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Tuesday, October 24, 2023

Intentional drop rule

This is a moot point since the Rangers beat the Astros in Game 7 of the ALCS Monday to advance to the World Series. But I was confused by something announcer Jon Smoltz said twice during Game 6. On two occasions, an Astros hitter batting with at least two on and less than two out hit a soft line drive (what we sometimes call a "humpback liner," often hit off the end of the bat) that Rangers shortstop Corey Seager caught. Smoltz encouraged Seager to intentionally not catch the ball and turn a double play on the base runners retreating to the bases. I am not sure what Smoltz wanted and there was a lot cross-talk, so he never fully explained. Or he was picking up on something he said earlier in the telecast and I missed it. Either way, he seemed disappointed that Seager and other shortstops did not try this.

Smoltz correctly pointed out that the infield fly rule was not in effect on either play because the balls were not hit high enough; the IFR excludes line drives. But a separate rule (enacted in its current iteration in 1975) prohibits infielders from intentionally dropping a fair fly ball or line drive in the same IFR situations. So Seager could not catch-and-drop or knock down these easily playable balls, unless he could sell it well enough to fool the umpire. Maybe Smoltz believed that, given how softly the balls were hit, Seager could have run backwards onto the shallow outfield grass and let the ball land at his feet and still start the double play (or catch the ball when he saw the baserunners take off.

IFR and Intentional Drop complement one another to eliminate the "cheap" double play. IFR excludes line drives because an uncaught line drive, unlike an uncaught pop-up, does not fall at the infielder's feet; it continues moving forward into the outfield for a hit. The intentional drop rule requires that an infielder inclined to attempt this play cannot catch-and-drop or knock down an easily playable batted ball of any kind. The infielder must intentionally not catch (as opposed to intentionally drop) the ball, which is harder with a liner than a pop-up. Maybe this exposes a hole in the rules, although a relatively uncommon one. Or Smoltz did not know what he was talking about.

Posted by Howard Wasserman on October 24, 2023 at 10:25 AM in Howard Wasserman, Sports | Permalink


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