Move over, fans from Cleveland Indians “Beer Night” in 1974 and Chicago White Sox fans who attended “Disco Demolition Night” in 1979. You’ve got some company. The alleged fans in Atlanta who trashed the field several times, delaying the first National League wild-card game Oct. 5, to protest an infield fly rule call in the eighth inning of the Braves’ 6-3 loss to the St. Louis Cardinals, join that group of people who totally embarrassed themselves.
Let’s start by saying that while pivotal, the game was not lost on that play. Three Braves’ infielders committed errors in the game, allowing two earned runs, and they stranded 12 runners.
Now, let’s take a look at the purpose of the rule, which grants an automatic out on an infield popup if it is a fair ball, when there are runners on first and second, or the bases are loaded with fewer than two outs. If umpires feel the catch can be made by an infielder with ordinary effort, they signal the automatic out. If the catch is not made, the base runners can advance at their own risk but have the option of staying at their respective bases. The purpose is simple. If the infielder would let the ball drop, he could easily turn it into a double play or even a triple play if the runners were forced to advance.
In the case of the Braves’ game, the popup was not really in or near the infield. It was at least 50 feet behind the infield, and the left fielder had a better chance to make the catch than the shortstop. The outfield umpire (added for postseason games), Sam Holbrook, made a very late signal that the rule was being put into effect. In the thousands of games I have watched, I have never seen the infield fly rule called when the outfielder should have made the play, nor have I seen it called so late by an umpire, let alone the outfield umpire. The shortstop clearly was struggling when Holbrook made the signal, which took away the ordinary effort part of the rule.
It was a bad judgment call by the umpires. But it clearly could have been avoided if the rules makers hadfollowed the suggestion of the late Hall of Fame sportswriter Hal Lebovitz, known around here for his legendary “Ask Hal the Referee” columns. Before the networks started employing former umps to interpret rules, it was not unusual for the phone to ring at Hal’s University Heights home in the middle of playoff or World Series games. The call would come from the network broadcasting the game to verify if the right call was made.
Hal’s proposed rule change was simple in regard to the infield fly rule. Unlike any other play in baseball, such as an intentional walk, or when the catcher drops a third strike, the play must be completed. While understanding the reason for the infield fly rule, Hal wanted the automatic out taken away, forcing the infielder to make the catch. If not caught, Hal thought the batter should automatically be put on the first base, with each base runner automatically moving up one base.
Hal made that plea to the rules makers on several occasions and never understood why they didn’t see the wisdom of the change. I bet they see it now.
Les Levine can be seen on “More Sports and Les Levine” Mon.-Fri. from 6 to 7 p.m. and 11 to midnight on NEON Ch. 23 on Time Warner Cable. He can be reached at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, on Facebook at ClevelandJewishNews, or on Twitter @LesLevine.