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October 6, 2012 11:26 AM   Subscribe

Down by three runs with runners at first and second and one out in last night's first-ever NL Wildcard Playoff Game, Braves' shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a pop fly to left field. Cardinals' shortstop Pete Kozma went back to make the catch but broke off at the last second, and the ball dropped. The runners advanced, and almost everyone thought it was bases loaded with one out. But left-field umpire Sam Holbrook invoked the infield fly rule, and so, Simmons was out on the play. Video of the whole thing here. Braves fans were not happy.

Observers disagree about whether the call was correct. Some think the call was self-evidently wrong. Some think it was the right call after all.

The controversy has some complaining about the use of extra umpires in playoff games and others asking whether instant replay would have helped.

One thing is clear: the infield fly rule is tricky.
posted by Jonathan Livengood (54 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite

 
Terrible call based on how the infield fly works, but not necessarily on how the infield fly rule is written. Which of course gave Joe Torre and MLB an way to talk their way out of any culpability for this mess.

The extra ump complaint is a good point. In the playoffs, there are two extra umpires on the field along the foul lines in the outfield. This is a position in the field they do not occupy at any point during the regular season. If this ump was where he normally would stand near third base and the play happened just over his shoulder, it would have happened in the middle of the infield. But suddenly he's 75 feet into the outfield and probably reflexively making what looks to him like the right call, forgetting he's now actually standing in the outfield.
posted by thecjm at 11:33 AM on October 6, 2012 [5 favorites]


i'm getting that headache i get when court rulings get parsed on metafilter
posted by twist my arm at 11:36 AM on October 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


I don't really see much room for controversy. This seems to be pretty much an obvious infield fly. The confusion is that people misunderstand the rule to mean that the ball must be in the infield. It just has to be readily catch-able and in this case Simmons was pretty much parked under the ball for some time. In your "tricky" link, it was essentially the exact same situation. In fact, I'd argue that the other play was a bit closer than the Braves play.
posted by Lame_username at 11:37 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


The game was on in the background while I was watching the game at a bar. I was midway through my third rum and coke, glanced up, and saw the play and the 3-3 score. Next time I glanced up, it was 3-2 Cards and I decided I probably should be done for the day. Alas, I was probably perfectly fine!

Anyway, this is why it's stupid to have a 1-game series. Baseball is a game of quirks and statistics made moreso by poor umping.
posted by ChuraChura at 11:38 AM on October 6, 2012


The extra ump complaint is a good point. In the playoffs, there are two extra umpires on the field along the foul lines in the outfield. This is a position in the field they do not occupy at any point during the regular season. If this ump was where he normally would stand near third base and the play happened just over his shoulder, it would have happened in the middle of the infield. But suddenly he's 75 feet into the outfield and probably reflexively making what looks to him like the right call, forgetting he's now actually standing in the outfield.

That's a very sophisticated analysis, thecjm.
posted by jamjam at 11:39 AM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


It just has to be readily catch-able and in this case Simmons was pretty much parked under the ball for some time.

No he wasn't. The ball went over him. He was never in the spot where the ball landed. But, he certainly acted like he was parked under the ball. Which brings up the possibility that he knew he couldn't get it, faked being parked under the ball, and forced the ump to call an out based off the IFR. Which is some seriously dubious shit.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:44 AM on October 6, 2012 [3 favorites]


I appreciate this, because I actually wanted to consult Metafilter on this question. I don't know so much about the sports, but I could tell that when I checked my FB feed last night, my friends were unusually angry about this game, and I wondered about why. Then I figured that if it was really remarkable, there would be a post about it.

(My only knowledge of the infield fly rule is reading some old humor columnist, I forget who, who described a good woman -- true wife material -- as a girl you could sit down and explain the infield fly rule to. The point being, she'd be smart enough to understand it, but ladylike enough not to know it already.)
posted by Countess Elena at 11:45 AM on October 6, 2012


I didn't watch this live, so I'm still confused -- did Kozma let the ball drop because he heard Holbrook call the infleld fly? Or was it a straight miscommunication between shortstop and left fielder whose consequences were erased by the invocation of the rule?
posted by escabeche at 11:46 AM on October 6, 2012


I didn't watch this live, so I'm still confused -- did Kozma let the ball drop because he heard Holbrook call the infleld fly? Or was it a straight miscommunication between shortstop and left fielder whose consequences were erased by the invocation of the rule?

