A lot of virtual ink has been spilled about Friday’s controversial infield fly rule call in the Major League Baseball playoff game between the Atlanta Braves and the St. Louis Cardinals.
Rob Neyer, one of my favorite sports journalists, offers this dispassionate, very persuasive, and counter conventional-wisdom analysis as to why the umps got the call right. Here’s an excerpt:
Now, before we get to the heart of the thing, let me clear up a couple of things.
Friday night, a great number of observers — and I use the word “observers” quite literally — complained that left-field umpire Sam Holbrook didn’t make the call immediately, as (supposedly) stipulated by the rule. But that isn’t what the rule says. What the rule says is that he should make the call immediately after it comes apparent that it’s an Infield Fly.
Usually, that happens a split-second after the ball is hit; most of the time, it’s quickly apparent that an infielder might easily make the play. This just wasn’t one of those times. Because of where the ball was hit — short left field — it wasn’t apparent until a) the baseball began its descent, and b) there was an infielder in the vicinity.
But what’s truly odd about the complaint is that making the call “late” actually helped the Braves. If an umpire had screamed “Infield Fly” immediately, the runners might well have held their bases. Instead they went halfway down their respective baselines, and actually advanced one base apiece. Even if you think they would have gotten there anyway, the delayed call certainly didn’t hurt the Braves.
So let’s forget about that complaint, and focus instead on the only valid point of dispute, a simple question:
Could that fair fly ball have been caught by an infielder with ordinary effort?