Infield Fly Rule
(Keep in mitt for reference)

Essay by
Donald L. Franson
September 1986

(From a family letter in baseball season)

Rule: With one or none out, men on first and second or bases full. Batter hits pop-up, umpire runs out and calls infield fly; infielder can either catch it or not, but the batter is out and baserunners don't have to move.

Historical reason: In this situation, some smart-alec second baseman (possibly Johnny Evers [1883-1947; Chicago Cubs, Baseball Hall of Fame — RWF]) sees a chance to get a double play instead of a single out. So he drops the fly or catches it on the bounce, throws to third for the first out, then the third baseman throws to second for another out. Both of these are force-outs, as the runners have stuck close to their bases, waiting for the ball to be caught, since they would be easily doubled off by an infielder. There is no throw to first, as the batter is running and makes it before the ball is caught, if it's high enough; but that out is given up in exchange for the other two outs.

Why two men on base and no or one out: It wouldn't work with only one man on first, as there would be only one out made, whether it was a fly caught or a force-out. Since the object is turning a single out into a double play, it can't be applied with two outs [already]. Theoretically, if there were no outs, it could be a triple play: force out at home, third, and second; but I doubt this would beat the last runner.

Presumably in some ancient year there was a big flap about this: runner didn't know what to do, stay on the base or run; so they made this complex rule. [Implemented in 1895. — RWF]

As to a balk, I think it is to protect the runner from the hidden-ball trick. If the pitcher is on the rubber, he has to have the ball; so the first baseman doesn't have it, and the runner can take his lead. There is also not allowing false motions to first or home-plate without following through. This rule has been intensified in recent years, so I couldn't recognize it myself.

I used to have a complete rule book, back in Chicago [in the 1930s; probably Bob Elson's Major League Baseball; Facts and Figures and Official Rules — RWF]: a paperback about the size of TV Guide, but I don't have it now, this is all from memory.


© 1986 Donald L. Franson

Infield fly rule - Wikipedia

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