The way the Cardinals described it after the game, it was both. Kozma was backpedaling to catch it, heard someone yell something, and assumed it was Holliday coming in from left field and calling him off.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 11:48 AM on October 6, 2012


There's been a decent ongoing discussion of the call under Rob Neyer's piece at SBNation. As he points out, this video segment with Harold Reynolds has a great example of a comparable infield-fly call in a regular-season game that no one even blinked at (though presumably largely because in that case the shortstop fielded the ball).
posted by RogerB at 11:56 AM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


Thanks RogerB! I looked around a bit for that Reynolds segment but somehow just couldn't find it.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:01 PM on October 6, 2012


Kozma was backpedaling to catch it, heard someone yell something, and assumed it was Holliday coming in from left field and calling him off.

If that's the case, what does Atlanta have to complain about? As far as I can tell from the replay, Kozma had an easy catch to make. If the umpire doesn't make that call, it's the same result as what actually happened; batters out, runners stay put.
posted by escabeche at 12:07 PM on October 6, 2012


If that's the case, what does Atlanta have to complain about?

The biggest complaint that I've seen/heard isn't necessarily the call, but the timing of the call. You don't invoke the IFR a half-second before a player is going to attempt to catch the ball. You call it when the ball goes up and it is clearly going to be a routine fly ball for an infielder. Calling it so late doesn't allow the runners to make a base-running decision. In this case, it also affected the communication between infielder and outfielder.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:15 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


If that's the case, what does Atlanta have to complain about? As far as I can tell from the replay, Kozma had an easy catch to make. If the umpire doesn't make that call, it's the same result as what actually happened; batters out, runners stay put.

Baseball counterfactuals are tricky. From a Braves fan perspective, it probably looks like a more difficult catch that Kozma was not going to make, and the explanation then looks like a fabricated excuse: "Oh no, the umpire made you drop the ball ... cry about it some more!" The Braves fan then reasons: If the umpire had not made the call, Kozma would have dropped the ball anyway, and it would have been bases loaded with only one out.

From a Cards fan perspective, the explanation seems reasonable, and then it looks like the Braves actually ended up better off than they should have been. If the umpire had not made the call, then Kozma would have made the catch and the runners wouldn't even have advanced from first and second. So, you end up with runners on first and second with two outs instead of runners on second and third with two outs.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:15 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point if the rule is to protect base runners, not bail out bad fielding.
posted by drezdn at 12:15 PM on October 6, 2012


I wonder why there isn't the following addendum to the infield fly rule: In the event that the infield fly rule is invoked and the ball is not caught, the hitter will be awarded first base and all runners forced to advance by awarding the hitter first base will safely advance.

This way, the defense is still penalized for screwing up a routine defensive play.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:18 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


They should change the rule so that it states that if an infield fly is caught, then no baserunners advance. If the infield fly is dropped, then all baserunners advance one base and the hitter is also safe. This protects the baserunners as before but also allows the infielder to make a defensive play; they just can't take advantage of intentionally muffing it. On preview: Yes! JL has it.
posted by (Arsenio) Hall and (Warren) Oates at 12:19 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


The point if the rule is to protect base runners, not bail out bad fielding.
Excuse my ignorance, protect them from what?
(serious question)
posted by fullerine at 12:23 PM on October 6, 2012


The rule is, presumably, written the way it is so that the ball can stay live and the play can continue whether the catch is made or not. Most of the alternative infield-fly rules people are proposing this morning would have to result in the ball becoming dead and the play ending immediately when the ball fell, which is radically different from pretty much every other situation where the ball lands in fair territory without interference.
posted by RogerB at 12:23 PM on October 6, 2012


fullerine: "Excuse my ignorance, protect them from what?"

From the possible fielder choosing to drop the ball, forcing all the base runners to have to run, and then throwing to 3rd to get two easy outs (is my admittedly foreign understanding).
posted by Auz at 12:26 PM on October 6, 2012


Excuse my ignorance, protect them from what?

Double or triple plays. The characteristic scenario is where an infielder is standing on the dirt of the infield around third base, say, with runners on first and second and fewer than two outs. The third baseman acts like he's going to catch the ball so the runners have to stay close to the bags -- otherwise, they will be doubled off after the catch is made. But then, at the last second, the third baseman intentionally misses the catch. Now the runners must advance. So, the third baseman quickly steps on third and throws to second. If there is already one out, that double play will end the inning. If there are no outs, the second baseman might turn and throw the ball to first for a triple play, which would end the inning.

That sort of nonsense seems like cheating. So, the infield fly rule effectively prohibits it.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:27 PM on October 6, 2012 [7 favorites]


Excuse my ignorance, protect them from what?

