There was a big brouhaha over an umpire’s call at the Braves-Cards playoff game the other day.
(I’m having trouble embedding the video; click here if the video doesn’t work.)
What’s clearest about this play is that few people understand the infield fly rule — including the announcers on TV! (Listen to the commentary beginning 52 seconds into the clip — “You cannot call that an infield fly. It’s too deep. He wasn’t camped [under the ball].”)
I have umpired many games and I know that this rule is complex.1 However, it’s also very clear once you work through the complexities. (The relevant sections of the rule are reprinted from the Major League Baseball rule book at the bottom of this article, with key passages highlighted.)
There is no question that for a Major League shortstop, only ordinary effort was required to field that ball. The fact that he thought he heard the outfielder calling for the ball, and thus stepped out of the way at the last second, doesn’t change the fact that he was drifting back, not running full out; he was comfortably tracking the ball, waving his hands to signal that he was in control and prepared to make the catch.
In other words, it wasn’t an umpire’s judgment call. By the letter of the rule, the ump had to call the batter out.2
The announcers should have known that. An infield fly isn’t a rarity; the rule comes into play every few games.
The Lawyer Analogy
The complex mare’s nest of laws is like the infield fly rule. So is the exacting language with which laws and agreements are written.
They are easy to misunderstand, even when people think they understand them.3 It takes professionals to work through the complexities. And even the pros don’t always get it right.
There are lots of other things lawyers do, such as dispassionate negotiation on behalf of a client, legal-related business advice, etc. But at the heart is understanding society’s equivalents of the infield fly rule.
The Rule Itself
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. 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.