Posted October 05, 2012

Rule book: Infield fly, game under protest mark Braves-Cardinals contest

Atlanta Braves, St. Louis Cardinals, Wild-card playoff game

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez argued to no avail a controversial umpires’ decision in the wild-card playoff game with the Cardinals. (Getty Images)

With St. Louis leading 6-3 in the bottom of the eighth inning of Friday’s wild-card playoff game between the Braves and Cardinals, Atlanta shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a short fly ball to leftfield with runners on first and second base and one out. The ball fell in between Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma and leftfielder Matt Holliday and it appeared as though the Braves would have the bases loaded. Leftfield umpire Sam Holbrook, however, called for the infield fly rule, meaning Simmons was automatically out. Here is the rule from MLB.com, with the points of contention bolded by SI.com for emphasis:

“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 [emphasis added], 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 “[emphasis added] 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.”

Braves manager Fredi Gonzalez indicated he was protesting the game. Here’s what that means, again according to the rule book.

“4.19
PROTESTING GAMES.
Each league shall adopt rules governing procedure for protesting a game, when a manager claims that an umpire’s decision is in violation of these rules. No protest shall ever be permitted on judgment decisions by the umpire. In all protested games, the decision of the League President shall be final.

Even if it is held that the protested decision violated the rules, no replay of the game will be ordered unless in the opinion of the League President the violation adversely affected the protesting team’s chances of winning the game.

Rule 4.19 Comment: Whenever a manager protests a game because of alleged misapplication of the rules the protest will not be recognized unless the umpires are notified at the time the play under protest occurs and before the next pitch, play or attempted play. A protest arising on a game-ending play may be filed until 12 noon the following day with the league office.”

–By SI Staff

31 comments
reames.matt
reames.matt

I'm ready for a rule change.  Why not have the infield fly so that if the defense botches the catch, they can only get one out by force play.  i.e.  If runners are on first and second and a ball is popped up to short left field.  Umpire calls infield fly.  Meaning instead of the batter automatically being out, if the ball is dropped the batter is safe and the defense can only make one out by force.  If the ball is caught, all goes as usual.  This better protects the offense.  The only scenario I can see this hurting the offense is if you have a speedster on second and the defense wants him out instead of the batter, so you intentionally drop it to force him out at third.

Stinger97
Stinger97

dpinesecret.....you are killing me by lauding this call.....it would be better if you just said "tough call, could have gone either way".....but celebrating this call is ridiculous.  You seem to keep touting the "with ordinary effort" part of the rule, but disregard the "shall immediately declare" part.  One has to remember the spirit of this rule in the first place, and it is TO PROTECT THE RUNNERS!.  By raising his hand a millisecond before the ball hits the ground did absolutely NOTHING for the runners.  Again, the rule is to prevent an infielder from purposely letting it drop for the purposes of turning a double or triple play.....AGAIN, under these circumstances with an infielder BACKPEDDLING DEEP INTO THE OUTFIELD, there wasn't even a remote possibility of this type of shenanigan (double play attempt).  CONTEXT IS EVERYTHING in regards to this call.  Bottom line:  BAD CALL. 

De1
De1

The runners should have ran...

Chimmy31
Chimmy31

So they used the infield fly rule during a play in the outfield??

JamesMadison
JamesMadison

This is what you get with professional unionized umpires. Subjective calls that will be argued for years. Sound familiar? All the substitute football referees are owed an apology. All of them. Bad calls are part of the game. It wasn't this one call that cost the Braves the win. It was that questionable called third strike. It was that pitch at the numbers ruled a ball and a walk. Bad calls? Or subjective enough to realize honest people can disagree whether it was or wasn't.  Personally, I wish the Cardinals lost. This team does not deserve to be playing in the playoffs. Not one single black player on the roster.

apaclo116
apaclo116

as a phillies fan (and therefore i hate the braves), i believe it was a terrible call that POTENTIALLY cost the braves the game. that being said, it cant be said without a shadow of a doubt that it DID cost the braves the game since 1: they were down three runs in the 8th to begin with and 2: the braves still had several chances to tie the game. 

Mike Seberger
Mike Seberger

Agree with "watkinsontx" about not having a dog in this fight (sort of - see end sentence). What I do see is a clear question by many commenters re: the VIABILITY of the rule -- as written -- not so much the rule's APPLICATION in this game.  In other words, quoting SI's text on this page, "...which can be caught by an infielder..." is the pivotal part.  Normally, an infielder would stay at home in the infield, right?  But that did not happen in this case, and that seems the crux of the arguments against the call.  As written, I believe the call -- while LATE for sure (also quoting SI's text, "When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare") -- it was a correct call based on the letter of the rule.

