The Outfield Fly Rule?

If you were watching—or even if you weren’t you’ve probably seen it by now—the Braves and Cardinals game on Friday evening, there was much controversy surrounding a call of the Infield Fly Rule. You can watch the play here.

The first thing we should realize is that the ball does not have to land in the infield for the rule to be invoked. It simply means that in the judgment of the umpire, the ball “can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort” (Rule 2: Infield Fly).

For playoff games, we see the addition of two umpires to the field: one down the left and right field lines, mainly for the purpose of calling balls fair or foul. It was the umpire down the left field line that made the call on the play. Did his abnormal positioning affect the call? Possibly.

The rule continues, “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.”

This is the part of the rule that seems to not be not so clearly understood. A lot of viewers, including the announcers (and even myself initially), criticized the umpire for not making the call quickly enough, which is to say “not immediately.”

The rule, however, states the call should be made immediately upon the realization that the ball can be caught with ordinary effort, NOT immediately after the ball leaves the bat which is most often the case as Infield Flies are typically invoked on high popups that will obviously be made in the infield.

So, the umpire saw Cardinals’ shortstop Pete Kozma holding his right arm up for most of his jog into the outfield, then stop jogging and raise both his arms into the air. The ump interpreted the arm raising as Kozma signaling, “I am under the ball and I got it!” and calling off left fielder Shane Robinson. From Robinson’s body language, he got the same message.

Kozma clearly waived off Robinson, signalling that he would make the play.

Kozma was indeed deep into the outfield, but he did not sprint (or even run, really) to the position or need to put forth great effort to get to the ball (in other words, from the looks of it he was standing under the ball with plenty of time) and the umpire interpreted this as “ordinary effort.”

It was at this moment—with Kozma supposedly underneath the ball—that the ump called for the Infield Fly. (This is also exactly what the ump said after the game). In the next instant Kozma abandoned ship and Robinson gives him a clear look of WTF!?

Having kept score of so many games, my initial gut reaction was, “That is an error on the shortstop.” In other words, I agreed that it was a ball that could have been fielded with “ordinary effort.” And I still feel that had the Infield Fly not been called, it would be an error (then again, the game was in Atlanta so you never know). Kozma gave all the signs that he saw the ball the whole way, called off his outfielder, then just jumped out of the way.

(There could be a debate of whose call of “ordinary effort” is higher—the umpire’s or the official scorer’s—or even if they can differ, but that is for another post.)

Yes, the ball was deep into the outfield, but that is irrelevant under the rule, which is inherently misinterpreted because of its name that more aptly could be called the “Preventing Double Plays on Intentional Errors Rule.” Which perhaps even more ironically, was obviously not at all what was happening on this play.

To recap there were two big complaints about the call:

  • The ball was too deep into the outfield – This is irrelevant, it is the effort required from the player, not the depth of the ball that matters.
  • The call was made too slow – The call is made based on the body language of the shortstop (who appeared to be under the ball waiving off the left fielder) not based on where the ball looks like it is going to land off the bat.

The umps got this one right, and not only that they did not kill Atlanta’s momentum. More likely to blame for that was the lengthy delay due to the fans’ reaction.

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Filed under Errors, Example, Video, What?

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