who popped that ball up. I mean there’s no question he just let this drop.
He very clearly allows the ball to drop, and his goal in doing that was to actually force the runner out at first because they wanted to get a worse runner onto the basepaths, basically. Because it doesn’t actually count towards the infield fly rule, it was allowed to stand and it’s actually an areally great example of a player understanding the nuances of the infield fly rule.
For him to choose to do that, he knew he wasn’t going to be in a penalty, so it’s actually an interesting example that I like to use where it looks like something that would follow the infield fly rule but the infield fly rule does not apply there. So the umpire will declare an infield fly rule in effect as soon as the ball is hit, by lifting his right arm with an index finger pointed straight out and this indicates that the infield fly rule is in effect and the batter is already out.
The batter is out regardless of whether or not the ball is caught and all of the runners must advance. If the ball is dropped the runners are not required to advance, but they can if they want, they’re just putting themselves at risk of being tagged out in that case. And that, my friends, is the infield fly rule. It’s still a very perplexing and confusing rule, and I understand that it is kind of one of those ones that are really hard to grasp. I hope this helped explain it a little bit better, and that next time you see an infield fly go up you’ll look at the bases see how many outs there are, see how many runners there are, and where they’re located and be able to determine if you think the infield fly rule would apply before the umpire even calls it.
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