Saturday, October 6, 2012

The Infield-Fly Rule

When we were studying the commerce clause (or perhaps "the dormant commerce clause") in law school, the professor asked the class, "What is the difference between Wisconsin and Iowa?"

The context was that long-haul truckers prefer to drive through Iowa rather than Wisconsin, so the answer was very clear: Wisconsin has hills, Iowa doesn't.

Still, such an open-ended question gets my jokey little brain going and, after a long uncomfortable silence where no one was willing to supply the correct answer, I found myself blurting out: "Wisconsin has a baseball team."

It got a pretty big laugh, but it also got me a homework assignment. I was to go to the library and seek out a famous law review article: "The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule." And I did. (It was actually kind of difficult because the article was too old to be found on Westlaw, so I had to pull an actual dusty book off the shelves. Ew.)

The article is hilarious. The very first word—"the"—is followed by a footnote to the OED definition of this definite article. (A not-so-subtle knock on persnickety law-review editors.) But it is also pretty informative and substantive. I recommend that anyone interested in the history of sports give it a read. It is also essential background information for evaluating John Roberts's claim that a judge is just an umpire. (Because it turns out that umpiring is more interesting and iterative than it may at first seem.)

Anyhow, the infield-fly rule is in the news because it played a significant role in the outcome of the one-game wildcard playoff game between St. Louis and Atlanta last night. It's unclear to me whether the correct call was made (though the Atlanta fans certainly made their position known), but I think it's great that this wonderful and confusing rule is in the news. Here's a nice read.

1 comment:

  1. I forgot about that incident. Two thoughts:
    1. It was almost certainly the wrong call. The shortstop was using more than ordinary effort (a requirement of the rule). That is why no error was called when he did not make the catch.

    2. Iowa has hills on its Eastern and Western borders. Anyone who has driven from Kenosha to Minneapolis will attest to the fact that Wisconsin is pretty flat (another example, the only hill in the Oshkosh metropolitan area is one that was made out of garbage). Our professor asked a poor question.


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