From being forced into more than one out on the play. The rule basically applies to situations where an infielder could pretend to be making an easy catch, forcing the runners to retreat, but then drop the ball at the last second and instead begin a double or triple play.
posted by RogerB at 12:27 PM on October 6, 2012


If Kozma couldn't find the ball in the lights (note he's not very close to the ball's final landing spot) or if he thought Holliday called him off, then it sounds like an error to me. In any case, I'm pretty sure no one would consider that fly ball a bona-fide hit, even if it had landed. But the common definition of an error is the batter reaching or taking an additional base they wouldn't have been able to take if the fielder, exerting ordinary effort, had caught the ball, made the throw, etc. A comment on Rule 10.12(a)(1) in the MLB Handbook says:

If a ground ball goes through a fielder's legs or a fly ball falls untouched and, in the scorer's judgment, the fielder could have handled the ball with ordinary effort, the official scorer shall charge such fielder with an error.

The MLB Handbook also notes that "ordinary effort" is a specific term whose definition applies to both errors (under various portions of 10.12) AND infield fly balls (as defined in Rule 2.00, the same place "ordinary effort" is defined). So unless you think the ball should have been ruled a hit, it seems clear the ball was an infield fly.

The timing question and Kozma's decision (or lack thereof) to not catch the ball, of course, are separate issues. Also, it occurs to me that I like baseball best when it most resembles a courtroom or a stock exchange with bats.
posted by chrominance at 12:28 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


My understanding: if runners are forced by the batter to advance, an infielder failing to catch an easy pop fly would be able to extend the easy out to an easy double or triple play. So in fact the point is to end the play, not keep it live.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 12:28 PM on October 6, 2012


That's correct -- on an infield fly, the runners are caught between staying on their base (and being thrown out at the next base if the ball drops) and advancing to the next base (and being thrown out at the previous base if the ball is caught). The fielder would likely have the opportunity to turn a one-out fly ball into a double-play, based on which option the runners committed to.
posted by aaronetc at 12:28 PM on October 6, 2012


So in fact the point is to end the play, not keep it live.

No, play continues. The rule as written allows the runners to advance at their own risk once the infield fly is fielded (or drops). In fact, on the specific play in question, both Braves runners advanced.
posted by RogerB at 12:32 PM on October 6, 2012


Kozma was backpedaling to catch it, heard someone yell something, and assumed it was Holliday coming in from left field and calling him off.

He totally did not do that, though. the SBNation link has a GIF that clearly shows him looking offscreen (at the ump making the call) before ceasing to try for the catch. He did what he was supposed to do.

Watching it live in game (on TV), it looked like he caught a glimpse of the outfielder coming in, or thought he heard the outfielder call him off. But he was definitely reacting to the umpire's call.

The other side of it is how high the ball was when the call was made. In that gif, the ball's offscreen, but it had traveled at least 3/4 of its trajectory. Kozma didn't even have time to get his eyes back on the ball to consider catching it or not.

Whether or not the call was justified or justifiable, it was inelegant as hell.
posted by mwhybark at 12:34 PM on October 6, 2012


Okay, fair enough.

I don't actually watch baseball, I'm just fascinated by rules that people say are too complex for mere mortals to understand, so I researched the IFR a while back. It seems that my laser focus resulted in my missing some important context.
posted by reprise the theme song and roll the credits at 12:37 PM on October 6, 2012


oops, correction. I thought letting it drop after the call would end the play. Kozma has no excuse, really.
posted by mwhybark at 12:38 PM on October 6, 2012


the runners are caught between staying on their base (and being thrown out at the next base if the ball drops) and advancing to the next base (and being thrown out at the previous base if the ball is caught). The fielder would likely have the opportunity to turn a one-out fly ball into a double-play, based on which option the runners committed to.
So why not have the batter be the one called out (or stranded if you will) and whoever's on first can just stand there highlighting the batter's inability to hit it fucking far enough?

I'm just seeing what it feels like to comment on the Internet about a sport I know fuck all about, also known as being American.

Sorry, couldn't resist. At least it wasn't a "world series" joke.
posted by fullerine at 12:40 PM on October 6, 2012


So why not have the batter be the one called out ...

