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Dropped Infield Fly – What Happens Next Is Anyone’s Guess

If you look up the word “chaos” in a dictionary you will find various definitions.  However, one common thread includes disorder or a state of utter confusion.

In the game of baseball, the term chaos is very simple…a dropped infield fly.

Picture this situation.

Bases loaded, none out.  Batter hits a high pop up to the area behind the pitcher.  The umpires clearly call out “infield fly, batter is out!”  The shortstop and second baseman cross their signals, bump, and the ball drops to the ground.  All of the fans of the team up to bat start screaming for the batter to run.  Of course the batter starts to run toward first base.  The runner on first, seeing the batter-runner advancing, starts toward 2nd base.  This domino effect continues until you have four runners running around the bases, a ball on the ground, and a lot of people yelling to run, or to tag the runner, or to go back.

The second baseman picks up the ball and races toward second base in an attempt to beat the runner.  The fielder touches the base just before the runner slides in.  No tag was attempted or made.  The base umpire calls the runner safe.  Now there has been a run scored, and there are runners standing on every base.

All of this occurs in about 10 seconds.

That is definitely something that I would consider chaotic.  I have seen this occur in local league play, as well as at higher levels of tournament play.

So what is an infield fly?  Think of the infield fly as a chain.  All of the links below must be in place for there to be an infield fly.  Remove any of these ‘links’, and the infield fly is not possible.

• Less than 2 out.
• Runners on 1st and 2nd base or runners at 1st, 2nd, and 3rd base.
• It must be a fair ball.
• The ball must be a fly ball…not a line drive, and it cannot be a bunted ball.
• The ball must be catchable with ordinary effort by an infielder.

Remember that when an infield fly situation is possible, the umpires working on the field should signal each other be aware of this potential.  This is done before the pitcher delivers the ball.  The signal is simply the right hand coming across and touching the lift side of the chest.  This is a great non-verbal way to communicate to your partner.

Once the ball is hit, the umpires have only a second or two to determine if all of these criteria have been met.  If they have, then the umpires should point into the air with their right hand, and declare “infield fly, the batter is out!”  This needs to occur when the ball is at its apex, or at its highest point.

As soon as that happens, the batter is out, even if the ball falls to the ground.  With the batter out, the force play is removed on all of the other runners on base.  Therefore, in order to put any runners out, they must be tagged while off of the base.  Simply tagging the base will not do.  If the ball is caught, the batter is still out, and runners have to tag up.

So this chaos is really caused when that ball drops to the ground.  People, forgetting that the umpires declared the batter out just moments earlier, see the ball touch the ground, and assume that the batter must run.  This creates this domino effect of runners running.  Because the batter-runner is running to first, a lot of people assume that there is still a force play.  This is incorrect.

I have seen umpires make two different mistakes in this situation.  First, they would incorrectly declare the runner at second base out on the force play, and second, they would allow the batter-runner to remain on first base.  It is critical to remember that the batter is out, no matter what happens to the ball, once an infield fly is declared.

The intent of the infield fly rule is to protect the offense from getting into a double or triple play.  It is not meant as a penalty to the batter, nor is it meant as an automatic out for the defense.

Remember that even the simplest of plays can create a chaotic event.  Understanding the rules and their intent is one way to help to keep chaos out of the equation.

Have a great season.

Stephen Meyer,
Little League Canada