The Infield Fly Rule: Explained By An Umpire

In 2012, the infield fly rule was thrown back in the spotlight by baseball analysts after the National League Wild Card game between the Cardinals and Braves. Many said that umpire Sam Holbrook’s ruling of an infield fly was erroneous, and that it cost the Braves their season. The fans at Turner Field threw drinks and trash onto the field in protest, and caused a near 20-minute delay. The kicker to the situation, in hindsight, is that while Holbrook was a bit late in signalling the call, he applied the rule correctly. 

As an umpire who has worked high school baseball and competitive travel ball tournaments for years, I have applied the infield fly countless times. This is how I came to fully understand the infield fly rule and learned how to apply it properly. I take pride in fully understanding the rules of the game in both the Official Baseball Rules (OBR) and National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rule sets. 

What is an infield fly?

In NFHS, the infield fly is defined as the following: “An infield fly is a fair fly (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, (rule does not preclude from being allowed to attempt to make the catch) and provided the hit is made before two are out and at a time when first or second or all bases are occupied.” NFHS 2-19

OBR states the same rule in 2.00: “An infield fly is a fair fly ball [not including a line drive nor an 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.”

Reading the definition of the infield fly rule straight from the rules book, one can clearly see where the issue can arise. Ninety-nine percent of infield fly rule applications are standard, non-controversial situations. However, the “ordinary effort by an infielder” portion of the rule ia.

Going back to the situation in the game between the Cardinals and Braves in 2012, the cause of the controversy was that exact portion of the rule. Also, many forget that the infielder does not need to be in the infield nor does an infielder even need to attempt to make the catch for the infield fly rule to be applied.

So what defines ordinary effort?

Essentially, if an infielder can in the judgement of the umpire make the catch without making a spectacular play. Examples of a spectacular play would be an infielder sprinting towards the ball in an attempt to make the catch, catching it over his shoulder with his back towards home plate, diving to catch the ball, etc. If an infielder is camped under the pop fly or jogging/stepping backwards while facing the infield this would be considered an infield fly and the rule should be applied. Also, there is a misconception as well that the infielder must be camped under it for the rule to be applied; this is not true. Remember, the rule is in place to protect the offense from the defense letting the ball intentionally drop and turning a double or even a triple play.

The biggest issues I have had with the infield fly while on the field are coaches complaining about the infielder being in the outfield grass or not being camped under the pop fly. While I attempt to educate the coaches on the exact terminology of the rule, some are so confused with “infield” being the name of the rule they forget or ignore what the rule actually states.

Coaches should have a copy of the rule book which their league plays under, and parents should be informed of the rules as well. The infield fly rule can lead to controversy, but with all of the information above, you can make informed contributions to the situation. 

infield fly

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16 Responses

  1. Unfortunately, your explanation of the rule citing NFHS is incorrect. I am sure it is just a typo on your end. In your explanation above while citing NFHS states “…the hit is made before two are out and at a time when first or second or all bases are occupied.” This is not correct. It is when first AND second, or all bases are occupied. Your “or” in the above should be an “AND.”

    1. Probably it was a typo. The rule applies when it’s a forced out situation and the runners must run.

    2. I don’t think it’s so helpful because I’m just want to know what the infield fly rule is and I want to know why it is called

  2. It should also be pointed out that the infield fly rule applies to everyone playing the infield/infield positions. This also includes “outfielders.”

    1. If there were just a runner on first the only advantage the defensive team would have by letting the ball drop is to get the lead runner out at second so no need for the rule to be used .

      1. not if the batter is particularly slow and or gives up his run expecting the infielder to catch the ball… the runner on first takes a few steps off the bag towards 2nd nut then expects the ball to be caught also… but.. the infielder(first baseman purposely drops it… steps on first and gets the runner out and thevrunner who was two steps off first cant get back so he tries to run to second but gets caught in a “rundown” eventually being tagged out… in this game im referencing the umps let the double play stand… but i dont think they should have… its on you tube.. real game, real umps.. but apparently only SOME of the rules… 😅🤣

        1. The point is that in a situation where there isn’t a force out (runner on 2nd/3rd only), the runner doesn’t have to go. He shouldn’t think there’s a possibility to drop an easy fly in the infield and take the next base. Or if he’s on first and will have to move when the hitter takes first base, if the fielder drops it on purpose there isn’t a way to turn a double play. The hitter will have already gotten to first, and the runner who didn’t go thinking it would be caught would be out at second. In that case, either way, if he catches it then the hitter is out and the runner stayed at first, there’s a guy on first with an out now. If the fielder drops it on purpose and first base didn’t run to second, there’s an out at second if the fielder throws there. Same result, there’s a runner at first (the hitter this time) with one out recorded. There’s no benefit to the defense in that case and it’s actually a liability because there actually is a chance for first base runner to make it to second and have two runners with no out recorded. There has to be a benefit to the defense of a double or triple play in order for the rule to be called.

  3. So the infield fly rule doesn’t apply with runners on first and third and there are less than 2 outs?

    1. The rule states it must be a fair ball, so no, there would be no out. The ump would simply call foul ball and that negates his earlier call of infield fly.

  4. If there is only a runner on first and there is a pop-up to the shortstop couldn’t he let the ball drop on purpose and play it like a typical ground ball 6-4-3 double play?

  5. Poster defines which hits can be called infield fly, but does not define that it means the batter is out, nor the rights of base runners. You need to convey the rest of the rule regarding infield fly.

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