The Infield Cry
The BEST thing you can say about the call that led to yesterday's debacle is this:
The rule is written in such a way that allows for an interpretation so that the call made on the field is not technically incorrect.That's it. When that's the BEST thing you can say about a call, well, it's a terrible call.
The rule as written is ths:
An INFIELD FLY is a fair fly ball (not including a line drive nor an attempted bunt) which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second and third bases are occupied, before two are out. The pitcher, catcher and any outfielder who stations himself in the infield on the play shall be considered infielders for the purpose of this rule.So the judgement calls lie in the terms "ordinary effort" and "when becomes apparent".
When it seems apparent that a batted ball will be an Infield Fly, the umpire shall immediately declare ''Infield Fly'' for the benefit of the runners.
"Ordinary effort" is usually seen as two separate pieces. The first part explicit. Does the play requires an extraordinary effort to achieve? For example, does the infielder have to dive or run full speed to make the play? The second part is implicit. Is the play itself extraordinary? We'll get back to this in a minute.
"When becomes apparent" is usually a second or two after the ball has been struck. Enough baseball has been seen by these umpires to understand very quickly, from contextual clues and from the flight of the ball itself, where a ball will land. If it falls in range for an infield fly, the hand goes up. If not - no hand.
Why does the infield fly exist? As we all know it exists to prevent the infielder from purposely dropping a pop-up to turn a double play. It exists to protect the offense. That is why the umpire must rule "immediately when apparent". To give the runners the time to determine whether or not they want to try to move forward based on what they see taking place, knowing that they are not forced to do so because the batter has been called out. It is also why the implicit understanding of "ordinary effort"exists. A high enough fly ball could be tracked down at a normal jog by an infielder as far as the warning track in some parks. While requiring ordinary effort that would be an extraordinary play, and any purposeful drop would be impossible to turn into one out, let alone a double play.
This why the park erupted and why the internet was full of angry, embarrassed baseball fans. We've all seen enough baseball to understand a SS that deep in LF was not an ordinary play, and that to turn two from a planned drop would be likely impossible. We understand that the call was made at such a late time that the runners would not be able to obtain any benefit from it. It was not an infield fly call as we have come to know it.
Under the BEST interpretation of the rule, which is in fact the normal, everyday interpretation we see used throughout the season, the protest of the play would have been upheld. However, MLB was not interested in the best interpretation, only if an interpretation existed that could technically defend the umpires call so the games could move on. Such an interpretation does exist.
As I said ANY flyball could in theory be called an infield fly by the rule as written, it's just as judgement call for the umpire on the infielder's effort. It's not even based on whether a DP is possible off a drop, it is just on effort. A short high fly to left field could be fielded by the SS so therefore it was technically correct.
When did it become apparent that the play would take ordinary effort is again open to interpretation. The LF ump called IF when Kozma camped under the ball. Should he have been able to determine if Kozma was going to reach the ball with ordinary effort before that? Yes, of course. But can you say it wasn't apparent to him until the infielder was actually under the ball waiting for it to drop? Yes, that is the very last minute you can say that, but you CAN say that.
What you essentially saw last night was a blown call by the LF ump, most likely because he was playing far deeper than he normally would and such assumed the IF/OF interaction was happening closer to the field than it really was. Because all the controversial aspects call were based on an umpires judgement, the remainder of the umpires did not want to call him out. It is one thing to say I saw something you did not, it's another to say, I saw what you saw but what you decided from that was incorrect. After that happened it was easy for MLB to rule to deny the protest, because an interpretation of the rule could be made that followed the course of action on the field. It may have in fact been the worst interpretation of the rule, twisting the rule to cover the decision, rather than using the rule as a guide to protect the offense, but it was a valid interpretation.