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"Infield fly, if fair" sometimes isn't fair

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When I first started as an umpire, the infield fly call gave me a bit of trouble. The first infield fly call I ever made was in error, as there were 2 outs. I never made that mistake again.

Subsequently, umpiring in teenage leagues, these fly balls that were catchable with "ordinary effort" often weren't caught regardless of effort. Instead of leading to a unfair double play, the Bad News Bears would in panic throw the ball into the woods to try to make up for it. Too many arguments ensued where the offense's coach (youth teams don't have "managers") then doesn't understand why his batter was out on a play where there were two errors and no one caught anything.

However, these problems went away quickly. The infield fly became routine and expected for the older and better teams. The easy ones were always caught, and the borderline ones ended up with either a catch or a drop but with the lead runner staying put, so no harm ensued.

I never had a borderline infield fly result in a double play, but I was curious one day, so I looked up discussions on the play.

SCENARIO: With runners on first or second or bases loaded, batter hits an fly ball catchable by an infielder with ordinary effort, but no umpire calls the infield fly or calls the batter out. Play ensues.

RULING: The infield fly is not a situation than needs to be announced to be reality. Just like a ball that lands obviously foul without a call, the situation should ideally call itself. After the fact, the umpire may clarify the judgment call if there is any question, correct an earlier errant call or implied call, and confer with other umpires if he deems it necessary--just like any judgment call such as fair/foul, catch/no catch, or safe/out. Ensuing play should be allowed to stand, as the ball isn't dead on an infield fly call.

Umpires should of course try to make things clear and obvious so as to avoid confusion and arguments. If, in the play in question in Wednesday's Twins-Angels game, the umpire would have merely forgot to call the infield fly, or missed the call, he could have corrected himself.

However, it wouldn't have mattered. Watching the play, you'll notice that, as soon has the ball drops, the runner from first, Doug Bernier, takes off for second, thus ensuring he would be tagged out. If Bernier would have returned to first and stayed there, he would have been called safe had the umpire corrected the call--remember, on an infield fly, all runners except the batter-runner should do whatever they want--they may advance at their own risk, or stay at their time-of-pitch base. (Just like any fly ball, they only need to tag up if the ball is caught.) This illustrates the need to call the infield fly while the ball is in the air--if it isn't, the runners don't know what to do if it drops.

Had Bernier had the presence of mind to choose not to run, they may have thrown the batter runner out at first and he could have been safe anyway, even without an infield fly call. (Or, he may have been tagged out before they tagged first base, resulting in a double play--but that's no worse than what actually happened, right?)

That being said, it sure looked like an infield fly to me. Batter's out. Maybe the Angels tag Bernier out as well anyway?

Updated 07-25-2013 at 01:45 PM by PSzalapski

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