What is a Foul Ball in Baseball?

There are many kinds of foul balls in baseball, but the decision to call a foul ball rests upon the umpire. Overall, just about any foul ball results in a strike for the batter.

A foul ball is a batted ball that a batter hits into foul territory. This territory is anywhere past first or third base. Therefore, base runners cannot go to the next base on a foul ball, and the batter returns home.

Now, you might remember being at a game and yelling with the crowd that the last hit was clearly not a foul ball. But the umpire disagrees. From this alone, we can tell that calling if a ball is fair or foul is somewhat complicated.


What Is Foul Territory?

Baseball has a firm set of rules that players must follow. Of course, a baseball field’s fence is the boundary for the game, but a foul ball is when a ball lands between first or third base. Foul territory is the first and third base lines extended perpendicularly upwards towards the fence in the outfield.

If the batter hits the ball inside these lines, it is a fair ball.

The rule about foul balls was first put in place by Alexander Cartwright. The rule states that any balls hit outside the foul lines of the first base or third base are foul balls. 

What this perimeter does is turn the fair territory into a 90-degree quadrant. These parameters work well for baseball stadiums and keep the fair territory at around 105,000 – 119,200 square feet. The nine fielder players can then cover this area. 

This territory is almost always the same, whether it’s a youth baseball player hitting a foul ball, a little league player, or a professional. 

How To Judge a Foul Ball?

A foul ball is one that a batter hits outside the designated playing field. Such balls will not be near any players who would be defending the playing field.

How the batter hits the ball is not of importance. What matters is where the ball hits.

As long as the bat makes contact with the ball and lands in foul territory beyond first or third, it will be a foul ball.

Furthermore, if a batter bunts the ball foul with two strikes left, then the player at bat is out. 

These rules may seem straightforward; however, calling a foul ball can be tricky.

For example, if the ball’s first bounce is within what is considered fair territory and then travels into foul ground, it is a fair ball. In contrast, a ball can start fair and then roll foul if it rolls foul outside the chalk line.

Thus, the first landing is the key factor when determining if a ball hit by a batter is a foul ball.

Interestingly, as well, fans and players alike should note that a foul ball is usually not counted as a strike if the player already has two strikes. If there are fewer than two strikes, then the ball is counted as a strike. 

Foul Poles

Foul poles are the two poles that indicate where fair territory ends. They stand in the outfield fence and are usually around 150m apart. The poles help the umpire determine a fair or foul ball.

If the batter swings and hits the ball and strikes the foul pole, it is considered a fair ball. Furthermore, if the ball hits the pole without bouncing first, it is regarded as a home run. Meanwhile, a ball that hits the pole after first bouncing on the field is a ground-rule double.

To complicate matters more, a ball that goes past the foul pole within the playing field but then lands outside the third and first base lines is a home run.

Since a ball hit or pitched often spins in major league baseball, the ball does not always fly straight. Due to this, hitting can be complicated, and calling a play can be difficult.

Infield vs. Outfield

There is also a difference in how foul balls are determined when in the infield or the outfield. For example, when discussing the area in the foul territory between home and beyond the foul lines, a batted ball that settles in this field is declared dead when it hits the ground. However, the umpire determines fair and foul balls after the ball stops or a fielder touches the ball in the infield.

Baseball Bases

A ball that hits home plate or third base is not foul. In addition, any ball the batter hits that rolls over a base is a fair ball. However, this only applies to a ground ball. A ball that bounces before the base or between home must be judged according to the relative outfield rules to decide whether it is in foul or fair territory.

The Batter’s Box

The batter’s box, which lies between home and first, can also be an issue when determining a dead ball. This issue springs from the fact that there isn’t an exact point where the foul lines meet. Rather, they each end at the edges of the batter’s box. However, the rules still consider them to be present until they converge.

Any batted balls that strike the batter while he is in box territory instead of the natural ground are fouls.

If the ball is near a player’s relative position but does not touch him, it shall be subject to foul line rules. According to the official rules of major league baseball, it shall be judged accordingly by the home plate umpire.

Fly Balls

The batter at-bat will be out if someone catches the fly while the fielder is in foul territory. Also, a foul tip occurs when the ball lands in the catcher’s hands. Foul tips usually only happen when a ball travels behind home plate. Runners who choose to advance on such plays are putting themself at risk.

A fair fly is judged by the position of the ball to the foul line. 

Additionally, a foul fly ball that no one catches will mean a strike. The batter will continue to bat unless that is his third strike.

Fair or Foul

The foul and fair territories are essential aspects when judging most foul balls. However, a batted ball can go in many different directions.

The umpire judges foul balls according to the official rules of baseball. The umpire may call a strike, an out, or a fair ball, which could differ from how a fan views the situation.

Getting accustomed to these rules can help baseball fans enjoy the game more and make for a better experience when watching a baseball game live.