Uh ... that's exactly what the rule does. As written, when an umpire invokes the infield fly rule, the batter/runner is out. All other runners may advance at their own risk.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 12:45 PM on October 6, 2012


Odd-sounding rules often originate to prohibit something weird, that no one had thought about until someone started doing it, and I think that's the case here. Wasn't there a specific play that someone once pulled in a World Series game (not catching an easy popup and then forcing out runners), that resulted in the creation of this infield fly rule?
posted by thelonius at 12:58 PM on October 6, 2012


But I thought if the ball is "dropped" the batter has to go on to first base and the other runners have to advance, why not give them the option of going nu-uh to the batter and he walks off the field being out.
posted by fullerine at 1:07 PM on October 6, 2012


Wasn't there a specific play that someone once pulled in a World Series game

According to Wikipedia, it's been a rule since 1895 and unchanged since 1901...

There's been some fall-out from this recent case though: “Following the controversy, Major League Baseball removed the irreverent phrase "We don’t understand the infield fly rule, either." from its biography on its official Twitter feed.”
posted by Auz at 1:09 PM on October 6, 2012


But I thought if the ball is "dropped" the batter has to go on to first base and the other runners have to advance, why not give them the option of going nu-uh to the batter and he walks off the field being out.

Not sure if this is serious, but ... the batter and the baserunners are on the same team. It wouldn't make any sense for the runners not to advance when they have opportunity to do so.
posted by Jonathan Livengood at 1:19 PM on October 6, 2012


I'm getting the twitch that I got back in high school playing Magic: The Gathering and listening to other players debate the exact result of a few card plays...
posted by JoeXIII007 at 1:25 PM on October 6, 2012


i'm getting that headache i get when court rulings get parsed on metafilter
posted by twist my arm


Well according to the commentary, "He wasn't camped." So, that, um, ...I don't understand cricket either.
posted by StickyCarpet at 1:49 PM on October 6, 2012


"Camped" is just a slangy way of saying "settled routinely and easily under the ball waiting for it to come down."
posted by RogerB at 1:51 PM on October 6, 2012


Not sure if this is serious, but ... the batter and the baserunners are on the same team. It wouldn't make any sense for the runners not to advance when they have opportunity to do so.
What I meant was, if by advancing they risk two outs, they could reduce this to one by sacrificing the batter, I'm not sure if the batter can be out if someone is on first.

That said, I am rapidly moving from curious ignorance into just being an annoying cock so I'll stop digging this hole. Thank you for your patience and this has honestly given me the motivation to watch more (some) baseball.

So, how about those Yankees.
(I keed, I keed)
posted by fullerine at 1:57 PM on October 6, 2012


But he was definitely reacting to the umpire's call.

Not according to him. From espn:
Kozma took the blame for not making the play.
"I was under it," he said. "I should have made the play. I took my eyes off it. I was camped under it."


And from mlb.com:
"I went back and I was under it, and I called for and just missed it," Kozma said. "I bailed at the last second. I thought [the ruling] was the right call. I am an infielder. I went back and was camped under it. I thought [the umpire] made the call. All I heard was the crowd. I just bailed at last second."

I don't think the replay supports the claim that he was camped, either. He never got under the ball and never stopped moving except for reversing direction away from where the ball was falling.

it looks like the Braves actually ended up better off than they should have been. If the umpire had not made the call, then Kozma would have made the catch and the runners wouldn't even have advanced from first and second.

Kozma wouldn't have made the catch though; the call didn't affect the play as it was happening--at least according to Kozma.
posted by torticat at 2:21 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


So, how about those Yankees.

Discussion of their imminent demise is over on the Orioles thread.
posted by escabeche at 2:24 PM on October 6, 2012


As someone from St. Louis, all I can say is I get Atlanta's frustration.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 2:26 PM on October 6, 2012


The trouble with the rule is that it turns it over entirely to the umpire's judgment. The call was a bad call, but justifiable under the rule. The umpire believed an infielder to be capable of catching the ball with a reasonable effort. Where the infield and the outfield begin and end are immaterial to that. It's all about if an infielder can get to the ball with a reasonable effort. When I watched the reply, I thought that the call was justifiable in that, to me, it looked like it was a problem with calling the ball. I hadn't read what Kozma said about the play, and thought it looked like he pulled up short because he thought the left-fielder was going to get it. I suspect that's what the umpire might have been thinking, too: Kozma's range made it a ball he was able to get to under a reasonable effort. I thought it was a difficult, and sure to be unpopular, call. Think of it from the other side of things: Kozma drops it, and doubles off a baserunner. The Braves would have been upset about that, too.

I changed my mind, though, was reading Joe Posnanski's take on it:



Plus, a number of current and former ballplayers who would probably know better than I made it pretty clear that Kozma's ranging out there—whether he's camped under it or not—was the result of extraordinary effort, not ordinary effort.