 

Admittedly, I am a reformed KC Royals fan -- and I remember THE CALL from the '85 World Series, which legend has it won the Royals game 6, then the Cards lost game 7 by a slaughter (11-0)...possibly due to being de-moralized.  So I may be making a "make-up call" with this opinion.   ;-)

watkinsontx
watkinsontx

I don't have a dog in this fight, but going back and watching the replay shows that it is a terrible call. I have never seen that rule applied anywhere close to that far in the outfield. Yes, the rule says it is a "judgement call", but that does not mean that his judgement is sound.  I'd be checking the umpire and his family's bank accounts, because I have the feeling a little something special will be showing up soon.

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

Agree proper call. Well within ordinary effort - that's judgment and in my opinion, the umpire exercised good judgment. Tough call, he made it, he should be celebrated.  He also appeared to make the call as soon as he could make the judgment. If he made the call late, that impacts the runners who were able to advance anyways (so the possible lateness had no impact). Cry baby - baseball ignorant Atlanta fans should learn a pretty basic baseball rule. Where was the public address announcement to warn against not throwing things on the field? The Atlanta fans should be lucky they aren't the laughing stock of unsportsman-like fans when more stuff came out onto the field - if there is any beef, it should be that the umpires didn't forfeit the game.

Joe28
Joe28

Nonsense, it was the proper call,  the shortstop could have caught the ball easily and would have, if not for the miscommunication.  It's similar to when a pop-up is lost in the sun in an alike situation; even if it is apparent the blinded player will not catch the IFR is still invoked.

jdbolick
jdbolick

Obviously the play required more than "ordinary effort," but what makes it truly unbelievable was that the shortstop already started moving back towards the infield away from the ball before Holbrook made his extremely late call.  The Braves probably would have lost anyway, but that call is inexcusable and Holbrook should be barred from ever working another playoff game in his life.

CraigStofflet
CraigStofflet

@reames.matt Great solution... And to take care of the case where a team intentionally drops the ball to remove a speedster from the bases, amend your rule by saying if a IF drops a pop fly and gets any runner out on a force the batter is then out and all runners return to their bases.

cpovey
cpovey

 @reames.matt That's the whole purpose of the infield fly rule, to prevent force outs. Before the rule, infielders would purposely drop balls, forcing runners to advance, and they could then get single or double outs. 

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

 @Stinger97 It was an easy call and had to go the way it did. Great job by the umpire. I think the umpire's timing was about perfect too. As soon as he determined the catch could be made with ordinary effort, he immediately declared the infield fly. There is no CONTEXT - there is only one determination as to whether the ordinary effort applies. You can't pick and choose when to enforce the rules or under what context you should apply it. It would have been a horrifically bad call had the umpire intentionally ignored the rule based upon the context.

 

The problem was the ignorant fans who could have known baseball better. Then there would have been no reaction - it's the call and outcome everyone should expect.

 

There is a good analogy as to whether NBA refs should call moderate fouls late in the game especially during the playoffs. It's my opinion that the infield fly rule is much more of a black and white rule with fairly minor judgment involved ("the ordinary effort") ... it's got to be called.

 

A better analogy for me is, in golf, you get a penalty stroke if you touch a plant on backswing while in a hazard. This applies even if it's unintentional. A pro a couple years lost his chance to win a tournament because he called this rule on himself where only he caught the possibility of a plant barely moving out of the corner of his eye. Nobody really likes that this took him out of the tournament, but everyone celebrates the honor and integrity for the player calling it on himself. He knew the rules and accepted the consequences.

 

Unfortunately, the fans in Atlanta did not know the rules and reacted discracefully.

Derrick2
Derrick2

 @De1 That would have been incredibly stupid of them.

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

 @JamesMadison The only subjective aspect was whether the fielder could make the catch with ordinary effort. You can differ on that judgment, but it appeared to me the ball was catchable by a typical major league player who started that deep at shortstop. The fielder was in fact about to make the catch when he let the ball the drop.

 

It would have been absolutely horrible and a total sham if the umpire did not make the call. You don't want umpires taking the game into their hands and deciding when to enforce and when not to enforce. Ingorance of the fans is not an excuse to not follow the rule book.

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

 @Mike Seberger Actually, the rule spells out that it only matters whether the ball can be caught by an infielder and even spells out that the infielder doesn't have to be in the infield. The crux, to me, is that some aren't happy with the call and blame the umpire, when the umpire made a 100% proper call according to the rules of baseball. It's a call that was made correctly and should have been made. In golf, if you unintentionally brush your backswing against a plant in a hazard - you get a penalty ... I don't like that rule, but that's the rule.

