Infield Fly Proposal

117 years ago, in response to an epidemic of infielders intentionally dropping popups to attempt double plays instead, the National League adopted the infield fly rule, and with some minor adjustments, the rule has survived to the present. Like many remedies from the 1800s, the intent- protecting the offense from chicanery- was good, but the implementation- calling their batter automatically out- was fraught with problems.

First, and most obviously in light of recent events, even when the defense can’t make the play, the rule intended to protect the offense punishes them by giving the defense the out anyway. Second, any time a fly ball can be intentionally dropped for a good shot at a double play, the offense should be protected from that, but because the play requires calling the batter automatically out, the rule as written can’t be invoked liberally. Third, and related to the second, the umpires have to make a judgment call based on the trajectory of the ball, the position of the fielder, environmental factors, and anything else they consider relevant to determining “ordinary effort”. That leads to late calls and inconsistent application.

Enduring those problems does prevent infielders from making a travesty of the game, but there’s a much better way. The purpose of the rule is to prevent the drop-double play, so the rule should simply state that if a fly ball does drop, the defense can’t force two baserunners on the play. That’s all the protection the offense needs. A couple of examples so it’s clear what is meant:

Men on 1st and 2nd, 1 out. A popup to the 3b. The runners are staying close to their bases, as they should, and the ball drops. The 3b picks it up and steps on 3rd for the force. Once this happens, the runner on 2nd is forced out, but the runner who started on 1st gets to advance to 2nd safely (and the batter will be safe at 1st once he gets there, not automatically out). The offense doesn’t have to do anything special- if the runners can’t safely advance, they stand on their bases, wait for a runner to be forced, and then the trailing runners (if any) take their free advance. Other than the identity of the runners on each base, the end result is the same.

Men on 1st and 2nd, 1 out. A popup to the 2b. The runners are staying close to their bases again, as they should, and the ball drops. The 2b picks it up and steps on 2nd. The runner who started on 1st is forced, and unless the batter or the runner who started on 2nd wandered, this will be the end of the play with an out recorded and runners still on 1st and 2nd.

Men on 1st and 2nd, 1 out. A high popup a good bit behind the normal ss/3b position. The runners are taking normal leads. The ball drops. The runners attempt to advance and beat the throw to 3rd (or 2nd). Everybody is safe.

Compared to the rule as written, this has several major advantages. First, when the defense drops the ball, the offense isn’t penalized. Second, it requires absolutely no judgment call on the part of the umpire other than the bare minimum “Is this a fly ball?”. Third, it can and should be called IMMEDIATELY on EVERY fly ball when the defense can possibly force two runners, although it doesn’t matter if the call is made in other cases because it will just have no effect. It will always protect the offense when it needs to be protected and it will never punish the offense by giving the defense a free out or allowing a drop-double play.

One objection is that the defense can let the ball drop on purpose to choose which runner to force, and this is true, but the defense can already do that with a runner on 1st and 3rd and actually does do it occasionally with a runner on 1st only, so this isn’t adding anything new. Another is that it would be simpler to keep the IF rule but call the ball dead and advance everybody one base (and the batter to 1st) if the ball is dropped. This has all of the problems of the current IF rule, plus it punishes the defense because many accidentally dropped IFs would result in forces, plus it prevents the offense from advancing multiple bases on a horribly misplayed ball.

A third objection is that problems with the IF rule arise so rarely that it’s not worth changing, and there is some truth to the first part- the vast majority of IFs are caught, and a lot of the ones that aren’t would be forces anyway. However, there’s no reason to do something badly now just because it’s been done badly in the past. Also, MLB is the leader, and their rules trickle down to all levels of play, even kids’ leagues and recreational softball, and at those levels of play, popups are dropped all the time and forces well might not be recorded after drops. In those environments, the deficiencies of the current rule come into play much more often.

The one-forceout rule for fly balls is simpler to explain to anybody with even a rudimentary understanding of baseball (“The defense isn’t allowed to force two runners after a fly ball drops”), it’s easier for everybody to call and anticipate (“Fly ball, make the call!”), and it avoids the undesirable consequences of the current rule. It’s just a better rule for MLB and for every other level of play as well.




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Matt Hunter
Guest

Fantastic idea. You’re first objection is the strongest, I think – if there is a slow runner at first and a fast runner at second, the defense would benefit from dropping the ball and forcing the fast runner so that the new runner on 2nd would be less likely to score on a single. But like you said, this is already done, and probably wouldn’t be all too common, nor would it present that much of an advantage to the defense.

My only other question would be about how fly ball is defined. If the batter hits a soft liner to the SS, who lets it drop, does the rule apply?

Paul Thomas
Guest
Paul Thomas

This idea sounds great until you actually try to write a rule covering it. What is a “fly ball”? Well, it’s a ball that hasn’t bounced yet. But you can’t write a rule saying “no two forces on a fly ball, defined as a ball that hasn’t bounced yet,” because the defensive chicanery the infield fly rule is intended to stop involves letting the ball bounce BEFORE doubling off the two runners.

It’s not a coincidence that all your examples involve popups. Popups are the easy case. What happens if an infielder MIGHT be able to catch a liner, but instead takes it on a short-hop and tries to turn a double play? The current infield fly rule says that’s fine. As far as I can tell, your rule would bar a double play in that situation, which is silly.

