The Infield Fly Rule is an easy rule to understand if you can remember the purpose of the rule.
Rule 2.00 defines the Infield Fly as, “a fair fly ball (not including a line drive or a 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 stationed in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.” It goes on to state that “[t]he ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of being caught or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul ball.”
Here are the key elements in understanding the Infield Fly Rule:
1) There must be less than 2 outs;
2) There must be runners on first and second OR first, second, and third;
3) The fly ball cannot be a bunt or a line drive;
4) An infielder must be able to catch the ball with ordinary effort.
The purpose of the rule is to protect the runners on base. This rule IS NOT supposed to be a free gift to the defense. The batter is ruled out so the runners are no longer forced to advance if the ball falls untouched. Without this rule, the defense could allow the ball to fall untouched to the ground and turn an easy double-play because the runners have to tag up for the fly ball.
The reason there has to be runners on first and second or first, second, and third, is because there must be at least two runners on base subject to a “force play.” Otherwise, the defense can gain no advantage by allowing the ball to drop. Also, there must be less than two outs, or it would be just as easy to catch the fly ball as let it drop and get the force out.
To determine whether a fly ball should be called an Infield Fly, remember the purpose of the rule. If, in an “Infield Fly situation” a fielder can allow a fly ball to drop untouched and possibly turn an easy double-play, then the batter should be called out. If the fly ball is in an area that would not allow for an easy double-play, then odds are good that the Infield Fly should not be called. However, in those grey areas where there is doubt one way or the other, a good umpire will protect the runners and call the batter out.
Here is an example of a fly ball in the infield where the Infield Fly Rule should NOT be applied:
Runners on first and second and no outs. Left-handed pull batter at the plate. Defensive coach puts on shift placing all infielders and outfielders to the first base side of second base. Batter hits shallow pop up that will land in fair territory near third base. As no fielder could possibly make a play on this ball, let alone allow it to drop and turn a double-play, this should not be called an Infield Fly. However, if all players are stationed in their normal playing positions, then this should be called an Infield Fly.
Often times, the manager arguing that the Infield Fly should be called is the manager of the defense wanting the free out after a ball dropped and runners advanced. This is a poor argument because the rule, as stated before, is designed to protect the runners, not to give a free out. If the batted ball truly should be called an Infield Fly, then the defense should be able to catch the ball easily and, if not, should be able to get at least one if not two outs.
The Infield Fly only calls the batter out. It does NOT create a dead-ball situation. Runners are allowed to advance at their own jeopardy the same as any other fly ball. If caught, the runners must re-touch the base or risk being called out on appeal. If uncaught, the runners may run or choose to stay on their base, but if they run they have to be tagged out as they are no longer forced to run.
It should also be pointed out that, under Rule 7.08(f), if a runner is touching the base and is hit by a batted ball in an Infield Fly situation, the runner shall NOT be called out. This is the only instance where a runner is protected from being called out for being hit by a fair batted ball.