Going Halfway

By Bill Ripken

One of the most misunderstood terms in baseball is the concept of going halfway on a fly ball. Many times you will hear coaches, depending on the situation, telling a base runner something to the effect of, "Go on the ground, halfway on a ball in the air, freeze on a line drive." Or, after a fly ball is hit, you might hear a base coach yell, "halfway, halfway!"

If the team is well-coached and has practiced base running situations consistently throughout the year, the base runner in one of these instances most likely is going to understand what he should do. "Halfway" is a simple way of telling a player to get as far off the base as possible so that if the ball is caught by the fielder he can make it back to the original base without getting doubled up.

For younger teams that don't get to practice as often and don't have the time to cover base running situations as thoroughly, the term "halfway" - from an offensive standpoint - can be confusing.

"Halfway" doesn't always mean go exactly halfway. The first thing to understand is the general situation in which the concept comes into play. Any time there are fewer than two outs in an inning and a fly ball or pop-up is hit that so that it is not possible or appropriate for a base runner to tag up, that runner should get as far off the base as possible so that he still can get back if the ball is caught. By doing this, the runner might allow himself to advance more than one base if the ball is misplayed by the fielder while still avoiding the double play if the ball is caught.

Several variables determine how far a player can wander off of a base and still get back if the ball is caught:

  • Where the ball is hit - Is it deep into the outfield or shallow? Is it in the gap? Is the outfielder running away from you or moving toward the you? Is it a routine infield pop-up or one that is a more difficult play in which the fielders have to chase it down?
  • Speed of the runner
  • Arm strength of the fielder making the play

Sometimes "halfway" means that a runner should go all the way to the next base, because the ball is hit very deep into the outfield. In some ballparks a deep fly ball may allow a runner to even go beyond the next base (make sure to re-touch the base you passed on the way back if the ball is caught). Sometimes "halfway" means that the runner should take only a couple of steps off the base, as in the case of a routine infield pop-up. Sometimes "halfway" really does mean that the runner should stop halfway between the two bases.

In my mind, "halfway" is better used as a defensive statement. When a ball is hit to the outfield, an infielder can yell, "halfway," to let the outfielder know that the runner on base is not tagging up. When a ball is in the air there is not enough time to yell, "the runner is three-quarters of the way to second base." Too much verbiage also may be confusing or too difficult to understand for an outfielder in that situation. If the runner is tagging, one of the infielders simply needs to yell, "tag," or "he's tagging," to alert the outfielder.

From an offensive standpoint it is essential that coaches take at least a few minutes during one of their early season practices to explain the concept of "halfway" and to allow the players to practice executing it in simulated game situations. I would argue that during games the situation should be explained to the runner by the base coach before the ball is in play. Coaches should hesitate to yell, "Go halfway," once the ball is hit, because in the heat of the moment a young player might hear that and get excited, forgetting the situation and going exactly halfway no matter what. If the ball drops that could result in the runner not scoring or advancing an extra base when he should have. If the ball is caught, a double play could result.

A solid understanding of this concept could help your team steal a run, which might turn out to be critical in a close game. But a lack of understanding could take you out of a big inning and just as easily cost you a win. Take the time before the season to explain the concept of "halfway." I guarantee it will payoff for you in the long run.