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Watch Harold Reynolds argue why the infield-fly rule was the right call

Oct 6, 2012, 12:56 PM EDT

No matter where you fall on the debate of whether Sam Holbrook was correct in calling the infield-fly rule on a pop-up off the bat of Andrelton Simmons during yesterday’s Wild Card between the Braves and Cardinals, this explanation by Harold Reynolds of MLB Network is worth watching.

I still think it’s debatable whether Kozma made what can be considered an “ordinary effort” to get to that ball. And I don’t think he had any grand design on dropping the ball to start a double play. But this is by far the best explanation I have seen as to why Holbrook made the judgment that it was the right call. Of course, the key word there is “judgment,” because a different umpire may have seen the play differently. And that’s why this still feels a little weird. Maybe the wording of the actual rule needs some cleaning up?

The continued controversy over this call is naturally getting a lot of attention, but don’t forget that the Braves shot themselves in the foot by committing three errors and botching a safety squeeze. This loss isn’t on Holbrook.

  1. ugglasforearms - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:15 PM

    Harold earned his money with that description. Great job.

    • bigharold - Oct 6, 2012 at 7:05 PM

      From one Harold to another, . he nailed it.

      You can NEVER have enough Harold’s to get things right.

    • strasburgshutdownsux - Oct 13, 2012 at 4:10 PM

      It’s still arguable because it’s very easy to say the example with the Cubs was called late as well. For almost every outside shitty pitch that’s called a strike in the playoffs, I can show you footage from the regular season where it was also called a strike. Showing another crappy example that an ump made another late call in the regular season isn’t changing my opinion.

      In addition, did Kozma get out of the way because he heard the ump call for Infield Fly or because of miscommunication between the Left Fielder Matt Holliday? Harold claims that Kozma let the ball drop because he heard the ump, however there is no concrete proof of this. It behooves the player to always catch the ball unless they are out to deceive the runner. Catching the ball ensures that the runners have to get the hell back to their base, especially in the playoffs where you don’t want to risk them advancing on a dropped IF (the ball is still live, remember?).

      Now that we’ve established that most players want to catch the ball in the playoffs regardless of the situation and are not going to risk deception, it means that Kozma most likely screwed up and thought Holliday called for it. As a result, if the Iinfield Fly was not called, Atlanta has bases loaded 1 out (i.e. in very very good position to win the game) instead of 2nd/3rd, 2 outs. Instead, Kozma misses it and gets bailed out by the ump’s late call.

      Summary:
      1) Another crappy example from the regular season does that not change the fact that it’s still a late call in both scenarios.
      2) I strongly believe that Kozma would have caught that ball if he could, but miscommunication prevented that from happening regardless of whether Infield Fly was called or not.
      3) The ump’s late Infield Fly bails out Kozma from missing the ball, and Atlanta is screwed out of a rosy bases loaded 1 out scenario.

  2. cur68 - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:18 PM

    Pretty good explanation and the graphic helps, BUT that rule is supposed to benefit the team at bat, not the defensive team. A factor to consider, and should have been uppermost in the ump’s mind, if the defender drops it on purpose, can they double off anyone? From out there? With the ball tailing to the OF (ultimately landing behind Kozma in middle LF)? And Holliday nowhere close? Not a hope in hell. Holbrook might have been within his rights to call that an IF, BUT he had NO NEED to. Nothing would have been served to call that an IF, even IF Kozma comes up with a catch. That needs to be in the rule if its not: The IF only gets called if a deliberate drop screws over the baserunners. If need be the ump’s judgement can be made AFTER the play, as in “You dropped that on purpose, meat. IF”. In terms of judgement calls, THAT’s going to be easier than making a call like Hollbrook made. Still a bad call, even if it was within the rules.

    • theSC1320 - Oct 6, 2012 at 2:13 PM

      I don’t believe the umpires responsibility in that situation is to assess the ratio of fielder drift to runner opportunity, and make a judgement call based on what he feels the possibilities of the play are(does he not call it if its a speedster on base and does call it if its Thome?) Or wait until the play happens and then make a judgement call. Isn’t the reason the rule exists to avoid discrepencies and judgement calls of play by umpires in that situation. And It’s to avoid an umpire having to make “a judgement call” to determine whether the fielder intentionally drops it or not. Their job is to “rule” on the catch, not the possible outcome. I but

      If your suggesting that the umpires should let the play develop completely and then go back and make a judgement call on the field about what the outcome of a play should be, that’s opening up even more of a can of worms in terms of judgement calls shaping play.

      It was a a borderline call to make, yet the umpire to me appears to have called the catch and the rule, not call and determine an outcome.

      “Still a bad call, even if it was within the rules.” ???? I’m with Harold, I like the call.