 

Was the call late? First, a late call potentially hurts the runners who might get thrown out, but the runners should know when the infield fly rule is in effect and what their baserunning options are. In this case, the runners advanced, no harm if the call is "late". My opinion is that the umpire looked like he made the call pretty close to when he was able to determine the ball was catchable with ordinary effort. In the play that happened, it probably wasn't apparent that it was an infield fly until the ball was coming down and the fielder was indeed in position.

 

The fielder was playing deep and a normal major league caliber back-peddling shortstop should have been able to make that catch. It's up to the judgment of the umpire. That's the rule ... that's the infield fly.

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

 @watkinsontx Actually, I was hoping for a Braves win. But it is no where near a terrible call. The fielder could have caught it, plain and simple. You can disagree ... that's your judgement and that's fine. But the umpire was well within normal bounds to judge otherwise. The fielder waived his arms to say I got it (before he moved out of the way) - pretty clear to me that he could have caught it with ordinary effort.

I agree that in general, fans don't like calls like this that overshadow the play on the field. But the rules are the rules ... and, in the case of the infield fly rule, no argument that this rule is written for the more normal case when a fielders would get an unfair advantage if they let the ball drop to try to get a cheap double-play.  But the rules are written as they are written and they apply as they were applied correctly tonight. You might not like it, but the umpire made a great gutsy (and correct!) call.

bankertl53
bankertl53

 @dpincsecret LOL - and you think a PA announcement would have kept the field clean?  Hilarious.

JamesLChapman
JamesLChapman

 @dpincsecret

 Yes, in looking at the wording of the rule and the replay, I have to agree that the infielder could have easily caught it without any kind of monumental effort so I can see the ump making the call that he did.  With that said, in my 40+ years of watching baseball seriously, I cannot recall a fly ball going that deep out of the infield and getting that call, so I understand the frustration of Braves fans.  However, it would not be fair to say the call cost the Braves the game.  If they had cut the lead to one run soon after, then MAYBE you could say that call effected the outcome.  Like my dad used to say, true champions overcome bad calls and make the officials irrelevant (always hated it when he said that since it was always after my team lost and a call I didn't like occured lol).  Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I was pulling for the Braves.  As a lifelong Rangers fan (grew up in Dallas), I still haven't recovered from last year's "one strike away" and this year's collapse hasn't helped anything (I still give Cards kudos for doing what they had to...grudgingly lol).

SloppyJ30
SloppyJ30

 You have to be completely bereft of common sense to think that was a "proper call." If this had happened to the Cards, their fans would be calling this "Denkinger II." There are at least three reasons this was a botched call, but let's say you're right about the fielder. Let's even stretch credulity to its breaking point and say the ump was perfectly fine making the call a split second before the ball hit the ground. I don't know how much baseball you've watched in your life, but have you EVER seen a ball hit that far into the outfield trigger the infield fly rule? No; no you haven't. To describe that call as anything but embarrassing is either dishonest or ignorant.

TravisArmour
TravisArmour

 @Joe28 what the above analysis failed to disclose is the purpose of the infield fly rule ... that probably would have helped the reader, eh?  cheers

watkinsontx
watkinsontx

 @jdbolick If the infielder could have caught it he would have because the umpire did not rule it an infield fly rule until it was 2 feet from the ground. That means it was not "ordinary effort" because he could not make the play. Simple enough. 

TravisArmour
TravisArmour

 @jdbolick not sure i agree that they 'would have lost anyways', bases loaded with 1 out would have been a tasty dish.  But the fans acted like childish bums, so they deserved to witness an L (oh yeah, i had cabbage on the Cards ... ;)

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

 @bankertl53 Ask the fans in the first few rows who got bonked on the head if there should have been an announcement. Of course, the initial reaction would have been hard to control, but an announcement before play resumed would be not only appropriate but the right thing to do.

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

 @SloppyJ30 You simply do not like the rules of baseball. It's a clear and simple rule. The issue is umpire's judgment as to ordinary effort. The infielder could have caught the ball pretty easily. It's the rules ... plain and simple. You don't have to like it, but it is the rules. It would have been HUGELY unfair for the umpire to not have called it.

Joe28
Joe28

 @TravisArmour 

True enough,  The IFR is there to protect the team at bat.

dpincsecret
dpincsecret

 @watkinsontx  @jdbolick Simple enough is that the umpire ruled an infield fly and therefore, in the umpire's judgment, it was "ordinary effort." The fielder was in position to make the catch and then moved away. The call was made pretty close to when it was apparent the fielder could make the catch - the call was made pretty close in time when one would be able to determine "ordinary effort." I'm not going to fault the umpire on his timing on that call. Besides, the runners were able to advance which is why the umpire should make the call immediately after determining it to be an infield fly.

TravisArmour
TravisArmour

 @Joe28  lol   yep.  This was a perversion, well, so the Braves faithful thought ...  what drove them nuts was realizing the Braves did not need that protection on this particular play lol