The Infield Fly Rule

[Editor’s note: A rudimentary understanding of baseball will help with this one.]

It’s time to talk about the infield fly rule.

I KNOW, guys, that the infield fly rule is about the most stereotypical example of how baseball can be esoteric and impenetrable for those who aren’t hardcore fans. Well, all the more reason to do away with it for good—which is exactly what I propose we do.

First, here it is in all its glory: 

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 umpires 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 umpires 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.

Ok. That out of the way, let’s review how it actually works. In practice, anytime a fly ball that an infielder could catch (even if it isn’t an infielder who’s chasing it down), the umpire declares the infield fly rule’s effect immediately—while the ball is in the air. Upon this declaration, the batter is ruled out—regardless of whether the ball is caught.

The point of this rule, for the uninitiated, is to prevent cheap triple plays. Imagine there are runners on first and third and a fly ball is hit in the infield. A crafty infielder might intentionally drop the ball, forcing the baserunners (who would usually tag on their bases until the ball was caught or dropped) to advance with the force from the batter. This way, they could easily be thrown out.

It’s not so complicated once you think about it. Or at least the idea isn’t—but why do we put this call in the umpires’ hands? “The umpire’s judgment must govern, and the decision should be made immediately.”

So, you’re putting real-time decisions in the umpires’ hands. This is tough for me. Calling “out” or “safe,” or calling “ball” or “strike,” are sort of real-time, but the umpire can take his time making the call. The infield fly call, though, has to be made ASAP. It’s comparable to a tough fair/foul call, except that those are usually clearer and less subjective.

The glaring difference, though, is how unnecessary it is. Don’t get me wrong, the idea behind the infield fly rule is right on target, but why allocate the obligation of its application to the umpires when players could do it themselves? As a guy who knows a little about baseball, I know that when I hit an infield fly with men on base I’m going to get called out—AND I know that it’s for the best. So why doesn’t baseball force me to act on that knowledge myself, rather than creating doubt in everyone on the diamond who doesn’t know if or when the umpire is going to make the call?

I propose we do away with the infield fly rule and give players the ability to “out themselves”—that is, essentially commit baseball suicide. Instead of waiting for the umpire to call them out in the air, we would simply let the players do this themselves. This removes a lot of the uncertainty, puts the game back in the players’ hands, and leaves only the batting team to blame if they let themselves get bamboozled into a triple play.

Also stipulated in the self-out: No baserunners may advance when it is invoked, and it may only be used for fly balls (to prevent a batter from trying to break up a double play by “outing himself” and killing the force). This way, the rule can’t be abused, the theoretical effect is identical to that of the infield fly rule, and the practical effect is that the players run their own game more smoothly.

(Note: I’ve always wondered how much room there is to abuse this sort of dynamic, actually. You can get called out for any number of reasons—running outside the base paths, for example. If there was a runner on 1st and I hit a ground ball to short, I might try just running out to the mound and getting called out, taking the force of the runner going to second. If the 2nd baseman wasn’t paying attention and didn’t put the tag on the runner, would the out stand? I’m curious.)

Anyway, the infield fly rule. I fixed it. Ta daa! Baseball’s fan base can now expand unrestrained. MLB, whenever you want to hire me, just let me know.

No, for real. Please. Did I mention I’m a lawyer (almost)?

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