The Catch

   The Catch

There are few things in baseball as fundamental as the catch. While making a catch seems straightforward, there are a few nuances that bear touching on. Let's walk through it, starting with the rule book definition of a catch.

The definition lists two essential criteria for a legal catch: First, the fielder must gain "secure possession in hand or glove of a ball in flight." The fielder must hold the ball long enough to "prove that he has complete control of the ball." Then, second, when he releases the ball it must be "voluntary and intentional." 

Put more simply, a fielder must demonstrate secure control and voluntary release. Without both of these, you do not have a legal catch.

We're going to cover the following points:


When is a catch not a catch?

The rule book definition lists several situations that look like a catch, but in fact are not:

  • If you "catch" the ball with a cap, any of your equipment (except the glove, of course), in the uniform pocket, or any other part of the uniform, this is not a catch. In fact, it's an infraction that results in a three-base award [ 5.06(b)(4)(B) ].
  • It is not a catch if immediately after securing the ball the ball is dislodged when you collide with a player or a fence, or when falling to the ground.
  • It is not a catch if a fielder touches a fly ball, then deflects it against a member of the offensive team or an umpire, and then is secured by himself or another defensive player. That said, if you touch a fly ball and deflect it directly to yourself or another fielder who then secures the ball, that is a catch.
  • It is not a catch if, on a third strike, a pitched ball strikes the catcher or umpire and is then caught by the catcher on the rebound.
  • It is not a catch if on a third strike a pitched ball lodges in the catcher's clothing or gear.


Some nuances in the rules for a catch

  • On the transfer. If a fielder drops the ball "while in the act of making a throw following the catch," this is a legitimate catch. This is often referred to as dropping the ball "on the transfer." This is a judgment call, but is typically called pretty liberally if it appears there was the intention to throw the ball.
  • Fly ball deflected. As touched on above, if a fielder touches a fly ball and that ball is juggled and/or deflected to another fielder, who then catches the ball, this is a legal catch.
  • Runner tagging up. For the purposes of judging if a base runner properly tags up before advancing on a caught fly ball, the runner may advance the moment a fly ball is first touched. This comes into play in cases where a fly ball is juggled before being securely caught. The intention of this rule is to prevent a fielder from intentionally juggling a fly ball in order to hold runners on base while moving closer to the infield.
  • Reaching into out-of-play territory. A fielder may reach (but not step) over a fence, railing, rope, or other demarcation of out-of-play to make a catch. However, when reaching into out-of-play territory, there can be no interference called if a spectator impedes the fielder's opportunity to make the catch. (Contrast this with the situation where a spectator reaches into the field of play causing specator interference.)
  • Reaching into the dugout. A fielder may reach into (but not step into) a dugout to make a catch. To be a legal catch, the fielder "must have one or both feet on or over the playing surface (including the lip of the dugout) and neither foot on the ground inside the dugout or in any other out-of-play area."
  • Third strike legally caught by catcher. "Leagally caught by catcher" means the pitched or tipped ball first strikes the catcher's glove or hand and then is caught by the catcher. A pitched or tipped ball that touches any other part of the catcher (or umpire) cannot then be a legal catch.
  • Intentionally dropped fly ball. If a fielder intentionally drops a fly ball or a line drive (after touching it) when runners are on base such that there is a force out at any base, the batter is out and other runners return. This rule does not apply if the ball drops untouched (unless an infield fly is in play).
  • Fielder falls into dead ball territory. If, after making a legal catch, a fielder falls into dead ball territory (over a railing or fence. into the stands, or any other dead ball area), the catch is legal and the out stands, but the ball is dead. Award all runners one base.
  • Members of team at bat must give right of way. Players and coaches, including those in dugout and bullpen, must clear away from any area required by a fielder to make a catch. Any hindrance is interference and results in the batter being called out and runners, if any, returned to their base last occupied at the time the interference occurred.


Two important OBR updates regarding the catch

In recent years Major League Baseball has made two rule changes that affect ruling on the catch.


Catch and carry

In 2016 MLB revised Rule 5.06(b)(3)(C) (including the Comment) to remove the opportunity for a player to "catch-and-carry" the ball into dead-ball territory. The rule formerly allowed a player who made a catch on the run in fair territory, but whose momentum then carried him into dead-ball territory, to have a legal catch and then throw the ball back into play, so long as the player did not fall in dead-ball territory. This is no longer the case. The rule now states that any player who "after having made a legal catch, should step or fall into any out-of-play area, the ball is dead ...." There is a one-base award for all runners on base, although the batter is out on the catch (if made while the fielder is still in fair territory).

So long as the fielder has a legal catch before stepping or falling into dead-ball territory, the catch is good and the out stands. If, on the other hand, one or both feet are out-of-play when the the ball is secured, this is not a catch (just a foul ball). It would also not be a catch if both feet are off the ground while leaning over a fence or other barrier while reaching into out-of-play territory while attempting the catch.

This rule change has little effect in the Major Leagues, since all of their fields are entirely enclosed (except for falling over the railing into the seats). However, the change has a large impact on amateur leagues that follow OBR and whose ball fields are frequently not fully enclosed and whose "out-of-play" boundaries may be arbitrary (e.g., fence line extended).


The "flip" toss

In 2014, Major League Baseball revised wording in the rule book definition of a catch. The issue involves the "flip" – that move in which a fielder gloves a ball and then flips it from his glove to another fielder without ever touching it with a throwing hand. You normally see this when middle infielders are turning a double play.

By not ever touching the ball, there is no opportunity to evidence "secure control" nor "voluntary release," despite the flip being a voluntary act. The 2014 revision, then, removed the requirement to secure the ball with the "throwing hand" and recognizes the validity of the "flip."