Smooth Moves.

- Evan Wansbrough // Evanwansbrough@gmail.com // @evanwansbrough

Infield Fly Rule, Revisited. [Originally posted Oct. 6, 2012 via the Isotopes]

Well, not a day into the MLB Postseason and already controversy is afoot. The infield fly ruling in yesterday’s Braves - Cardinals game has caused quite a stir in the baseball world and due to our having a tune called Infield Fly in which I vividly describe the rule and all its criteria, the internet has demanded we chime in on the call. Perhaps coming as a disappointment to some of our fans, and certainly most Braves fans - I personally side with the umps on this one. I’ve watched it over and over and I believe they got it right - perhaps unnecessarily, given the circumstances - but nevertheless, the call stands correct.

First, let’s revisit the criteria a batted ball must meet to be ruled an infield fly and cross-examine them against the play in question from yesterday afternoon:

1) Runners on first and second or bases loaded. Check.
2) Less than two out. Check.

Where things become hairy is where the judgement is applied by the umpiring crew to determine at game speed, whether a ball is 3) Playable by an infielder with ordinary effort. In question is NOT where the ball drops or where the infielder is positioned when he catches the ball - but ONLY, how ordinary was his effort to make the play. And in last night’s case, as deep as the ball was into left field, the shortstop Kozma did not at any point in the play exhibit extra-ordinary effort. No, in fact he had routed himself routinely out to where the ball would eventually drop, begun waving left fielder Matt Holliday off, and all but camped under it.

It was at this point only that the umpire made the infield fly call. However, the call was not late - it was made as early as was possible once Kozma’s level of effort to complete the play was determined.

Now, that addresses the ruling in yesterday’s game.

The other argument to be made - which I am more open to agreeing with - is that there is no possible way Kozma could have turned a batted ball to that depth of the outfield into a double play. That’s probably true. The Infield Fly Rule is in place to prevent infielders from dropping routine pop ups on purpose to hang-up tagging baserunners. At that depth, turning two on this play was not a likely outcome.

Perhaps the rule needs amendment. Perhaps players have evolved since that rule was written to a point where their ordinary effort can take them out of range for likely double-play trickery. Perhaps there should be a painted line on the field as a tertiary criteria before umpire judgement comes into play.

I wouldn’t go so far as to start painting more lines on fields, but it’s possible something could be suggested to black out the greyness at play in the current employment of the rule. However, that’s a side-argument that ought to be addressed within the rule itself and dealt with over the winter.

But as the rule stands - yesterday’s call was next to textbook. Ordinary effort by an infielder.