The infield fly rule in baseball and softball prevents fielders from intentionally dropping a pop fly to get more than one out. The rule applies with runners on first and second or all three bases and is necessary to prevent confusion for runners and reward for fielders. The rule applies beyond the infield area if an infielder could have caught the ball with normal effort. Exceptions include bunts, line drives, and foul balls. The rule does not apply with two outs, one runner on base, or runners on first and third.
The inside fly rule in baseball and softball prevents a player from intentionally dropping or not catching a pop fly in certain situations to get two or three outs instead of one. This rule applies only when there is no more than one out and only with runners on first and second, or all three bases. When a batter hits an infield fly in fair territory in the infield in one of these situations, the plate umpire immediately rules that it is an infield fly, the batter is out, and runners may return to their base or try to reach the next. If this rule did not exist, a fielder could intentionally drop the ball or not catch it, then easily get more than one out by tagging or forcing runners out before they can reach the next base.
Why does the rule exist?
In baseball and softball, when a fly ball is caught in the air, all runners must return to their base before attempting to advance. If a batted ball is not caught in the air, a runner must reach the next base before being tagged out or put out, unless there was a runner on the previous base. When the previous base is unoccupied, the runner shall not advance. These situations are why the Domestic Flight Rule is necessary and only applies under certain conditions.
Without the rule, runners wouldn’t know whether to return to base or run to the next base until they saw if the ball was caught. By then, they probably wouldn’t have had enough time to get to the base safely. Additionally, fielders would be rewarded for dropping the ball or fooling runners into thinking it was caught, because they could more easily convert a double play or even a triple play. In the late 1800s, during baseball’s early years, fielders started doing this to turn plays, so the rule was created.
Where the rule applies
Despite its name, the infield fly rule sometimes applies when the ball is hit beyond the infield area, because there is no predetermined area that the infield fly must hit in order for an infield fly to be called, except in good territory. If, in the judgment of the home plate umpire, an infielder could have caught the ball in fair territory—even in the outfield—with normal effort, he may be considered an infield fly. So, for example, if a shortstop could easily catch a pop fly into shallow left field, the umpire might call it an infield fly, even if an outfielder eventually catches the ball. Similarly, even if an outfielder enters the field and catches a pop fly to the infield, he may still be considered an infield fly.
Exceptions to the rule
Not all balls that are hit in the air in the infield fall under the infield fly rule, even if the other criteria are met. A bunt — essentially, when the batter holds out the bat instead of swinging it at the ball — that is pitched in the air is not an infield fly. Line drives also do not fall under this rule. Also, the rule does not apply when the ball is hit in foul territory, unless the ball hits the ground and bounces or rolls into fair territory before passing first or third base. If the fly ball hits the ground in fair territory and then bounces or fouls before passing a base, then it is simply a foul ball and the batter is not out.
Situations that do not apply
There is no need for the infield rule when there are two outs, because there is no incentive for the fielder not to catch the ball – that would be the third out, which ends the inning. The rule also does not apply when there is only one runner on base, because the batter should be able to run to first base before the fielders can complete a double play after missing the fly ball. It also does not apply when there are runners on first and third, because there are no runners on second base, so the runner on third is not required to advance on a batted ball that is not caught in the air.