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Perverse Incentives, Cost‐Benefit Imbalances, and the Infield Fly Rule

(Photo: Joel Dinda/Flickr)

Judge Andrew J. Guilford and Joel Mallord begin their manifesto against the Infield Fly Rule with an unrealistic hypothetical. The Chicago Cubs are at bat in the bottom of the ninth inning of Game Seven of the World Series. They trail by one run and have the bases loaded with no outs. The Cubs’ star hitter lofts a fly ball onto the edge of the outfield grass on the right side, which the second baseman settles under, “shield[ing] his eyes from the blazing sun.”

Guilford and Mallord decry that pursuant to baseball’s historic Infield Fly Rule, the umpire will call the batter out and the runners will likely remain where they are, regardless of whether the second baseman catches the ball. The umpire dictates the outcome of this critical play in baseball’s most important game, not the players and their skill or strategy. And Cubs fans, “on the edge of their seats in anticipation,” must be deflated by the anticlimactic ending.

Speaking as a Cubs fan, however, my reaction to this hypo is “Thank goodness for the Infield Fly Rule.” Without it, this play likely produces an inning‐, game‐, and World Series‐ending triple play. Or, only slightly better, a double play on the lead base runners, leaving the Cubs with two outs and runners on first and second, still down one run. On the other hand, with the Infield Fly Rule, the Cubs still have the bases loaded and still have only one out. In other words, with the Infield Fly Rule, my team still has a pretty good chance to score runs, win the game, and win the World Series for the first time in over a century; without it, my team’s chances plummet.