Friday, November 2, 2012

Instant Replay Series: Infield Fly call in wildcard game

The first controversial play of this postseason, was in the very first wildcard game between the Cardinals and the Braves.   Let me refresh your memory:  In the bottom of the 8th inning, the Braves were down 6-3 but rallying.  They had runners on 1st and 2nd with only 1 out and Andrelton Simmons at bat, with Brian McCann on deck.  Simmons hit a bloop/pop fly into shallow left field.  Cardinal shortstop Pete Kozma sprinted back for it and looked like he was under it, and at the last second he peeled off, presumably to let Matt Holliday take it.  But Holliday never took charge and it fell untouched, as the Braves runners scrambled to advance safely to their next base.  But in the midst of all this, an infield fly was called, and Simmons was declared out.  The short version of what ensued was lots of arguing, Braves fans showing their displeasure by littering the field with anything they could throw, a long delay, Atlanta playing the game under protest, the ruling being upheld and the Cardinals advanced to the LDS, and went on to win the World Series (ok, so maybe the last part may not have happened this year).  Here is the video:
The Braves thought that the infield fly should not have been called, and the bases should have been loaded with only one out.  And it left a bad taste in people's mouths on the way future Hall of Famer Chipper Jones' career ended. How could my instant replay proposal have been applied here?

First of all, as soon as Atlanta's manager came storming out of the dugout, instead of a long heated argument, the Umpire could have just said "hold on, Freddie... we're going to take a look at it", and calmed everybody down.  Because changing the call would not have changed where any of the other runners would end up, it could have been reviewed and changed.  (Remember, on an infield fly the ball is live, and runners can advance at their own risk - which they did in this case).  And then they could have waited a couple of minutes to get the ruling from the "instant replay Umpire".
Would the ruling have changed?  I don't think so (*).  By definition, it WAS an infield fly. Note this comment on the IF rule:
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
All the conditions were met, and off the bat it may not have been "ordinarily handled by an infielder", but by the time Kozma camped under it and had his shoulders square to the infield it was.  So, the ruling would not have changed, but the fans would not have had a reason to throw debris towards the Umpires on the field. They didn't make the final call, someone else not on the field made it.  The delay to the game would have been shorter. Instant replay would not have made the Braves any happier in this situation, but at least they wouldn't have felt as cheated.

(*) I actually believe that if no infield fly had been called, the shortstop would have made the catch, and the situation actually helped the Braves as their runners advanced one base. From the replay it appears that Kozma is under the ball and all of a sudden he gets out of the way.  Why did he do that? My speculation is that he heard something, and assumed it was Holliday calling him off. Likely, he heard the left field umpire, call "infield fly, batter is out", and since players are not accustomed to playing with umpires in the outfield, he did not realize that was an umpire talking.

Here are couple of links that corroborate my thoughts:
Right call by rule
Call helped the Braves

On a separate point, the intent of the IF rule is to prevent the defense from turning a cheap double play by intentionally not catching a ball, while the runners aren't advancing to their next bases.  However, the wording of the rule does not specifically talk to this intent.  Maybe the rule could be changed?  Adding a clause to not only say that it "can be caught with ordinary effort", but also that "and if it is uncaught can give the defense an easy way to turn a double play", would turn situations such as this one from an infield fly situation to not an infield fly situation.

For reference, here is my "Get the Edge" page on what players should do on an infield fly.

As always I welcome your thoughts.


1 comment:

  1. > So, the ruling would not have changed, but the fans would not have had a reason to throw debris towards the Umpires on the field. They didn't make the final call, someone else not on the field made it. The delay to the game would have been shorter. Instant replay would not have made the Braves any happier in this situation, but at least they wouldn't have felt as cheated.

    I disagree with this point. The fans aren't going to care that "another umpire" (their words) upheld a "horrible call" (again, their words). Freddie would still argue, probably leading to an ejection. Fans would have still thrown stuff on the field, causing the same length delay.

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