Saturday, October 6, 2012

Harold Reynolds on the Infield Fly Call (Brilliant)

I missed the Cardinals-Braves Wildcard game. So, I missed the infamous infield-fly call. I missed the context. I missed the momentum. I missed the energy of the moment. In this instance, that may have been a benefit. When I went back and watched the highlights of the play, I was fairly well amazed by the uproar over the call. To me, the call seemed both reasonable and correct. First, if you read the rule (with a few relevant sections emphasized):

An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule. When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare “Infield Fly” for the benefit of the runners. If the ball is near the baselines, the umpire shall declare “Infield Fly, if Fair.” The ball is alive and runners may advance at the risk of the ball being caught, or retouch and advance after the ball is touched, the same as on any fly ball. If the hit becomes a foul ball, it is treated the same as any foul. If a declared Infield Fly is allowed to fall untouched to the ground, and bounces foul before passing first or third base, it is a foul ball. If a declared Infield Fly falls untouched to the ground outside the baseline, and bounces fair before passing first or third base, it is an Infield Fly. Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly)

Comment: On the infield fly rule the umpire is to rule whether the ball could ordinarily have been handled by an infielder —not by some arbitrary limitation such as the grass, or the base lines. The umpire must rule also that a ball is an infield fly, even if handled by an outfielder, if, in the umpire’s judgment, the ball could have been as easily handled by an infielder. The infield fly is in no sense to be considered an appeal play. The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately. When an infield fly rule is called, runners may advance at their own risk. If on an infield fly rule, the infielder intentionally drops a fair ball, the ball remains in play despite the provisions of Rule 6.05 (L). The infield fly rule takes precedence.

The call is left up to the discretion of the umpires. It's a subjective call. So, those clamoring for instant replay seem off the mark. To me, watching the highlights, shortstop Pete Kozma was circling under the ball, even used a jab step with his right leg to slow his progress, and called for the ball before hearing imaginary footsteps and breaking off the play. I fail to see the reason for the uproar except that people were caught up in the heat of the moment, which is why just watching the highlights may have, for better or worse, given me a different perspective on the issue. Regardless, based on a reading of the rule, the umpire seems to have gotten it right. And, if you don't agree, you ABSOLUTELY MUST WATCH THIS video in which Harold Reynolds breaks the video down to demonstrate why the infield-fly call was CORRECT. Seriously, if you do one thing today, WATCH THIS CLIP, it's brilliant:

And, if that doesn't convince you, then nothing probably will. But, if you still need MORE convincing, here's a strong take by Rob Neyer stating that the call was correct.

The call was right. The Braves have no one to blame but themselves for the loss. If they wanted to win, they shouldn't have thrown the ball around like the Bad News Bears or hit Texas Leaguers in key situations. It's not the fault of the umpires and saying that it is cheapens the Cardinals' win and improperly damages the integrity of baseball officiating.


  1. It was the wrong call and the timing of the call was the most compelling indictment that it was the wrong call, but the Braves didn't lose as a result of the call. It's be amusing to read so many seemingly intelligent fans try to justify the call based on things like "peak of the ball" and "it wasn't extraordinarily difficult so it was ordinary."

    Baseball rules are arcane enough to allow for interpretation of the rules in too many instances, thus requiring an umpire to make judgment calls when tighter language would resolve many of these issues. As such the umpire is required to consider the intent of the rule, preventing multiple outs due to retouch rules on a caught ball. In this case, I believe that the umpire made the wrong call too late and for the wrong reason.

    We can debate all day long, but this is (and is written as such) a judgment call, so I simply question the judgment of the umpire.

  2. Chris,

    Timing of the call? Do you mean when the umpire raised his arm and made the call or do you mean the context of the game itself (i.e. playoffs, late game, crucial moment, etc)?

    How would you tighten the rules to try to reduce umpire discretion/interpretation? Personally, I don't see umpire discretion as being a significant flaw in the system. That's what they are paid to do.

    I'm clearly still in a significant minority on this issue, so I suspect not having seen it live really gives me a different, and probably worse, perspective than those who saw it live. Still, as it stands, I'm having a hard time seeing the reason for the uproar and trash throwing.

    I agree that it was purely a judgment call. I just don't happen to disagree with the umpire's judgment.

    Anyway, thanks for the well-reasoned comment!


  3. When I call games, if I can't call the IfFR by the time that the ball is at its apex, then I won't call it. Again, the rule is put into place to keep teams from taking advantage of the untenable situation of the base runners, not being sure to retouch or run. So, timliness of the call is of the utmost importance. If you have to wait for the ball to be within 15 feet of the ground on its way down before you make the call, then you're putting your judgment into question concerning the "ordinariness" of the effort required to catch the ball.

    Changing the rule is simple. Add a clause that the call must be made while the ball is still going up. Of course, there would be questions in the most legalistic of situations where someone could question whether the ball was still going up (re: goaltending) but at least the mandate would be for the umpire to make the call as soon as possible and NEVER when the ball is so near the ground on descent.

    The umpire always has the option to invoke rule 6.05(i) that the fielder chose to intentionally not catch the ball at which time the umpire would still declare the batter out thus removing the possibility of force outs at subsequent bases.

    (don't get me started on the balk rule)

  4. Chris,

    Interesting. What level do you umpire and are the rules exactly the same as MLB?

    Is your bigger beef with the rule as written or the judgment exhibited by the umpire in this instance? Does changing the rule to require the call to be made on the way up reduce the subjectivity of the call? Seems like it would still be left to the discretion of the umpire, but that discretion would have to be exercised earlier in the play.

    The infield fly rule just seems inherently subjective. On the other hand, the balk call seems somewhat more objective. Basically, any move by the pitcher on the rubber is a balk. Though, I have no idea how and why so many lefties get away with their balk-pickoff moves.

    Still, the balk is another rule where the implementation doesn't really carry out the intent. If the balk is intended to prevent deception of the hitter, then a mere twitch of the hand really shouldn't be a balk. But, there seems to be less discretion given to the umpire.

    Anyway, thanks for the comment.