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MLB Modifies Infield Fly Rule in Wake of Confusing Play During 2012 Season

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUGUST 26:  Manager Don Mattingly #88 of the Los Angeles Dodgers argues with home plate umpire Tony Randazzo during on a play where Dodger baserunner Andre Ethier was ruled out for interference during the seventh inning of the game with the Miami Marlins on August 26, 2012 at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, California. The Marlins won 6-2.   (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images
Gil ImberAnalyst IIDecember 22, 2016

Major League Baseball's Official Playing Rules Committee has opted to alter baseball's definition of the infield fly rule following a contested play late in the 2012 season that baffled broadcasters, flummoxed fans and caused a 19-minute delay.

No, the disputed play was not the infamous Cardinals vs. Braves Wild Card sequence that saw fans hurling debris on the field in protest of umpire Sam Holbrook's gutsy—yet absolutely correct—call.

Instead, the change comes in response to August 26's Marlins vs. Dodgers game in which the infield fly rule fused with interference to wreak havoc on a fairly benign transcontinental NL clash.

With one out and runners on first and second, Dodgers batter Luis Cruz hit a 45-foot pop fly down the first base line. Pursuant to the infield fly rule, if the ball were to land foul, Cruz would hit again. If the ball became fair, however, Cruz would be out.

As Marlins first baseman Carlos Lee attempted to make a play on the ball, he collided with baserunner Andre Ethier, producing an interference call and, according to Rule 2.00 (Interference), an automatic dead ball.

Because the ball became dead before umpires could determine whether it was fair or foul—it eventually landed fair and rolled foul, whether it was first touched by catcher Rob Brantly first is another debate, though home plate umpire Tony Randazzo signaled the ball fair—the infield fly rule could not be applicable because the ball never became fair before it technically died.

As such, Ethier was declared out for interference, but Cruz was permitted to hit again, a compromise Dodgers manager Don Mattingly was seen applauding while Miami skipper Ozzie Guillen remained phlegmatic. 

According to baseball's modified infield fly rule for 2013, a similar play will now produce a double play (assuming the catcher did indeed touch the ball in fair territory).

Added to Rule 2.00 (Infield Fly) for 2013 is the phrase:

If interference is called during an infield fly, the ball remains alive until it is determined whether the ball is fair or foul. If fair, both the runner who interfered with the fielder and the batter are out. If foul, even if caught, the runner is out and the batter returns to bat.

The Committee also changed the following rules for the 2013 baseball season:

 

Rule 2.00 (Interference)

 In response to the aforementioned rules change, the Committee eliminated the phrase "on any interference the ball is dead." Additionally, a run may now be scored during a play in which interference occurs:

If during an intervening play at the plate with less than two outs a runner scores, and then the batter-runner is called out for interference outside the three-foot lane, the runner is safe and the run shall count.

 

Rule 8.02 and Pitcher's Hand to Mouth

Past rules and practice prescribed that if a pitcher shall touch his mouth or lips while standing with the ball on the mound, the umpire shall add a ball to the count.

Starting next season, umpires shall instead remove the ball from play and warn pitchers for the first violation of this rule. Starting on the second offense, umpires will still add a ball to the count.

 

Rule 8.05 and Balks

As confirmed in early January, baseball has done away with the popular fake-to-third pickoff move.

In addition to adding the words "or third" to Rule 8.05(b)—"it is a balk when the pitcher, while touching his plate, feints a throw to first or third base and fails to complete the throw"—Rule 8.05(c) comment now clearly specifies it is legal for a pitcher on the rubber to fake only toward second base.

Furthermore, the phrase "drops the ball" has been replaced by the less ambiguous "has the ball slip or fall out of his hand or glove."

 

Administration and Uniform Police

Beginning in 2013, all fielders will be prohibited from using gloves lighter than the "current 14-series" PANTONE color set. The Committee also specified more precise instructions for suspending and resuming halted ball games.

 

Gil Imber is Bleacher Report's Rules Featured Columnist and owner of Close Call Sports, a website dedicated to the objective and fair analysis of close or controversial calls in sports.

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