John
Member
John

Why even have an infield fly rule? Every offense knows that a fly ball in the infield area is either (a) a sure out, or (b) an opportunity for the defense to pull off a sneaky double or even triple play. If MLB repealed the IF rule tomorrow, I don’t think anything would change. Runners would know that whenever an infield fly is hit, they should just stay put. The fielders could drop the ball intentionally, but nobody would be off a base to tag, and there would already be an out at first (dual occupancy of a base), destroying the force. Or they could catch it. Either way, one out: just like as if the IF rule had been in effect.

Alternatively, any batter who hits an infield fly could just run way out of the base paths, interfere with the catcher, or do any number of stupid things to get himself out intentionally. Again, destroying the force, and again, resulting in the same outcome: one out.

It seems like a futile effort to try and regulate this stuff. There’s always room for judgment errors; subjective margins. Why not just make the potential consequences of an infield fly a part of game strategy for offenses to avoid with their own cunning, rather than a wild card for the poor umps to have to call. Everyone’s happier.

Mike K
Guest
Mike K

jtloughney, in your example it would be a double play. That’s the whole point of a force out. The runner is FORCED to advance a base. The double-occupancy only applies if there isn’t a force situation. So in the case you mention, they’d throw to 3rd first (one out), and then 2nd (2nd out).

Personally I think a better solution would be to establish a distance from the IF. Quite literally, draw a line in chalk in the OF. Umpire can signal IF fly if he feels the ball is high enough – so a true pop-fly and not a bloop. If the ball then lands behind the line, it is *not* an IF fly; runners can advances as much as they want, and the batter is safe. Sure, there will be some confusion the first year or two of implementation, but no matter what rule change there will be. And of course this can be tried out in the minor-leagues for a year to see how difficult it is to implement.

Bad Bill
Guest
Bad Bill

Interesting ideas, but I suspect this may be a “better the devil that you know” situation. You’re talking here about replacing a very long-standing rule that, on extremely rare occasions, results in an apparent injustice, with one whose consequences, for better or worse, are still completely unknown — and don’t tell me there won’t be any consequences, in baseball there are always consequences to screwing around with the rules. If there was a systematic problem with infield flies, rather than a loud, indignant reaction to one arguably blown call in one high-profile game, it might be worth taking the chance on those consequences. I see no evidence that that is the case.

Nathan
Guest
Nathan

I have a hunch this rule would cause even more problems than the current iteration because of the vagaries of what a “fly ball” is. What if a batter tries a bunt with men on 1st and 2nd and no outs and the bunt gets up to eight feet off the ground before it drops on the infield? Is that a “fly ball” on which to call an infield fly, or can the pitcher try to turn a 1-5-4 DP because the runners were holding their bases?

Spank
Guest
Spank

I like it, tho I never had much of a problem with the current rule either.

John
Member
John

Here is the relevant rule:

7.03
(a) Two runners may not occupy a base, but if, while the ball is alive, two runners are touching a base, the following runner shall be out when tagged and the preceding runner is entitled to the base, unless Rule 7.03(b) applies.
(b) If a runner is forced to advance by reason of the batter becoming a runner and two runners are touching a base to which the following runner is forced, the following runner is entitled to the base and the preceding runner shall be out when tagged or when a fielder possesses the ball and touches the base to which such preceding runner is forced.

So, in other words, Mike K, you’re right. Dual occupancy wouldn’t kill the force, because in that situation the defense would have to tag the batter-runner for the force to die. They’d probably prefer the double play. If the batter-runner would just pass the guy on first, though, the force WOULD die (Rule 7.08(h)), and there would be no IF fly issue. It’s a difference of one step (standing on the base v. stepping toward second).

Basically, if we repealed the IF fly rule, we would be requiring the batter to “commit suicide,” either by exiting the base paths, passing a preceding runner, making “a travesty of the game,” or doing any number of things (see generally Rule 7.08-10). The result is the same as under the current rule, except the onus of putting the batter out of his misery falls on the batter himself, not the umpires. Actually, there are ways for other members of the batting team to sacrifice their batter (although some of these result in other outs as well).

Oddly enough, this approach might create some potential for breaking up OTHER double plays as well. What would happen if, in a traditional 6-4-3 situation, the batter charged the shortstop instead of running to first, and the runner on first stayed put? Well, if the umpire ruled the batter out for exiting the base paths and abandoning an effort to run the bases BEFORE the ball made its way to second, the force would be off and a tag would be required. If the runner on first in that situation just didn’t run, the offense might avoid a double play.

I’m sure trying this in non-IF fly situations would garner some League attention, but I still don’t see a problem with forcing players to assign themselves the out in an IF fly scenario. It takes an imperfect officiating call and turns it into a relevant strategic decision. I can’t find anything in the rules that suggests this isn’t possible right now.

Joeiq
Guest
Joeiq

decent idea.

better idea – let the lead runner call infield fly. Booyah. That way if they call it wrongly, they hurt themselves, instead of the umpire hurting them.

The umpire would merely have to determine if it was properly called by the runner or not.

Since it protects the runner, then it’s their own fault if they mess it up.

Bo
Guest
Bo

Just take away the rule completely. If the batter wants to avoid a DP, he can simply pass the guy on first. The batter would be out, and nobody would be forced (taking away the DP possibility).

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