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Saturday, December 15, 2018

Why Sam Holbrook made a bad call with the infield fly rule

While many people were initially outraged over umpire Sam Holbrook’s decision to call the batter out on the infield fly rule in the eighth inning of the Braves-Cardinals wild card game on Friday, many later became open to listening to the explanation of the rule and even accepted Holbrook’s call. Though I agree that his call is acceptable based on the way the rule is written, that still doesn’t change that it was a bad decision to apply the rule in that situation.

Those who believe Holbrook made the right call are failing to apply common sense and losing sight of the purpose of the rule.

The infield fly rule is designed to protect the baserunners for the team that is batting.

Say there are runners on first and second and one out, and the batter hits an easy pop up to the third baseman. The runners on first and second will remain close to the base because the expectation is that the third baseman will make the easy play, and they don’t want to be doubled off first and second. Knowing that the runners are standing close to the bag, a savvy field could drop the pop up on purpose, tag third, and throw to second for the force out. That would be taking an easy pop up and turning it into a double play.

The infield fly rule was put into place to protect against fielders using tricks like this.

When a routine pop up is hit to an infielder in fair territory, the umpire can call the batter out so that the possibility of a force play is eliminated, which in turn takes away the trick double play. The rule is written to leave the decision to invoke the rule up to the judgment of the umpire, so in that sense Holbrook’s call fell within the rule. But that doesn’t mean his application of the rule in that case was a good decision. It was a bad decision.

Were the Cardinals going to turn a double play from left field? Not bloody likely. There was no need to call the batter out on that play. There’s a reason it’s called the INFIELD fly rule, and it’s not because the rule should be applied on balls hit to the outfield, even if the rule leaves it open for the umpires to make that call.

The infield fly rule was designed to protect the batting team from being hurt on trick plays by the defense, not to take outs away from them. That’s what umpires need to consider when deciding if they’re going to call the infield fly rule.

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