Infield fly rule can be tricky call

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 14, 2005

Though it is only occasionally witnessed, baseball’s infield fly rule appears to run contrary to the logic of the game.

To recap, the rule may be called by any umpire when there are base runners on first, first and second or first, second and third. It also comes into play when there are less than two outs.

The rule was written in 1920. Prior to that time, when the above conditions existed, a fielder was able to intentionally drop a pop fly, thereby being able to force the runners at third and second because they had been forced to hold on their bases in order to not get caught off base when the fly ball was caught.

Email newsletter signup

The new rule basically said when an umpire invoked the rule, the batter was automatically out and the baserunners could advance at their own risk. With the batter out, there would be no force out so the base runners would not have to advance.

The reason I did a little research was because of a high school game I witnessed last week. With one out, the visiting team got runners to first and second base and were trailing 1-0.

The batter hit a high pop fly, which at first appeared to be in reach of the center fielder, who came running in calling for the ball. The strong wind, however, kept the ball drifting back toward the infield, and it ended up falling in on the edge of the infield grass.

The shortstop picked up the ball and threw to third, apparently forcing the runner who had been on second. The ball then went to second, forcing the runner from first.

Both runners had hesitated to advance, because it was obvious that the ball, if caught, would be close to the infield. Neither umpire had made a call, but after discussion they ruled that the infield fly rule should have been called and called the batter out, sending both base runners back to their bases.

The coach of the batting team was happy because it left the two runners on base and two outs. The other coach was unhappy since the double play would have ended the inning.

The question became moot when that coach’s team scored several runs in the bottom of that inning and went on to a comfortable win. I could find nothing that clarified the correctness of the late call.

If the infield fly rule is called but the ball then drops in foul territory, even though an umpire has ruled the batter out, all that is disregarded and the ball is treated as any other foul ball. If the ball is dropped or not caught, it is merely a strike on the batter and the base runners cannot be forced at the next base.

If the ball is caught in foul territory, the batter is out, and the runners can go at their own risk.

As many fans know, there are two sports in Alabama &045; football and spring football. That might not be as true as it was during Coach Bryant’s days, because it looks like the Tide has a good basketball team this year, and I think they have at least one NCAA baseball crown under their belt.

I say all this because several SEC teams have started having their spring scrimmages, and many SEC football officials and applicants are getting in their own spring practice.

And that’s official.

Al Graning is a former SEC official and former Natchez resident. Reach him at