Saturday, October 6, 2012

Mary, Mary, Quite Contrary

Everyone is talking about the infield fly ball rule these days so it seems like I should weigh-in with my own Swiftian Modest Proposal, except, I'm kinda, sorta, serious.

Apparently, while I was sorting through my DVR's backlog of crappy new ABC/CBS procedurals (I don't know why either), there was a rather epic umpire blunder in which the infield fly rule was called on a flyball that was eventually dropped 50-60 feet deep into the OF grass (video above). While the Atlanta runners on the bases advanced on the play, the fly rule call cost the Braves an out in the inning. Obviously we can't know for sure, but the outcome of the game may have run its course differently if the Braves are saved that out.

Now, I don't really want to question the appropriateness or inappropriateness of the playcall. Joe Posnanski, who's judgment is unimpeachable on subjects non-Joe Paterno related, seems pretty convinced it was the wrong call (the comment threads on his site are informative as well).

No, what I want to propose (I think?) is the elimination of the in-field fly rule entirely. Yeah, I know what you're thinking. Is this guy smoking crack? [Answer: Recreationally only, and never to the point of addiction]. I mean, the infield fly rule serves a very obvious purpose - it prevents the intentional dropping of flyballs by infielders in order to turn double plays. And I say, "So what?". Why should ground balls lead to double plays but not infield pop-ops? They both represent failures by the batters. In fact, I would argue that an infield fly is a better job by the pitcher and a worse performance by a hitter and those performance should be rewarded and punished accordingly.  Would this lead to infield anarchy during infield flys? Uh, yes - and that's good! And strategic! And interesting! Think of all the game theory we can introduce into 2-3 seconds of an infield fly. Defensive players must consider the score of the game (game situation), speed of the runners on base, potential caroms of intentionally dropped balls, strength of their own arms, the quality of the on-mound pitcher, etc. Runners must consider all of these things in addition to the defensive player's perceived degree of craftiness. I mean, this could lead to all sorts of anarchy, bloopers, and botched players. And I mean that in a good way! Those things are fun (when not committed by my Yankees).

I realize my suggestion will probably be met with hostitility. But this hostitily is grounded in a baseline psychological preference for "how things are always done." But ask yourself this, if you were starting the game from scracth, why would you penalize hitters that hit a ground ball to the SS with runners on 1nd and 2nd anymore than you would punish batters that hit a pop fly to the SS with runners on 1st and 2nd. There really is no good reason to draw a distinction between these outcomes.

And hell, if we take that judgment call out of the umpires hands, we'll never have the scenario we had last night.

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