Saturday, May 25, 2024

MLB Calls Chicago About Infield Fly Interference

Major League Baseball purportedly called Chicago and said umpire Junior Valentine's infield fly interference double play call to end Thursday's Orioles-White Sox game wasn't necessary and shouldn't have happened. The following is a deep dive into the history of this rule and how the league's hasty response to a 2012 play at Dodger Stadium led to a situation that enabled this game-ending call to occur.

As stated in our White Sox Lose After Infield Fly Interference Double Play (5/23/24) article, Valentine's ruling that White Sox baserunner R2 Andrew Vaughn interfered with Orioles shortstop Gunnar Henderson as he attempted to field a batted ball off the bat of Andrew Benintendi during an infield fly situation was proper pursuant to the Official Baseball Rules.

OBR 6.01(a)(10) ("Any runner is out when—they fail to avoid a fielder who is attempting to field a batted ball, or intentionally interfere with a thrown ball") puts Vaughn out for interference—no matter how slight the interference is—and kills play immediately upon such interference. For Valentine, there was no "wait and see if the ball is caught" moment, as the rulebook requires that play be declared dead immediately upon the interference.

The book's Infield Fly Rule definition then mandated that both the runner who interfered and the batter be declared out for interference and the infield fly rule, respectively, resulting in a double play. With one out in the 9th, this double play resulted in the third out of the inning, which also happened to be the final out of the game.

When MLB's Senior VP of On-Field Operations Michael Hill purportedly contacted Chicago to decry the way this game ended, it was an alleged expression of a widespread opinion: that this double play to end the game interference-and-infield-fly call simply "looked" off-putting and ended the game on a sour note.

Yet according to the rules, this is the correct call. In 2012, 1B Umpire Todd Tichenor called Dodgers batter Andre Ethier out for interfering with Marlins first baseman Derek Lee during Los Angeles batter Luis Cruz's infield fly (runners on first and second, less than two out). The rulebook at the time didn't provide for what to do with interference during an infield fly, and after a very lengthy conference, umpires ruled Ethier out and returned Cruz to bat.

During the subsequent offseason, MLB's Rules Committee decided this was not a fair outcome and crafted a new infield fly rule amendment, writing that interference during a fair infield fly is a dead ball double play (only the runner is out on a foul ball).

Season after season, this rule of response sat dormant at the major league level...until a similar situation occurred in Chicago, this one much higher-profile with much more devastating consequences.

So while MLB might not like the outcome, under the rule change the league itself made in 2013, this is the correct call. The only question is how to fix it for next time, if we don't want this to be the case.

Here are six rule change proposals, ranging from removing the fielder's "right of way" protection on an infield fly since the batter is out anyway, treating interference during an infield fly like obstruction type 2 (effectively, a delayed dead ball), only penalizing intentional interference with a double play, and more. What do you think should happen?

Video as follows:
Alternate Link: MLB allegedly tells Chicago it didn't like infield fly INT double play...but it's their rule


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