So I guess it is to the letter of the rule, but not the spirit of it. And in the playoffs, especially a one-game playoff, I think that makes it a bad call.
posted by synecdoche at 3:23 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


And somewhere in the cosmos Skip Caray seethes with rage considering how often he had to explain the infield-fly rule to morons on the weekly call-in show
posted by ob1quixote at 3:53 PM on October 6, 2012 [1 favorite]


St. Louis front-page shot.

Link contains a call to 'ban the kid for life.' which is asinine. But the shot is worth a look.
posted by mwhybark at 5:13 PM on October 6, 2012


But I thought if the ball is "dropped" the batter has to go on to first base and the other runners have to advance, why not give them the option of going nu-uh to the batter and he walks off the field being out.

You mean doing this in normal non-infield fly situations? That would then eliminate many regular perfectly good double plays.
posted by kmz at 5:26 PM on October 6, 2012


Infield fly DOES NOT HAVE TO take place in the infield, it just has to be a routine play and its a judgement call. I did mot see the play but I did listen to sports radio about it, not a big deal, Braves were disappointed obviously, but not a blown call. Question about LF ump is interesting but not relevant to this call.
posted by sfts2 at 7:27 PM on October 6, 2012


As I understand it, he settled under the ball, this is a routine play. Infield fly. All else doesn't matter, once a major league IF settles under the ball, its a routine play which is the KEY point as far as the rule goes.
posted by sfts2 at 7:30 PM on October 6, 2012


Yeah, watch the video. He's so far into the outfield he stopped running because he thought the left fielder was calling him off.
posted by ob1quixote at 8:53 PM on October 6, 2012 [2 favorites]


And this is why a 1-game wild card was the worst choice possible to expand the post-season. The appeal of Baseball for me is that people are measured over multiple instances to find out who is better. 3 strikes. 4 balls. 9 innings. Multiple games in a series against an opponent. 162 games. It mimises mistakes having an influence and allows those with slightly more skill to pull ahead slightly and have this magnified. A 1-game wild card? Negates a lot of that imo.

Still, that's the decision, this was the risk.
posted by ewan at 12:35 AM on October 7, 2012 [2 favorites]


For what it's worth, the blown call wouldn't have loomed as large if the Braves hadn't allowed three runs on three errors or not left ten runners in scoring position on base, scoring only three runs on twelve hits.
posted by ob1quixote at 12:57 AM on October 7, 2012


I hate that rule. The only competitive game of softball I ever played that rule got me out. I was in Japan - it was Teachers from School A vs School B. I didn't know the rules, but in my second at-bat I managed to bloop a hit over the shortstop and get to 1st. Then I got to second on a walk. Then one of my teammates got hold of one and I set off for third base. I could hear people screaming but I didn't understand what they saying until finally just as I got to third base the most senior teacher on my team run to the base as screamed GO BACKKU!!! and I did and I got thrown out at second base. I was pretty annoyed, as were my teammates, and it wasn't until a couple of weeks later than an American friend explained the rule that done me in.
posted by awfurby at 3:07 AM on October 7, 2012


For what it's worth, the blown call wouldn't have loomed as large if the Braves hadn't allowed three runs on three errors or not left ten runners in scoring position on base, scoring only three runs on twelve hits.

Not to mention at least two blown calls that went Atlanta's way earlier in the game. Whoever said baseball was fair? As Cholly Manuel would say, "What the hell? Keep crying."
posted by snottydick at 6:52 AM on October 8, 2012


This seems to be pretty much an obvious infield fly. The confusion is that people misunderstand the rule to mean that the ball must be in the infield. It just has to be readily catch-able and in this case Simmons was pretty much parked under the ball for some time.

As a former Little League coach and umpire, I'd disagree. The ball must be "ordinarily have been handled by an infielder"

Running out 90 feet into left field is not ordinary. The purpose of the infield-fly rule is to prevent infielders from dropping pop-ups to get force outs. In the Braves-Cards situation, there was little chance of that.

As I understand it, he settled under the ball, this is a routine play.

My point would be it's not a routine play UNTIL he settles under the ball. Getting to that position and settling under it is not a routine INFIELD play.

Kozma was backpedaling to catch it, heard someone yell something, and assumed it was Holliday coming in from left field and calling him off.

And that, of course, is the big rub. If the ump's call affected Kozmo's ability to make the catch, then yeah, you gotta go through with it and make the out call.

I still think the call itself is erroneous, though it's obviously a judgment call. Or what synecdoche/Posnaski said better.
posted by mrgrimm at 9:35 AM on October 8, 2012 [1 favorite]


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