      • cur68 - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:41 PM

        Its a judgement call all the way as it is. My suggestion is to make it AFTER the ump see what happens, where they don’t have to guess. No worse than what’s going on right now and might get a better result going forward.

      • hittfamily - Oct 6, 2012 at 4:44 PM

        I agree Cur. This play should be treated like defensive offsides in football or icing in hockey, where a the ref throws a flag or puts his arm up to signal an infraction, but play continues. After the play is over, a ruling will be made.

        My first instinct was to suggest no forceout could be made on an infield fly, but that hurts the defensive team, as Holliday likely had a play at second or third.

        Upon consideration, I believe the best thing to do is to have the umpire announce infield fly, but not call the batter out. Instead allow the play to finish, then give the offensive coach the choice of either the outcome of the play, or the batter being called out.

    • 4everbucs - Oct 6, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      That was probably gonzalez’ argument. ” How did this call benefit us?”

      • cur68 - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:45 PM

        Precisely. If he waits to call IF AFTER the ball drops and he sees the Bravos advance, 1 out, bases loaded, he NEVER calls IF. He called IF to save the Braves from being doubled off (precisely what the rule is for) without ever seeing if being doubled off was likely (resulting in what the rule ISN’T for: victimizing the base runners & batting team). Its a judgement call IN EITHER ITERATION OF THE RULE, but at least in the scenario I’m proposing he has much better chance of applying the rule correctly.

    • bowltr - Oct 6, 2012 at 9:00 PM

      What are you a fool? He had no need to? Yes he did because it’s the RULE! Get over it everyone the call was correct. It happens hundreds of times during the course of the year and now people bitch? The ump was right period. Braves fans should be upset at their shoddy D their inexperienced SS as to why they lost. Not some call that had no need to be called.

      • cur68 - Oct 7, 2012 at 2:43 AM

        Mom’s calling: get out of the basement and come to dinner

  3. chill1184 - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:22 PM

    I got a good laugh out of that one

  4. elmaquino - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:24 PM

    This may or may not even matter, but the rules don’t mention anything about the ball being at its maximum arc.

    • sabatimus - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:27 PM

      Correct. Harold bringing this up is not only wrong but irrelevant. It also doesn’t matter WHEN an infielder raises his hands–nothing to do with the rules. I do think the rule itself needs to be very much clarified though.

      • deep64blue - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:53 PM

        It’s not in the rules but it is in the Umpires Mechanics guide and quoted in The Umpire’s Handbook, co-written by longtime major-league umpire Joe Brinkman

        “The call should be made when the ball has reached its highest point and is about to fall.”

    • wlschneider09 - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:59 PM

      The rules also don’t say anything about when to call a ground rule double or out of play ball, but there are standard practices that umps use for those situations, just as there are for the infield fly rule. That’s the point of Reynolds’ spiel.

  5. tfbuckfutter - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:31 PM

    Poor Braves fans….

    Usually they get to watch 3 or 4 playoff games before their team has to go home.

    • indaburg - Oct 6, 2012 at 2:06 PM

      I know Craig is normally off on the weekends, but has anyone checked in on him and made sure he’s ok? I’m worried he’ll be found face down in a puddle of bourbon.

      • APBA Guy - Oct 6, 2012 at 2:10 PM

        It had to be a tough couple of days: first Tiffany deserts him, then the Braves loss compounded by Chipper’s au revoir.

  6. jefegrande71 - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:33 PM

    Here’s my problem with the call and Reynolds’ argument on why it was a good call…

    Kozma was going out to make the catch. Sure, he raised his arms up to signal that he “had it”. But before Holbrook even made the infield fly call (by raising his hand), Kozma had already backed off making the catch because Holliday was coming in to catch it instead. As soon as Kozma backed off making his catch, then there was no longer a “reasonable effort to make the catch (or however it is phrased in the rulebook)”; he gave away that position to an outfielder. Granted, it was a split second difference, but the infield fly call from Holbrook came AFTER Kozma had given up on the play. Sure, Reynolds and everyone else can say that the intent for an easy catch by Kozma was there and that it’s a judgement call but as soon as Kozma backed off catching it and gave way to Holliday, Kozma no longer had the INTENT to catch the ball.

    Not to mention, in the Cubs video that he uses to argue his point, it’s helpful to note that the fielder (Starlin Casto, I believe) actually MADE THE CATCH. The Cardinals reacted in such a way that they knew they had blown the play; they didn’t look as though they knew there was an infield fly rule in effect. Yes, it’s a judgement call; but it was a gross misapplication of that rule based on the overall timing of the play itself. Just my opinion because the Braves did themselves no favors whatsoever with 3 errors earlier in the game. It’s just a shame that even though the Braves dug themselves a huge hole, they were on the verge of at least climbing out of that hole only to have someone shovel dirt back on them and send them back to the bottom.

