A Comparison Of Three Rules


Have you ever wondered how a rule came about?  Have you wondered how it evolved and what caused the changes?  I am going to take you on a journey through the history of baseball by using 3 different rules that concern the batter.  I believe by taking this journey with me you will have a greater understanding of the game of baseball and of how to enforce these three rules properly.

The rules that I am going to try to inform you about are the following:  1) The dropped third strike rule (OBR 6.05c, FED 7-4-1b);  2) The infield fly rule (OBR 6.05e, FED 2-19, FED 8-4-1j); 3) The intentionally dropped line drive or fly ball rule (OBR 6.05L, FED 8-4-1c). 

All three of these rules were put in place for the purpose of preventing the defense from gaining the unfair advantage of earning a “cheap” double play.  These rules protect the offense.I will first state the rule and then spend some time on how it has evolved over the years. 

First, let’s look at the DROPPED THIRD STRIKE RULE (OBR 6.05c, FED 8-4-1b).  The rule itself is stated in OBR this way, “A batter is out when a third strike is not caught by the catcher when first base is occupied before two are out.”  I want you to imagine what would happen on the following play if we did not have this rule:  The bases are loaded with no outs and a 0-2 count on the batter.  The batter swings and misses as the catcher drops the pitch intentionally.  Now he picks it up quickly steps on the plate and throws to third base for the force out there and the third baseman throws to second base for the force out there and thus completing a triple play.

As you can see, this would be a very “cheap” triple play.  That is what catchers were doing prior to 1887 when this rule was first put into use.  There were 4 strikes for the batter at that time.  In 1888, the rule went to three strikes for an out.  In 1942 it stated this rule was adopted to prevent the catcher from dropping the ball purposely to ensure a double play.  As an umpire, you will need to really sell this call by shouting and signaling, “The batter is out!  The batter is out!”  Thus alerting everyone that the runners are not forced to run and the catcher is not obligated to tag or throw the batter-runner out at first as he is already out. 

Below is a play that could occur today and would be called as it is described below:  Runner on first base, one out and two strikes on the batter.  The batter swings and misses, the catcher cannot hold onto the ball.  The batter takes off for first as the runner from first takes off for second.  The catcher throws to the second baseman who tags the runner.  The batter-runner ends up on first.  How many outs?  RULING:  There are 3 outs.  The batter was automatically out because first base was occupied with less than two outs.  The runner from first was out when tagged for the third out.  

Remember, as the umpire, you needed to use correct mechanics by signaling and shouting, “The batter is out!  The batter is out!”  However, if you did not, he is still out.  It makes you look ill-prepared if you do not use the correct mechanics.  Also, the runner is not forced to advance on this play so if the fielder merely steps on 2nd base, the runner is not out.

Now let’s look at the INFIELD FLY RULE (Rule 2 – Infield Fly Rule Definition, OBR 6.05e; FED 2-19, FED 8-4-1j). This rule is stated in OBR this way, “A batter is out when an Infield Fly is declared.” 

That is not enough to understand what is meant by this statement so we need to look at Rule 2.  “An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive or 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 base lines, 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 base line and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly. 

Rule 2.00 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 6.05L.  The Infield Fly Rule takes precedence.”

Before 1895 there was no need for the Infield Fly Rule because very few fielders were using gloves.  So, to call the Infield Fly Rule would have been ludicrous since there was very little guarantee that the ball would be easily handled anyway.  With the onset of gloves, it became apparent that if the ball was allowed to drop the runners would become in jeopardy for double plays.  So, the rule came into effect. 

In 1895 it only was used with one out.  In 1901, it added with no outs too.  Modifications have taken place with the rule as time has passed.  For instance, in 1904, line drives were specifically excluded from the rule.  In 1920, the bunt was excluded from the rule.  In 1940, the runner was excluded from being hit by the infield fly while on his base.  In 1950, the pitcher and catcher were specifically included as infielders for the purpose of the rule.  The outfielder was also added in 1950 to be included in the rule if he was stationed close enough where a double play seemed likely.  In 1950, the ball that hit foul and then settled fair was added to the rule.

