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Time to Drop the Infield Fly Rule and End a Common Law Anomaly

I begin with a hypothetical. It’s the seventh game of the World Series at Wrigley Field, Mariners vs. Cubs. The Mariners lead one to zero in the bottom of the ninth, but the Cubs are threatening with no outs and the bases loaded. From the hopeful Chicago crowd there rises a lusty yell, for the team’s star batter is advancing to the bat. The pitcher throws a nasty rising fastball, and the batter barely makes contact. It’s a high pop‐up to the second baseman, who backpedals onto the right field grass. He settles under the ball and shields his eyes from the blazing sun. What happens next at this key moment in Cubs history, with fans everywhere on the edge of their seats in anticipation? As all baseball fans know, an old man in a blue coat will run out, arms waving, and the play is over. The Cubs are charged with an automatic out and the bases remain loaded. This is the result of the Infield Fly Rule, an outdated rule of baseball whose time must end.

The development of the Infield Fly Rule was explored forty years ago in an Aside, The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule, in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review. The Aside describes how the Infield Fly Rule developed by accretion—like the common law—at a time when people hoped to preserve a kinder, gentler America. It describes how people considered it uncivil for an infielder to purposely drop a ball to turn a double play on runners taught not to advance until the ball is caught. The result was that the audacious, risky possibilities of infield flies were eliminated by protectionist rulemaking. This antiquated rule, reflecting the gentility of ages past, has no place in the rude coarseness of the twenty‐first century, an era that embraces both risk and subterfuge. Baseball rulemakers should correct this error of common law accretion by dropping the Infield Fly Rule.