    • cur68 - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:36 PM

      Pretty much.

    • sabatimus - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:45 PM

      There has been speculation that Holbrook yelled “Infield Fly!” before he raised his hand to indicate it visually. If this is true (and I’m not sure I believe that it is), it could be that Kozma deliberately moved forward to let the ball drop behind him, in order to tweak the runners. I’ve also heard that Kozma may have interpreted Holbrook yelling “Infield Fly!” as Holliday yelling that it was Holliday’s ball…something I think is even more far-fetched.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Oct 6, 2012 at 2:03 PM

        it could be that Kozma deliberately moved forward to let the ball drop behind him, in order to tweak the runners

        Two problems I have with this. For one, if Kozma heard the Infield Fly from Holbrook, why does he A, run away from the ball* and B, turn to look at Holliday?

        *If he knows the rules, he knows that all an IFR does is get the batter out, the ball is still live. So he should know the runners can advance at their own will.

    • Jeff Foley - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:48 PM

      You’re probably right about the “arc of the ball” and “the fielder calling for it” not being relevant to the rule, but my understanding is that those are the criteria and the process which umpires have commonly used to determine “ordinary effort.” The umpire makes the call before Kozma screws up.

      The Cubs video is the most damning proof that this is how the rule is called when a shortstop drifts into shallow left field to make such a play. It doesn’t matter whether you make the catch or not, the rule is called identically (and just as late) in both cases. Players not knowing the rule doesn’t matter either. The Raiders and Patriots thought the Tuck Rule was a fumble. Donovan McNabb didn’t know that tie games end in a tie during the regular season. I didn’t know the speed limit was 35 when I passed that cop going 50…

      • kehnn13 - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:13 PM

        The only similar example you give is the tuck rule, and I’m pretty certain that most observers of that play still feel that the raiders got jobbed on that play…

    • paperlions - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:00 PM

      Once Holbrook ruled it an IF, nothing else matters with respect to the batter; at that instant the batter is out no matter what happens afterwards.

  7. Ben - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:39 PM

    Reasonable and under control ≠ ordinary effort. They found the example of Starlin Castro, so many times a year does that same play happen? It happens, obviously, but ordinarily, routinely? Or is it an extraordinary play that happens infrequently?

    • paperlions - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:04 PM

      It isn’t the frequency that the play happens that is relevant, it is the effort required. Ordinary effort is exactly what Kozma gave, he didn’t have to sprint, he drifted back under control and would have caught the ball easily if he didn’t peel off; if he caught it, everyone would have regarded it as a routine catch, because it is….and it happens all the time, and umpires always call it an infield fly when the proper conditions exist.

      • sophiethegreatdane - Oct 6, 2012 at 5:21 PM

        I wish I could give another 10 thumbs up, because to me this is the crux of the argument and you are 100% correct. There is nothing extraordinary about the effort of a SS drifting into left field to catch a pop-up.

      • tekneek211 - Oct 8, 2012 at 9:08 PM

        The ordinary effort standard, in the rules, is based on the ordinary effort of an average skilled player. It has nothing to do with the particular fielder involved and is an objective standard. When Holbrook says he looked at Kozma being under the ball before making the call, he isn’t following the standard in the rules. The invoking of the infield fly rule actually has nothing to do with any of the players on the field. By the rules, it is to be called whenever an average skilled infielder, or outfield player stationed on the infield, could catch a fly ball with ordinary effort (with runners on first and second or bases loaded).

        Given the way the rule is defined in the rule book, it actually has nothing at all to do with what Kozma was doing and Holbrook’s reliance on watching Kozma reveals a poor application of the rules.

  8. cowartsh - Oct 6, 2012 at 1:50 PM

    bullshit

    • raysfan1 - Oct 6, 2012 at 2:46 PM

      It happens.
      –Forrest Gump

  9. albertmn - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:08 PM

    Very good explanation by Reynolds. Whether or not you agree with the call, once the ump called it, you really can’t change it.

  10. Tim's Neighbor - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:20 PM

    The rule doesn’t need to be changed. It’s a great rule. In this case, the umpire did poorly in using it.

    1. He called it way too late even had Kozma caught it.
    2. He called it after Kozma had moved away from the ball.
    3. It’s never ordinary when two defenders are on a course into each other.
    4. The rule is to prevent the double-play, no way in hell can someone drop a ball there and double up the runners.

    The only thing I could think that they could change in the rule would be for playoffs and stating that an OF umpire cannot call an infield fly. That seems like common sense now, but obviously it wasn’t placed in the rules beforehand.

    It’s a tough job, but it just seems like the umpire was trying too hard to be perfect here. You gotta let them play sometimes.

    • skids003 - Oct 8, 2012 at 2:57 PM

      I usually take up for the umpires, but doesn’t Holbrook have a “history” with the Braves?

