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Old Thu Jun 06, 2019, 10:43am
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commentary on IFR

From a Philadelphia sports columnist:

Let’s begin by recognizing that the infield fly rule is unique and inspires deep thought and discussion. In 1975, a law student at Penn named William S. Stevens published “The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule” in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. It is scholarly, slightly tongue-in-cheek, and, quite unexpectedly, birthed a school of academic thought applying the concepts of the rule through the ages. If you have a few spare moments, read Anthony D’Amato’s “The Contribution of the Infield Fly Rule to Western Civilization (and Vice Versa),” published in 2006 by the Northwestern University Law Review. It is also a page-turner.


Interesting stuff, but the rule came about just before the turn of the century because teams were finding ways to substitute success for sportsmanship, or something like that. The Baltimore Orioles, managed by John McGraw, a conniver if ever there was one, didn’t invent faking catches to trap runners, but they perfected it. The rule came into being shortly thereafter and was altered a few times — deleting bunts and line drives, for instance — and stands today still guarding the integrity of the game against what the writers of the rule called “subterfuge.”

Fine, but why not put the rule in effect for any force situation, such as Monday night’s in San Diego that ended up costing the Phillies one of their prime contributors?

Fortunately, we have among us, someone with the answer.

Peter E. Meltzer, a partner with the Philadelphia law firm of Weber Gallagher, is also the author of four books, one of which is the excellent, “So You Think You Know Baseball? A Fan’s Guide to the Official Rules.”


One chapter in the book is devoted to the infield fly rule, and great examples of its proper implementation. That rainy, windy night in Citizens Bank Park when the Phillies were attempting to close out Tampa Bay in the 2008 World Series is in there, recounting the Pedro Feliz popup to first base with runners on first and second. The rule was not invoked, because, in the estimation of the umpire, given the conditions, snagging it required more than the “ordinary effort” test of the rule. Carlos Pena caught it anyway.

“The infield fly rule is a complicated rule, but it’s fair,” Meltzer said. “With just a runner on first, there should be no risk of a double play. If there are runners on second and third, the third baseman could let the ball drop, touch third, throw to second and there is nothing the offensive players can do about it. With just a runner on first, the batting team assumes the risk of not running hard to first base.”

In other words, if the batter who popped up with just a runner on first doesn’t get himself down the line, the game of baseball will not bail him out. His action forces the defense to catch the ball. (Of course, if it were a speedy runner on base and a slower one at the plate, the infielder could choose to let the ball drop, take the force at second, and essentially swap baserunners. But there shouldn’t be the risk of a double play.) It is up to the batter to keep the defense honest, and if he doesn’t, that’s on him.

“That’s exactly right,” Meltzer said. “The batting team has it in its control to avoid a double play when there’s a runner on first base, but doesn’t have it with runners on first and second.”
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Old Thu Jun 06, 2019, 09:07pm
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Thanks for posting this. Baseball history is incredibly interesting. 140 years of playing the "same game" on different sized diamonds with different sized and colored balls, and there are still new things happening every year.

I remind my mentees this very same thing: The infield fly rule exists to prevent the defense from stealing a double or triple play. Yes, the offense suffers one out, but it's there to protect the offense from multiple outs.
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