Infield Flies

By | October 06, 2012

I’m going to do something I don’t like to do — I’m going to disagree with two people I really like. Joe Posnanski is one of my favorite writers (and one of the only people in the world I actually believe loves baseball as much as I do). Dale Murphy was one of my favorite players as a child, partly because he (like me) is a Mormon, and partly because he was the best player in baseball on a team that I actually got to watch on TV pretty often because of TBS. (And it doesn’t hurt that he was traded away from Atlanta the year before I started despising the Braves and their front-running, obnoxious fans.)

So I REALLY like both Posnanski and Murphy, but I also REALLY think they’re both wrong about what went down in Atlanta last night. They’re not alone, of course — of everything I’ve read about it, Rob Neyer is the only one I’ve seen who agrees with me. (I’ve heard that Harold Reynolds does too, but try not to hold that against me.)

So here’s the summary (but you should just watch the video): Braves’ shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a popup with runners on first and second and one out. Pete Kozma, the Cardinals’ shortstop, ran into shallow left field, got under the ball, and then at the last second ran back in and let the ball drop onto the exact spot of grass he had occupied just a second earlier. A second before Kozma veered back towards the infield, left-field umpire Sam Holbrook called the infield fly rule, which meant that Simmons was out even though the ball wasn’t caught.

That paragraph contains everything you need to know. The infield fly rule says this:

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.


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.

So, did this play meet the requirements of an infield fly? Well, clearly the prerequisites were in place — runners on first and second, less than two outs, ball hit in the air. The ONLY other question is, “Can it be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort?”

Joe Posnanski says no:

Kozma had to run at least 50 or 60 feet into the outfield to catch the ball. I donâ??t see a convincing argument that it was an ordinary-effort play. There is no official scorer on earth who would have given Kozma an error on the play, and in fact there was no error given on the play.

I think Joe’s focus on the distance Kozma had to go leaves out a vital part of the equation, which is how long he had to get there. The ball was hit very high, as evidenced by the fact that even though Kozma had to venture pretty far onto the grass, he was standing in the exact spot where the ball landed quite a while before the ball got there. If I tell you, “My run only took six minutes,” you won’t know what that means until you know if it was a mile or a half-mile or the 100-yard dash. So the fact that Kozma had to run a ways onto the grass literally tells us nothing about whether or not it was “an ordinary-effort play.” (For that matter, the fact that the rule specifically notes that it can be an infield fly even if an outfielder catches the ball … well, that allows for the possibility of an infielder venturing into shallow left field to make a catch.)

His point about the official scorer is even worse. Official scorers are notorious for not giving errors if the fielder doesn’t touch the ball, which is why fielding percentage is such a useless stat (as Joe would no doubt tell you). And if Kozma hadn’t veered off the ball — if, instead, the ball had bounced off his glove — yes, every official scorer in the world would have given him an error, because he was standing still in the spot where the ball landed when it landed.

So yes, Kozma could have (and should have) caught the ball with ordinary effort, which means that the infield fly rule was called correctly.

Posnanski and Murphy agree on the other point that I think is irrelevant. To quote Joe again:

Where Simmonsâ?? ball was hit, was a double play even possible? No. If runners are paying attention, there is no way in the world that Kozma could have dropped that ball and gotten a double play. Heck, from out there, it would have been hard for him to purposely drop that ball and even get one out. The focus of the call has been around those words â??ordinary effort,â? and thatâ??s a worthwhile discussion point. But if you go beyond the specifics of the rule and back to the heart of it â?¦ calling an infield fly on that ball was egregious. It was putting a vaguely worded rule ahead of the essence of the game.

Murphy agrees, retweeting and agreeing with several tweets that say basically the same thing. I was pleased to finally read Neyer’s post, which said exactly what I was thinking:

[T]he rule does not ask, in fact does not allow for, the umpire to make a judgment about the chance of a double play. If you need to, go back up there and read the rule. We’ll wait … Okay, did you see anything in there about double plays? You didn’t, because it’s not there. All that matters is infielder and ordinary effort.

Whether you agree with the rule or not, as it is written (and therefore how the umpires should call it), it does not say a word about double plays or the reason behind the rule or anything. It just says “If X and Y and Z all happen, then it’s an infield fly and the batter is out.” X and Y and Z all happened, so it was correctly called.

Murphy’s other point is just plain silly, I think. Basically, he thinks an outfield umpire shouldn’t be allowed to call an infield fly. Some tweets:

I assume this is based on the same misunderstanding that a lot of other people have shown, that a popup has to be in the infield to be an infield fly. But the bottom line is, the left-field umpire was the closest to the play when it happened, so he made the call. If we followed Murphy’s logic, we wouldn’t have two extra umpires in the playoffs, because every call that gets made all year gets made by infield umpires.

Like I said before, I have a ton of respect for both Joe Posnanski and Dale Murphy. But I think they both got it very wrong in this case. They can take solace in having a ton of company, but wrong is wrong.

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