Again, the purpose of this rule is to protect the offensive base runners from having a “cheap” double play from occurring.  So, let’s look at a play here to clarify the rule.  This is a play that I used once when I was playing in an amateur state tournament in Alexandria.  Bases loaded with one out.  A pop-up was hit toward the 3rd base side of the mound and I called for it as the catcher.  I knew that it was infield fly because I heard the umpire call it.  I figured that if I would drop it or let it drop and keep it fair, I might be able to entice the runner from third to try to advance.  I ended up being correct and I corralled the ball before it could go foul and the runner from third walked right into my tag to end the inning.  So, the moral of the story is that players need to know the rule just as well as the umpires do. 

Remember, when the Infield Fly Rule is called, it removes all forces and the ball remains alive.

Lastly, we are going to look at the INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL RULE (OBR 6.05L; FED 8-4-1c). 

This rule as stated in OBR (Official Baseball Rules – professional rules) says, “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.

Historically, the original INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL rule (1939) applied to outfielders only and went into effect in the same situations as the “infield fly rule.”  As of 1942, the rule was changed to include first base only and first and third along with first and second and the bases loaded situations as in the “infield fly rule.”  Also in 1942, the rule added any player (not just the outfielders) who intentionally dropped a fly ball or a line drive.  Interestingly, base runners were obliged to “tag-up” after the out had been declared before they could advance at their own risk. 

Later in the 1940’s the requirement to “tag-up” was dropped.  The ball remained alive and in play in all of these situations. 

The major change came about in 1975 because too many runners thought they were forced to advance and much confusion reigned for the runners.  So, the rules makers amended the rule to read that the ball is dead in these situations and therefore protecting the runner(s) from the trick double play. 

Unlike the Infield fly rule, the INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL RULE applies to bunts and line drives.  Because the umpire does not have as much time to rule on this type of play as he does in the infield fly rule, the ball must become dead on this play in fairness to the base runners. 

Below are three plays that might help us to better understand this rule: 

Play 1:  The fastest runner on the team is on first base.  The batter hits a lazy pop-up to the second baseman who lets the ball fall untouched in front of him.  The runner holds.  The second baseman picks up the ball and fires to the shortstop covering second, thus retiring their fast runner.  Is this legal?  RULING:  Since this was not the infield fly situation and the ball fell untouched, this is a legal play. 

Play 2:  Runners on first and third, one out.  The second baseman fields a lazy pop-up near second and then intentionally drops the ball.  He retrieves it, steps on second and fires to first to complete the double play.  Is the inning over?  RULING:  No, the batter is out on the intentionally dropped ball, the ball is “dead”, and the runners remain at first and third with two outs.

Play 3:  Runners on second and third, one out.  The second baseman intentionally drops a pop-up near the bag and recovers the ball quickly and tags out the surprised runner off second.  The umpire declares the runner out.  The offensive manager argues that the batter, not the runner should be out because of the intentional drop.  Who is correct?  RULING:  Without a runner on first base, the intentionally dropped ball rule does not apply.  The umpire ruled correctly.

So, let’s review what we have learned.  There are three rules that have evolved with the game because of the same reason.  That reason is to protect the offense.  The main purpose of the three rules is to prevent “cheap” double plays.  One of the rules causes the ball to become dead.  That rule is the INTENTIONALLY DROPPED BALL RULE. 

Two of the rules keep the ball alive but they both remove force plays because the batter is declared out early in the play. 


All three of the rules require at least one runner to be on first base and there must be some type of force play that will be prevented.  A quick reminder, the INFIELD FLY RULE must have at least runners on first and second to be invoked.  All three rules must start with zero or one out.  They are never needed when there are two outs.

My hope for all of you umpires is that you handle these three rules better this season than you ever have before.  I hope that you understand more fully the intent of the rules and how and why they came into being.  I always have found once I know the intent and spirit of a rule, I will be able to better enforce it when it appears in my games. 

So study hard, learn as much as you can about this great game and how to umpire it so that it is fun for you and the players and the coaches that are competing. 

Sources used in this study are as follows:

  1. Jim Evans Annotated Baseball Rules, published in 1994.
  2. David Nemec’s The Official Baseball Rules, An Anecdotal Look at the Rules of Baseball, Lyons Press 1994
  3. 2007 Official Baseball Rules (OBR) published by Triumph Books
  4. 2007 National Federation Baseball Rules published by NFHS

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