I was watching a baseball game and saw the outfielder partially climb the wall in the outfield to try and rob a homerun. This made me wonder: can an outfielder climb over the outfield fence and stand in the bleachers? Or does he need to be in fair territory when a pitch is thrown?

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First of all, yes the fielder must start the play in fair territory.

5.02 Fielding Positions

When the ball is put in play at the start of, or during a game, all fielders other than the catcher shall be on fair territory.

You mentioned partially climbing a wall. Climbing upon a wall (but not beyond) is specifically allowed. From a comment to 5.09(a)(1):

A fielder may reach over a fence, railing, rope or other line of demarcation to make a catch. He may jump on top of a railing, or canvas that may be in foul ground.

But that doesn't give permission to leave the field entirely and go into the stands. The MLB Umpire Manual is a bit more explicit here (my bolding):

The fielder is confined to the limits of the playing field, but may reach over any fence, railing, or any line of demarcation to make a catch. The fielder may also jump on top of a railing marking the boundary of the field or on any tarp that may be on foul ground in order to make a play. (See also Section 8.1 [Legal Catch].)



A fielder may not jump over any fence, railing, or rope marking the limits of the playing field in order to catch the ball. A fielder may (1) reach over such fence, railing, or rope to make a catch;

So a fielder can climb the fence. And in the process of making a catch can fall over the fence. But the fielder is not allowed beyond the fence before making the catch. Standing in the bleachers to make a play on a batted ball is not allowed. A fielder doing so would not be awarded a legal catch.

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