Less than three weeks after the Packers say they were jobbed by the last ever call by replacement officials in the NFL, we have a brand new sports/officiating scandal (Too bad infield-fly-rule-gate is too long and awkward to say).
I’m actually here to tell you that it wasn’t the wrong call. Note: I’m not saying it wasn’t the right call either. I’m saying according to the letter of the rule the call wasn’t wrong.
I believe the call was made essentially because the umpire was a replacement official. He was a regular umpire, of course, but he was positioned in left field. Umpires are only positioned in the outfield during post-season games, meaning even the best umpires only officiate a handful of games in the outfield throughout their entire careers.
I won’t post the entire rule here, because I want you to keep reading, but essentially it says on a fair ball that in an umpire’s judgment is “catchable by an infielder with ordinary effort” that he “shall” call the infield fly rule. The rule was set up so that you couldn’t intentionally drop the ball and set up an easy double play on runner who would be forced to fun to the next base.
I think the ball was catchable by the shortstop with ordinary effort, for sure. The problem was that it was at least one-third of the way into the outfield and if the ball had dropped, no possibility of a double-play existed. And the call, which is usually made right away, was made extremely late.
Now, let’s pretend there was no left-field umpire in last night’s game. Does the third base umpire judge that the shortstop would make the catch with ordinary effort? Probably not because the ability of the player to make the play was evident so late in the play, and so far from the infield.
But the left field umpire called the play as he saw it, and he wasn’t exactly wrong.
He was simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.
So the question should be: Why don’t we eliminate the outfield umpires in the postseason? What are their duties that couldn’t be accomplished by instant replay (and that first and third base umpires routinely call correctly anyway)?
The umpire was just doing his job, calling the game according to the rulebook. He followed the letter of the rule to a T. But because he was baseball’s post-season version of a replacement official, he didn’t know how to be a left-field umpire.
Nobody knows how to be a left-field umpire, and therefore this kind of “mistake” is inevitable. The larger question should be why was he there in the first place.