When watching a baseball or softball game, you will witness a foul ball. The baseball/softball diamond and field have lines that run from the top left and top right corner of home plate, or batter’s box, to the foul pole out in the outfield. Anything inside both of those lines is fair territory, while anything outside those lines is foul territory.
So, what are the rules for a foul ball in baseball and softball? How do foul balls work in a professional game? How do fans and players know if the batted ball will be fair or foul? Do umpires do anything to signal that a ball is fair or foul? How many foul balls occur during regular-season Major League Baseball games?
Here is the complete guide to a foul ball in baseball and softball.
The Baseball Diamond
A professional baseball field is 90 feet between home plate, first base, second base, and third base. The diamond is equal distance from each other, making the infield the same at every ballpark. However, while the infield is the same in distance and length, the outfield dimensions can be different from the home plate, making baseball and softball unique.
Regardless of the distance between the outfield wall and home plate, white lines at every ballpark run from the top left and right corner of home plate, or the batter’s box, that run to the foul pole. This line and foul pole represent fair and foul territory on a field. Most baseball stadiums have a yellow foul pole to make it clear where that white line runs.
What are the Rules for a Foul Ball?
A hitter who hits a foul ball has a strike count against their at-bat. When there are two strikes on the hitter, and they hit a foul ball, they continue to hit with two strikes against them. A batter can’t get out on a foul ball unless they attempt to bunt with two strikes and hit a foul ball. A hitter that bunts the ball on two strikes that goes foul counts as a strikeout against the hitter.
What is an example of a Foul Ball in Baseball and Softball?
Let’s pretend that there is a Major League Baseball game between the New York Yankees and the Oakland Athletics. The Athletics are pitching to the Yankees, and the Yankees’ player at bat keeps hitting balls into the stands to the right of the right-field foul line. Every fly ball that the Yankees’ player hits that keeps going right of the right-field foul line will count as a foul ball.
Another example is if the Yankees’ hitter keeps grounding the ball foul when they make contact. The baseball keeps rolling right of the first base bag in foul territory before it passes the bag. With that being the case, the baselines show that the ball is to the right of the foul line, so the ball is foul.
What Happens if a Baseball Lands Fair and then Bounces into the Stands?
If a ball lands in fair territory in the outfield and bounces into the stands into foul territory, it’s a ground-rule double. With a ground-rule double, the play is over, and all baserunners move up two bases from where they began on the hit. Typically speaking, you see the ball bounce into foul territory when the base hit lands close to the outfield foul line and has a spin on the bounce to go into the stands.
Also, if the ball bounces into the stands and falls back onto the field, the call is still a ground-rule double. The play is over when the baseball or softball connects with a fan.
How Should Defenders Play a Potential Foul Ball?
The first and third base fielders should know where they are playing in the infield. If a hitter grounds the ball that is hovering over the fair line in the diamond, they have a choice to make. If the fielder feels like they can gather the ball and throw it to a base to record a force-out, they should attempt that play.
However, if the grounder is hit softy and the runner is fast, you may see infielders watch the ball and quickly touch it the moment it rolls foul before passing the base. When the ball rolls foul before passing a base, the ball is now in foul territory. The fielder will touch it when the ball is in foul territory before passing the base to create a foul ball.
How Do Foul Balls Work in Game?
Foul balls generally don’t come back into game action in professional baseball and softball games. A new ball is given to the pitcher after a foul ball in the professional leagues. The umpire issues a new ball to the pitcher for safety reasons for the hitter and fielders. If the baseball is scuffed up from the foul ball, it can be difficult for someone to see, which can be dangerous.
Check out Baseball Boom to learn more about why they change out baseballs so often during games!
How Many Foul Balls are there in an MLB Game?
According to Find Any Answer, a professional baseball game has 53.8 foul balls per game during the 2019 season.
Can Fans Keep the Foul Ball?
If the batter hits the ball that goes into the stands in foul territory, any spectator can keep it as a souvenir. The only time where a fan might give the ball back is when it is an impressive home run, but that is when the ball was in fair territory.
One of the most famous foul ball/homerun catchers is Zack Hample. Check out his official website to learn more about how to catch balls at MLB stadiums!
How Do Fans and Players Know if the Batted Ball will Be Fair or Foul?
The best way to know if a batted ball will be fair or foul is to be aware of the foul lines on the field. You know it will be a foul ball if the ball is traveling far left of the left-field foul line or vice versa. When it becomes a foul ball, it becomes a dead ball, and the play is over. It also becomes clear that the play is over because no fielder or runner is running anymore.
Another way fans and players know if a batted ball is fair or foul is to watch the umpire. If the referee playing on the third-base side points to their right, the ball went left of the third-base bag and is foul. If the umpire uses their left hand to point, the ball is in fair territory.
Finally, instant replay reviews have become increasingly important to help determine fair or foul calls. The difference between a foul fly ball or a home run is massive, so umpires get together and review the video replay when a manager asks them for a review. The field of play gets tricky at ballparks when you factor in the height of the ball in the air, the lights, and the angle of the umpire has, so using video replay can determine the correct call.
Do Umpires Do Anything to Signal a Fair or Foul Ball?
Umpires tend to yell out “foul ball” and point to the foul side of the bag that they are playing. Yelling out foul ball alerts everyone on the field that the play is over, and them pointing to the foul side of the bag makes it easy for every to understand that the play is over.
Is There a Max Number of Foul Balls a Batter Can Hit?
There is no cap on the number of max balls a hitter can hit. However, during a Little League game, you might have to pause the action to try and find additional balls if they run out of them via foul balls. Unlike professional baseball games, Little League games don’t have hundreds of baseballs on standby for every match.
Conclusion: What is a Foul Ball in Baseball and Softball?
In summary, baseball and softball fields have fair/foul lines that run from home plate or the batter’s box corner to each foul pole. Everything inside these foul lines is fair territory, while everything outside is foul. There is no penalty for hitting a foul ball as a hitter, but you are out via a strikeout if you try and bunt with two strikes and foul the ball.