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The Infield Fly Rule

October 9, 2012 - Al Stephenson
You have seen the replay. Now I'm wondering what your take is on the infield fly rule called in the Atlanta Braves - St. Louis Cardinals wild card playoff game. Here's mine.

The infield fly rule was adopted to protect baserunners from being part of a double play when an infielder intentionally drops a pop fly, hoping to get two outs for the price of one. Here's how it works. With runners on first and second or first, second and third (sometimes referred to as the bases loaded) and less than two outs, an umpire can invoke the rule which means the batter is out automatically and the runners may advance at their own risk. The key parts of the rule is that it is to be called when the infielder can catch the ball with ordinary effort and it is to be called immediately.

The call made in the game was not that far fetched though I would admit that you could call into question both key ingredients. There is certainly some question as to the ordinary effort part and the call was definitely not made immediately. In fact it was called very late. On the other hand an umpire must determine if it will be ordinary effort before he can make the call. The Cardinal shortstop had to go well into left field for the pop up hit by the Braves Andrelton Simmons. By the time he appeared to be under the ball (the criterion for ordinary effort), it would be very late to make the call. The umpire however made the call and it opened up a multitude of criticism by fans everywhere (OK, maybe not in St. Louis) not to mention Braves fans in attendance as they littered the field with debris that caused a 19 minute delay in the game.

Two factors affected the play, one widely reported and another that was not. The call was made by the umpire down the left field line, not one of the usual four arbiters. Had the extra umpires not been involved because it was a post season game, the call would not likely have been made. The other thing was the fact that the shortstop had called off his center fielder earlier in the game on a similar play and they seemed to have a discussion about who's ball it should have been. That could be why the shortstop suddenly peeled off allowing the ball to drop even though it appeared a split second before that he was camped under it. If he catches the ball we have a non issue.

I do think it was a bad call, but not a blatant one since it was a judgment call to begin with. It certainly doesn't compare to the last play of the Packers-Seahawks NFL game as some have suggested.

The view from my seat suggests that the call probably did not determine the outcome of the game though that is subjective since we'll never know what might have happened had the Braves had the bases loaded with only one out.

The good thing was the classy way the Braves players handled the call. The bad thing was the way the fans handled it.


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