April 16, 2024

The Many Layers of the Infield Fly Rule

The Infield Fly Rule that has more layers than an onion

The Many Layers of the Infield Fly Rule

The A’s and Rangers played at Globe Life Field on April 11, 2024. In the bottom of the seventh, the Rangers had Adolis Garcia on second and Jonah Heim on first and one out when Jared Walsh hit a fly ball in the area of the pitcher’s mound. Several A’s converged on the ball. A’s second baseman Zack Gelof dove for the ball but failed to make a catch. Instead, the ball deflected off Gelof into the direction of pitcher Austin Adams. The A’s right hander tossed to third baseman Abraham Toro who tagged the base and then threw to shortstop Darell Hernaiz covering second for an inning-ending double play.

Should the Infield Fly Rule have been called? The no call proved critical as the A’s won the game, 1-0.

Ruleball Comments

  1. The IFR rule reads, “An Infield Fly is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive or attempted bunt), which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.” When the IFR is called, the ball remains alive and in play.
  2. The purpose of the rule is to protect the runners from deceitful acts on the part of defensive players that could lead to a double play or triple play. For instance, a fielder could intentionally drop a fly ball or allow a fly ball to drop untouched that can lead to confusion for frozen runners.
  3. In the above play, the umpires had to rule that the fly ball did not meet the ordinary effort requirement, for any of the A’s infielders which is judgment. But if you watch the videos closely, second base umpire Tom Hanahan was about to signal “Infield Fly.” Apparently, by his actions, Hanahan, the second base umpire, ascertained that the rule should have been invoked. 
  4. I was not on the field or in the ballpark, but in my opinion because of the arc and hang time of the ball, one of the infielders, including the pitcher who is an infielder, should have been able to play the ball with ordinary effort. From what I can see I would have erred on the side of caution and invoked the IFR since the primary objective of the rule is to protect the runners. I think the second baseman slowed to avoid a collision with the pitcher.
  5. Rangers’ manager Bruce Bochy discussed the no call with plate umpire David Arrieta, but the play stood. “Arrieta brought up the ordinary effort part,” said Bochy. “What I didn’t see is the second base umpire pointed and then put his hand down. He’s gotta step up and admit what he did.”
  6. If the IFR is invoked and a fielder intentionally drops the ball, with less than two outs, the batter-runner is out, and the ball is dead per rule 5.09 (a) (12).  In the above play I don’t think Gelof intentionally dropped the ball thinking the IFR would be called. Again, that would be umpire judgment.
  7. In non- IFR situations, the umpires can also invoke 5.09 (a) (12) if they judge that an infielder intentionally drops a line drive or fly ball with runners on base. The umpires should kill the play and call the batter out. No runners can advance on the play.
  8. Wind and other weather conditions can be factors why umpires will not invoke the IFR rule, but sun is not a reason. If a fielder is blinded by the sun, the IFR can still be imposed.
  9. When the IFR is invoked, runners are not forced to advance whether or not the ball is caught because the batter-runner is automatically out. Because the batter-runner is out, he never occupies first base which creates the force.
  10. Runners only need to tag-up if the fly ball is caught. If the IFR is called, and the ball is not caught, runners can advance at their owns risk without tagging-up.
  11. If there is a play made on a runner, the runner must be tagged because the IFR  as stated above, is a non-force situation. Look at it as a caught fly ball
  12. The rule can only be invoked when the batter hits a fair ball. Take the following play that occurred at Dodger Stadium on Aug. 26, 2012, when the Dodgers hosted the Marlins. In the bottom of the seventh, the Dodgers had Adrian Gonzalez on second and Andre Ethier on first and one out when Luis Cruz hit a pop-fly half-way between home and first base. The umps properly declared, “Infield Fly if fair” since the flight of the ball was over the first base foul line.
    • As first baseman Carlos Lee ran in to make the catch, he collided with Ethier, who was off the base and floating in the direction of first base. Because Ethier impeded Lee, first base umpire Todd Tichnor immediately called Ethier out for interference by properly pointing to him. Tichnor also raised his fist indicating the Infield Fly rule was in order.
    • When Cruz’s fly ball hit the ground, it rolled away from Marlins’ catcher Rob Brantly into foul territory. Replays were not clear whether or not the ball grazed off the shinguard of Brantly on fair territory. If it did, it would have been a fair ball and Cruz would also have been out. But the umps ruled the ball was never touched by Brantly.
    • The ball was recovered in foul territory by Marlins’ pitcher Chad Gaudin. Thinking the ball was live, he flipped it to second baseman Donovan Solano covering first. Meanwhile, Ethier ran to second and Gonzalez, the runner on second, seeing that “Time” was never called and noticing Ethier was on the way to second, took off to third. Solano ran the ball across the infield and threw to third baseman Greg Dobbs who tagged Gonzalez. Third base umpire Bob Davidson called Gonzalez out.
    • Mass confusion!
    • Dodgers’ manager Don Mattingly came out and argued the play. The umps huddled for several minutes and correctly decided that Ethier was out for interfering with Lee. They correctly allowed Gonzalez to remain on second because the play should have been ruled dead the moment Ethier interfered with Lee. And they allowed Cruz to remain at bat since he hit a foul ball.
  13. Perhaps the most controversial IFR call in post-season history occurred in the first Wild Card playoff when the Braves hosted the Cardinals on Oct. 5, 2012. The Braves, trailing 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth, had runners on first and second with one out when Andrelton Simmons lofted a fly ball into short left field. Cardinals’ shortstop Pete Kozma appeared to be camped under the ball in full body control while left fielder Matt Holliday was charging in at the same time. It looked like an ordinary effort play for an infielder. But the ball fell to the ground untouched. Kozma later said that crowd noise was a factor in not making the catch.
    • The runners on first and second easily advanced a base and Simmons ended up on first. It appeared that the Braves had the bases loaded with one out. But left field umpire Sam Holbrook had invoked the IFR based on the language in the rule that allows the umpires to make the call if they judge that a fair fly ball can be caught with ordinary effort by a major league infielder. Because the rule was invoked, the batter (Simmons) was called out. The Braves now had runners on second and third with two outs and never scored that inning. They lost the contest, 6-3 ending their season.
    • Braves manager Fredi González argued the call to no avail and protested the game. The umpires checked with MLB officials who supported the call on the field.
    • The home Atlanta fans became angry and littered the field with debris and things got ugly. The umpires cleared the players from the field.  Umpire Jeff Nelson was hit with a miniature whiskey bottle.

If there’s a lesson to be learned from this play, when the IFR may possibly be called, the farther out the infielders must go to make the catch, the runners on base should be far enough off their base to advance to the next base, in case the ball is not caught-and yet they should be close enough to return to the base they occupied at the time the pitch was delivered if the ball is caught. The Braves’ runners did a good job advancing on the play.   

Also, it is my opinion that umpires should take into consideration the distance a fielder must travel to make the play. The farther away from the infield, the less protection the runners need.

Rich Marazzi

Rules consultant/analyst:  Angels, D’backs, Dodgers, Mets, Nationals, Orioles, Padres, Phillies, Pirates, Red Sox, Rangers, Royals, Tigers, Twins, White Sox, Yankees, YES, and NBC Sports Chicago. 



From the Rulebook Comments above: If the IFR is invoked and a fielder intentionally drops the ball, with less than two outs, the batter-runner is out, and the ball is dead per rule 5.09 (a) (12). In the above play I don’t think Gelof intentionally dropped the ball thinking the IFR would be called. Again, that would be umpire judgment.

However, from the ORB, 2023 under “definition or terms”…..When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 5.09(a)(12). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

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