  11. nofunleague - Oct 6, 2012 at 3:56 PM

    the problem is it doesn’t happen often, and those of us who think we know all of the rules, were just schooled. This why the umps go to school and spend years getting to the majors. throw the ball away three times and you lose. Learn the rules fans.

  12. mattcerrone - Oct 6, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    Can someone tell me why the player is not required to catch the ball once an infield fly rule is called? Shouldn’t the fielder STILL be required to catch the ball?

    • Mark - Oct 6, 2012 at 4:40 PM

      But that’s exactly why the infield fly rule was created in the first place.

      Picture guys on first/second with nobody out. The ball is hit to the SS who’s playing at his standard position. The runners aren’t going to go off the bag, because it’s an easy catch.

      Except the SS let’s the ball drop, allowing him to throw to third for one out and second for the other. So he gets the double play.

      The infield fly rule prevents that, so even if the fielder drops it as in my example the batter is automatically out.

      Forcing the fielder to catch the ball effectively eliminates the whole idea behind the infield fly rule. Which is to prevent the runners from being doubled up on a routine fly ball.

      So long story short, no, the fielder shouldn’t be required to catch the ball.

      • sophiethegreatdane - Oct 6, 2012 at 5:23 PM

        Good explanation.

      • mattcerrone - Oct 6, 2012 at 7:23 PM

        Well then I think the rule should be that when the umpire calls an infield fly rule so that the fielder can not intentionally drop the ball so as to cause an easy double play that the fielder STILL has to catch the ball – and IF he does not make the catch the umpire then grants the hitter first base and advances each baserunner one additional base Seems much fairer to me that way.

        The problem with the infield fly rule (as we saw in the Braves-Cardinals Wild Card game) is that it can bail out a fielder when he simply is unable to catch the fly ball. I think the fielder should ALWAYS accomplish the actual feat of catching the fly ball. If he does not make the catch – either because he is trying to fool the baserunners into running off the base OR he simply makes an error – then the offensive team should not be penalized by granting an out to the defensive team.

      • mattcerrone - Oct 7, 2012 at 12:31 AM

        So on an infield fly rule, the fielder can drop the ball BUT the batter is out. I know this is what the rule has always been BUT it makes no sense for the batter to be out IF the fielder drops the ball, either intentionally or through error. The fielder should be required to catch the ball – even on an infield fly rule.

  13. skerney - Oct 6, 2012 at 5:30 PM

    Harold, you get to hug all the ladies in the office today. Just today.

  14. jdillydawg - Oct 6, 2012 at 6:00 PM

    I believe they should just do away with the infield fly rule. That way, batters won’t hit routine pop ups in the infield anymore. What with Seattle bringing in the left field fence, a long fly ball to left field won’t be anything but a long fly ball to short stop, so really, why have the rule at all?

  15. lgwelsh1 - Oct 6, 2012 at 6:01 PM

    Harold couldn’t have explained it better, the call was 100% correct on the field.

    • tekneek211 - Oct 8, 2012 at 9:12 PM

      What about the “ordinary effort” standard in the rules? Given that Holbrook openly admits that he watched Kozma to determine when/if he would make the call, how does that correlate with the objective standard in the rulebook?

      “ORDINARY EFFORT is the effort that a fielder of average skill at a position in that league or classification of leagues should exhibit on a play, with due consideration given to the condition of the field and weather conditions.
      Rule 2.00 (Ordinary Effort) Comment: This standard, called for several times in the Official Scoring Rules (e.g., Rules 10.05(a)(3), 10.05(a)(4), 10.05(a)(6), 10.05(b)(3) (Base Hits); 10.08(b) (Sacrifices); 10.12(a)(1) Comment, 10.12(d)(2) (Errors); and 10.13(a), 10.13(b) (Wild Pitches and Passed Balls)) and in the Official Baseball Rules (e.g., Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly)), is an objective standard in regard to any particular fielder. In other words, even if a fielder makes his best effort, if that effort falls short of what an average fielder at that position in that league would have made in a situation, the official scorer should charge that fielder with an error.”

  16. atfinch1984 - Oct 6, 2012 at 7:54 PM

    When a batted ball bounces off home plate, its NOT a foul ball. Therefore, infield fly is the right call and not a foul ball. Very clear call.

  17. somekat - Oct 7, 2012 at 12:34 AM

    Regardless, it’s amazing to me the pass the braves fans have gotten from the national media. Would this story of been covered the same way if it happened in Philly? Me thinks not

  18. barrywhererufrom - Oct 7, 2012 at 7:23 AM

    Watch as Barrack Obama argues that our economy is doing well..people could argue any side doesn’t make them right just like Barry and Harold Reynolds

  19. shadowrun1 - Oct 8, 2012 at 11:22 PM

    sad to see harold join the dark side of the force…

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