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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Debating the Infield Fly Rule in Penn Law Review

In December, Penn Law Review published A Step Aside: Time to Drop the Infield Fly Rule and End a Common Law Anomaly, by U.S. District Judge Andrew J. Guilford and his law clerk, Joel Mallord. While there have been rumblings in many places against the Infield Fly Rule, this was the first full, sustained scholarly critique of the rule. My response, Just a Bit Aside: Perverse Incentives, Cost-Benefit Imbalances, and the Infield Fly Rule, has now been published on Penn Law Review Online.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on March 22, 2016 at 09:54 PM in Article Spotlight, Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


If the infield-fly-rule did not exist would there be any chance for the batter to have time to run to first base before the infielder throws someone out? If he so he could pass the runner on first and he would be out because the runners crossed, and thus removing the possibility of force-outs. In fact, the runner on first might even run backwards towards home in order for the crossing to happen faster. If the effect of seeing the rule abolished were to reward fast runners I would be okay with it.

Posted by: Jr | Apr 6, 2016 8:02:15 AM

BMS: while I'm not sure they believe the ball is dead, you are right that the excitement of the runners trying to advance--and even to put pressure on the infielder to drop the ball--remains even with the rule. It's not a zero-sum game: we can protect against the double play while allowing for the cat-and-mouse. The fact that so few runners attempt this shows how one-sided the play is. That's a great point and one I wish I'd thought of when writing this; thanks for making it.

Posted by: Howard Wasserman | Mar 26, 2016 2:01:10 PM

As an aside, I noticed that both papers are short (10 and 9 pp respectively) but chock full of footnotes (a combined 81 footnotes across both papers. More here: http://priorprobability.com/2016/03/26/should-we-repeal-the-infield-fly-rule/

Posted by: Enrique Guerra-Pujol | Mar 25, 2016 8:36:45 PM

Guilford and Mallord seem to think that the ball is dead when an infield fly is called. (Or maybe they think that the ball is dead when an infield fly is called and the fall is dropped.)

Either way, they're just wrong. If an infield fly is caught, the runners are entitled to tag and advance, as with any caught fly ball. If an infield fly is dropped, the runners may attempt to advance without need to tag; the point of the infield fly rule is simply that they're not forced to advance.

In the initial hypothetical, one of two things would happen. The second baseman might catch the ball, in which case the play would proceed identically to a world without the infield fly rule. Or, the second baseman might drop the ball, in which case the runners *could* try to scramble to the next bases (exciting!) or stay where they are (bases loaded with one out——also exciting!).

Perhaps the authors were confused by separate rule that provides that the ball is dead if an infielder *intentionally* drops a fly ball or line drive in circumstances that are somewhat broader than the infield fly situations. This rule became a dead-ball play in the 1970s to protect runners from double plays in non-infield-fly situations. (The problem was that, if the infielder intentionally dropped a pop-up in a *non*-infield-fly situation, a runner might not notice that the umpire had called the batter out and might therefore try to advance, whereupon the runner would be tagged out for a cheap double play.)

Posted by: BMS | Mar 25, 2016 6:22:22 PM

The article is pretty engaging, but I take strong exception to footnote 6. Literary allusions should never be explained. As E.B. White said of jokes, the explanation is like dissecting a frog. You understand it better, but it dies in the process.

Posted by: Steven Lubet | Mar 23, 2016 7:19:47 AM

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