In baseball, a sacrifice fly (sometimes abbreviated to sac fly) is defined by Rule 9.08(d): "Score a sacrifice fly when, before two are out, the batter hits a ball in flight handled by an outfielder or an infielder running in the outfield in fair or foul territory that
- is caught, and a run scores after the catch, or
- is dropped, and a runner scores, if in the scorer's judgment the runner could have scored after the catch had the fly ball been caught."
It is called a "sacrifice" fly because the batter allows 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 and lowers his on-base percentage. 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—they are unable to do that consistently anyway). 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. Also, 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, as well as a second RBI if a runner on third also scores. At the professional level this will only typically occur in unusual circumstances that prevent the defense from making an immediate throw back to the infield, such as an outfielder colliding with the wall while making a catch on the warning track.
The sacrifice fly is credited even if another runner is put out so long as the run scores. The sacrifice fly is credited on a dropped ball even if another runner is forced out by reason of the batter becoming a runner.
On any fly ball, a runner can initiate an attempt to advance bases as soon as a fielder touches the ball by tagging up, even before the fielder has full control of the ball.
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 in 1954, 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 2018 season, players who had 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)
Only once has the World Series been won on a sac fly. In 1912, Larry Gardner of the Boston Red Sox hit a fly ball off a pitch from the New York Giants' Christy Mathewson. Steve Yerkes tagged up and scored from third base to win game 8 in the tenth inning and take the series for the Red Sox.
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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. It is significant, for some baseball fans, the sacrifice-fly rule was eliminated in 1940 because, in 1941, Ted Williams was hitting .39955 on the last day of the season and needed one hit in a doubleheader against the Philadelphia A's to become the first hitter since Bill Terry in 1930 to hit .400. He got six hits, finishing with an official .406 average, the last major leaguer in nearly 80 years now to bat .400 or more. In his book, "Baseball in '41," author Robert Creamer, citing estimates, points out that if Williams' 14 at-bats on sacrifice flies that year were deducted from the 456 official at-bats he was charged with, his final average in 1941 would have been .419.
- Official Rules | MLB.com
- "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..
- Sacrifice Flies Records
- Single Season Records, baseball-reference.com.
- "Career Leaders & Records for Sacrifice Flies". Baseball Reference. Retrieved June 22, 2018.
- "World Series Final Outs". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- "1912 World Series". Baseball Almanac. Retrieved 13 June 2017.
- [http://mlb.mlb.com/mlb/official_info/official_rules/official_scorer_10.jsp MLB Official Rules 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)