SITUATION - During a recent Orem Youth Baseball Open League 9U game there were runners on 1st and 2nd with one out. The batter hit a high pop fly that landed on the infield about 10 feet directly behind the second baseman. The field umpire (Michael Leavitt) called “Infield Fly - Batter Is Out!” at the peak of the flight of the ball as it was obviously not going to make it to the outfield and it was deemed a very catchable ball. The batter was called out and the runners advanced at their own risk as the ball hit the infield untouched.
COACH COMPLAINT - The Manager/Coach complained loudly throughout the following 15 minute period and incited the crowd to also continue to complain while the game continued. The ruling was originally explained to the Coach and he let it be known that , “I think your judgment sucks!” I listened to him 3 different times during the next 15 minutes during inning changes and he explained that he knew the rule and it stated the player must be “camped under the ball and easily able to make the catch.”
So what do the rules say? Does the coach have a right to question the call? Does the player have to be camped under the ball? Does the coach have the right to continue to loudly complain for over 15 minutes of game time and incite the crowd to also complain loudly? Was the play called correctly?
RULES - The infield fly rule is NOT waived for the Open League Monday night games. In fact, these teams are competition level and these teams have strong ball players. These are “Super League” caliber games and not to be considered beginners or part of an instructional league or division.
The “Official Rules of Major League Baseball” very clearly define the Infield Fly Rule in the Definitions of Terms (2010 PAGE 27)
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. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, if Fair.”
The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball 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.
If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly.
Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder—not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.
When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05(l). The infield fly rule takes precedence.
RULING ON THE FIELD - The Infield Fly Rule was called during the flight of the ball. The batter was called out. The ball hit the ground untouched and the runners advanced at their own risk.
HOW TO MAKE THE CALL - The Orem Youth Baseball umpire committee has taught that in the competition divisions (AA/Majors/Pony/Open League) the call is to be made at the peak of the flight of the ball to give everybody on the field the time to decide what they are going to do. This is best called by the plate umpire, but can also be called by the field umpire. Umpires have been advised to not wait for the ball to come down to the player/field level since competition players are deemed capable of making routine pop-fly catches. In the “AAA” instructional league a delayed call may be made due to player inexperience. The primary intent of the rule is to prevent the double and triple plays either by infielder trickery after intentionally dropping the ball, or because of tagging up confusion resulting in a dropped ball. The infield fly rule tells players to tag-up and then advance at their own risk.
INFIELD FLY BATTER OUT - This is called loudly so that the batter and infielders can hear the call if the ball is obviously going to be fair.
INFIELD FLY IF FAIR - This is called loudly so that the batter and infielders can hear the call if the ball will fall near the foul ball territory.
NOTE: The Infield Fly Rule is not use in the Rookie and Single A divisions.
RESULTS - The call was made correctly because the second baseman in the 9U Monday Night Open League is expected to be able to make routine pop fly catches. This is a competition league and his team was up 10-2 at the time the play was called. After watching the play roll forth it was obvious that the second baseman was not as proficient as the rest of his team as he made no effort to back up 5 steps and make the catch. Had this happened on the shortstop side I believe that it would have been a routine catch. As an umpire I had no way of knowing that the Coach was hiding a less capable player at second base in this competition league. The ball hit the ground 10 feet behind him with another 10 feet to the edge of the grass outfield.
WHAT I SHOULD HAVE CALLED? - In my opinion, the Infield Fly Rule was called correctly. The interaction with the Manager/Coach was not handled correctly. After reminding the Manager that the Infield Fly Rule is a judgment call on the part of the umpire and cannot be protested, a warning should have been issued regarding his conduct. In this case I gave no warning and instead tried to diffuse the situation with patience and understanding. This was my error because the Manager/Coach wouldn’t let it go. Had a warning been given during his first outbreak, then he could have been ejected for his actions. Giving a warning several minutes later would have really set off this particular situation. I erred in decision to try to diffuse the situation with calm patience. As a result of the lack of a formal warning the play festered and the fans were incited and it poisoned the rest of the game. I finally had to go to the manager/Coach and remind him that this game was for the second grade players on the field and that his outburst were both unprofessional and an inappropriate way for the coach or players to react in questioning a call. As I proceeded back towards my position he walked towards his fans and let out loudly, “We were better off without you on the field.”
WHAT I LEARNED - I kept my cool and made the correct call, but I will never let a coach get out of hand like that again. I was saddened to see that this is the way he coaches and it is teaching the 9 year old players that it is okay to disrespect the umpires long after a call is made. I did not mention earlier, but the plate umpire was officiating alone through the beginning of the second inning and the coaches were out of control when I came by the diamond and immediately offered to help so that some order could be restored.
OTHER IMPORTANT INFIELD FLY RULE DETAILS
BASE RUNNERS - When the infield fly is called, the other runners can try to advance just as they would on any fly ball. If the ball is caught, then the runners must tag up. If the ball is not caught, then the runners are not forced to tag up and they are not forced to run. Since the batter has been called out then they can stay at their base if the choose.
LINE DRIVES AND BUNTS - The infield fly rule does not apply to bunts or line drives.
INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALLS - See MLB 6.05l - This rule is separate and distinct from the Infield Fly Rule.
6.05l - A batter is out when an infielder intentionally drops a fair fly ball or line drive, with first, first and second, first and third, or first, second, and third base occupied before two are out. The ball is dead and runner or runners shall return to their original base or bases.
APPROVED RULING: In this situation, the batter is not out if the infielder permits the ball to drop untouched to the ground, except when the infield fly rule applies.
The “Intentionally Dropped Balls” rule differs from the Infield Fly Rule in a couple of ways:
- In addition to 1st and 2nd, and bases loaded, you can apply this rule with runners at 1st and 3rd.
- This rule can be applied after the play occurs whereas the infield fly rule has to be called when the ball is in the air.
- The play is immediately called dead, the batter is out, and the runners are reset to their position before the play.
NOTE: If the infielder allows the ball to drop to the ground without touching it, then the rule cannot be imposed.