August 22, 2023

The Various Layers of the Infield Fly Rule

The most least understood rule among the big league players

The Various Layers of the Infield Fly Rule

The Rockies and Dodgers played at Dodger Stadium on August 13, 2023. In the bottom of the second inning, the Dodgers had the bases loaded and one out when Miguel Rojas, facing Kyle Freeland, hit a routine pop fly to Brendan Rodgers. The umpires invoked the Infield Fly Rule. The Rockies’ second baseman was blinded by the sun and the ball fell to the ground.

Max Muncy, the runner on third, alertly dashed home on the play and scored.

Was the ball dead when the IFR was called?

If the ball was kept in play, did Muncy have to tag-up from third base?

Ruleball Comments

  1. When the IFR is called, the ball remains alive and in play. The 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.”
  2. If an outfielder catches a ball that can be caught by ordinary effort by an infielder, the IFR can be invoked.
  3. Runners only have to tag up if the ball is caught. This can happen if the ball is hit into the short outfield.
  4. In the above play, Muncy had a good read and played it well. There was no reason for him to be in a tag-up position because if the ball was caught, he was not able to advance home anyway. In the video below, you can see the actions of Muncy.
  5. Wind, rain, and weather conditions are factors that umpires must consider when deciding not to invoke the IFR. The sun is not a factor. Runners and base coaches should be aware of this.
  6. When the IFR is invoked and the ball is not caught, any runner who attempts to advance must be tagged because the force is eliminated once the batter (Rojas) is called out. If the ball is not caught, runners are not required to tag-up.
  7. For the IFR to be invoked the batter must hit a fair ball. If a batter hits a fly ball in the infield that settles into foul territory untouched, it’s a foul ball.
  8. The ball remains live when the rule is invoked. If a runner interferes with a fielder who is in the process of making a catch of a fair ball, both the batter-runner and the runner who interfered are called out. If the runner interferes when the IFR is called, but the ball is eventually caught in foul territory, or rolls in foul territory, the runner is out for interference, but the batter remains at bat. Take the following play.

On August 26, 2012, 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 subsequently ruled the ball was never touched by Brantly and was a foul ball. Therefore, Ethier was called out for runner interference, but Cruz remained at bat because the foul ball nullified the IFR.

Perhaps the most controversial IFR call in post-season history occurred in the first Wild Card playoff when the Atlanta Braves hosted the St. Louis Cardinals on October 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. 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 Infield Fly rule 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 runners were allowed to stay on second and third with two outs because runners can run at their own risk when the call is made. If the ball is caught, they must tag-up like any other fly ball.   The Braves never scored that inning and lost the contest, 6-3 ending their season.

Braves manager Fredi González argued to 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.

Ruleball Comments

  1. By rule, the umpires can be supported in their ruling because Kozma was camped under the ball and it appeared to be an “ordinary effort” play. González argued the runners did not need the protection afforded by the IFR because the ball was hit in the mid-outfield, a good distance from the infield.  González had a good argument. The farther out a ball is hit, the runners need less protection. It’s only common sense.
  2. In IFR situations, runners should get off the bag a proper distance so they can advance a base or return safely to the base they occupied in case the ball falls to the ground or if the ball is hit into the mid-outfield. This way they are protected whether or not the IFR is invoked.
  3. The batter-runner should keep running hard to avoid a double play or triple play if the rule is not invoked.  
  4. Defensive players must be aware that if runners advance, it is a tag play because the batter-runner is out and there is no force.
  5. Runners must be aware that they are NEVER forced to run if the IFR is invoked and the ball is not caught.

Rich Marazzi

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

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