In baseball, a sacrifice fly is a batted ball that satisfies four criteria:
- There are fewer than two outs when the ball is hit.
- The ball is hit to the outfield (fair or foul), or to infield foul territory.
- The batter is put out because an outfielder (or an infielder running in the outfield, or foul territory) catches the ball on the fly (alternatively if the batter would have been out if not for an error or if the outfielder drops the ball and another runner is put out).
- A runner who is already on base scores on the play.
It is called a "sacrifice" fly because the batter presumably intends to cause a teammate to score a run, while sacrificing his own ability to do so. Sacrifice flies are traditionally recorded in box scores with the designation "SF".
The purpose of not counting a sacrifice fly as an at-bat is to avoid penalizing hitters for a successful action. The sacrifice fly is one of two instances in baseball where a batter is not charged with a time at bat after putting a ball in play; the other is the sacrifice hit (also known as a sacrifice bunt). But, while a sacrifice fly doesn't affect a player's batting average, it counts as a plate appearance, thus lowering his on-base percentage, and a player on a hitting streak will have the hit streak end if he has no official at-bats but has a sacrifice fly. The reason for this is that the sacrifice fly, unlike the sacrifice bunt, is not considered a tactical maneuver (players don't try to hit a fly ball to advance a runner). Unlike a sacrifice bunt, which may be scored if a runner advances from any base to any base, a sacrifice fly is only credited if a runner scores on the play. Therefore, when a runner on first or second base tags on a fly ball and advances no further than third base, no sacrifice is given and the batter is charged with an at-bat. Note that, although rarely occurring, if a runner tags and advances from second base (or, theoretically, from first base) all the way to home and scores (without an intervening error) the batter is credited with a sacrifice fly.
The sacrifice fly is credited even if another runner is put out on appeal for failing to tag up, so long as a run scores prior to the third out. In the case of a fly ball dropped for an error, the sacrifice fly is only credited if the official scorer believes the run would have scored had the ball been caught.
On any fly ball, a runner can attempt to advance bases right as a fielder touches the ball. If the fielder bobbles the ball, the runner may still tag up, even before the fielder has full control of the ball (before the fielder is credited with a putout). The rule works this way because a smart fielder can theoretically purposely bobble the ball and run with it at the same time towards the infield and only completely catch it when he is within a good throwing distance to home plate. As addressed in the Official Baseball Rules, this was put into the baseball rulebook so it prevented these fielders from intentionally bobbling the ball.
The most sacrifice flies by a team in one game is five; the record was established by the Seattle Mariners in 1988, tied by the Colorado Rockies in 2006, and tied again by the Seattle Mariners in 2008.
Five teams have collected three sacrifice flies in an inning: the Chicago White Sox (fifth inning, July 1, 1962 against the Cleveland Indians); the New York Yankees twice (fourth inning, June 29, 2000 against the Detroit Tigers and third inning, August 19, 2000 against the Anaheim Angels); the New York Mets (second inning, June 24, 2005 against the Yankees); and the Houston Astros (seventh inning, June 26, 2005 against the Texas Rangers). In these cases one or more of the flies did not result in a putout due to an error.
Since the rule was reinstated in its present form, Gil Hodges of the Dodgers holds the record for most sacrifice flies in one season with 19, in 1954; Eddie Murray holds the record for most sacrifice flies in a career with 128.
As of the end of the 2008 season, players who have hit 115 or more career sacrifice flies:
1. Eddie Murray (128)
2. Cal Ripken, Jr. (127)
3. Robin Yount (123)
4. Hank Aaron (121)
4. Frank Thomas (121)
6. George Brett (120)
6. Rubén Sierra (120)
8. Rafael Palmeiro (119)
8. Daniel "Rusty" Staub (119)
10. Andre Dawson (118)
11. Don Baylor (115)
Batters have not been charged with a time at-bat for a sacrifice hit since 1893, but baseball has changed the sacrifice fly rule multiple times. The sacrifice fly as a statistical category was instituted in 1908, only to be discontinued in 1931. The rule was again adopted in 1939, only to be eliminated again in 1940, before being adopted for the last time in 1954.
- Official Baseball Rules
- "Torrealba's slam, five sac flies power Rockies past Bucs". ESPN.com. Associated Press. June 7, 2006.
- Stone, Larry (April 16, 2008). "Seattle Mariners ride flurry of sacrifice flies to 11-6 victory over Kansas City Royals". Seattle Times..
- Single Season Records, baseball-reference.com.
- Career Records, baseball-reference.com.
- MLB Official Rules: 10.00 The Official Scorer, from the Major League Baseball website
- Chronology that includes the chronology of the sacrifice fly rule, from baseballlibrary.com
- The Sacrifice Fly, from the SABR web site (Research Journals Archive)