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Monday, March 19, 2007

Anthony D'Amato on A Concise History of Baseball's Infield Fly Rule

I asked Tony D’Amato (Northwestern) to get up on the mound and throw the baseball that officially opens the spring season for us here on PrawfsBlawg. (He did, beaning the third baseman.) Here is the first in an eight-inning series of blog posts on the history of the Infield Fly Rule in Baseball. If you don’t know what the Rule is, you’re better off. Tony’s series is excerpted, revised, and re-bowdlerized from its inaugural appearance in the centennial issue of Northwestern’s law review, 100 NW. L. Rev. 189 (2006). If you don’t refer to the original, you’re better off.
-- Dan Markel



by Tony D’Amato

The Bible tells us, in 1 Samuel 17:35, that young David, armed with only a sling, confronted the giant warrior Goliath. The latter, surely accustomed to the then-ubiquitous weapon, can be assumed to have been fully prepared to duck the stone emanating from the device and then advance upon the youth to smite him.

But then David cleverly yelled "Infield fly!" causing Goliath to look upward. That momentary distraction was all the time David needed to pitch his missile and thereby change the course of human history.

Although David’s strategem should be familiar to every schoolchild, the debate it has engendered in academic circles is not so well known. At issue is which came first, baseball or the Infield Fly Rule? One faction, the Midrashers, started by Moses Maimonides, apparently relies on elementary logic semiotically grounded on a steaming hotbed of layered structuralism. They basically contend that the Rule would have been meaningless to Goliath in the absence of the context provided by the game of baseball.

The opposing faction, the Originalists, insist that every word in the Bible must be taken as gospel. Hence, if the Infield Fly Rule was mentioned first, then it must have antedated the game.

Several decades ago the Originalists seemed to score heavily when they pointed to the opening words of the Bible in support of their claim: “In the big inning . . . .” But thirteen treatises later it was generally agreed that the Originalist gambit could not be sustained because it relied upon a translational pun that was not fore-seeded in the original Hebrew.

Instead of dying down, the debate escalated. Fortunately, it is conducted without a trace of scholarly jealousy. A new explanatory theory of time reversal in support of the Originalist position appears in Tekel Upharsin's Contested Expectations of a Second Coming: Biblical Praxis, Lefty Gomez, and the Path-Dependence of Liberal Angst (Cambridge: Wormwood Press, 2007). Upharsin cordially invites the esteemed reader to consider adopting a fresh and hopeful methodology which he calls supernatural logic, in contradistinction to the cramped deductivism of Frege and Wittgenstein. In supernatural logic, deduction can proceed from the bottom up rather than from the top down. Effects may sometimes anticipate their causes and time itself may run backwards now and then. One of the most notorious examples of an effect preceding its cause is precisely the Infield Fly Rule. Professor Upharsin notes that inasmuch as the Bible was authored by the Supreme Being, or at least written under Him for credit, anyone who argues that the Infield Fly Rule was not ex ante the game of baseball might conceivably be charging the Lord God as having only limited power over time and sports. But surely if anyone can make time run backwards, the Almighty can do it. “Time runneth backwards as doth not the doe in the field nor the wolf on the fold,” Upharsin quotes Him as saying.

A blogger by the name of Anonymous objected to Upharsin’s argument. “Bringing Almighty God into this debate,” Anonymous declaimed, “is a cheap shot.”

Upharsin concludes his book by characterizing the Midrashers as dirty liars, blasphemers, and probably affiliates of the Frankfurt School. They must immediately be tied between driverless humvees and torn asunder, and/or eaten alive by creepy-crawly things with odd numbers of legs. Their names must be anathematized, their research grants revoked, and their domestic partners accursed unto the tenth generation.

Posted by Administrators on March 19, 2007 at 06:45 PM in Deliberation and voices | Permalink


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