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One fan's opinion on Wild Card games, and the infamous infield fly rule call in last Friday's Braves-Cardinals Wild Card game, and the resulting reaction from the fans.
A lot has been written about the now-infamous call in Friday's Wild Card game between the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals. A lot has been written about the reaction from the Turner Field fans. I briefly mentioned it in the recap that night, but I wanted to touch on these two subjects again, as well as the one-game Wild Card playoff game. I feel I need to get my full opinion out there for posterity.
First, on the infield fly that wasn't, but was ruled one. Obviously as a Braves fan I think the call was crap, but in the following days I've tried to look at objectively ... and I still think the call was crap. The infield fly rule is there, as any disciple of Skip Caray will tell you, to protect the base runners, and therefore the team at-bat, from the defensive team dropping the ball intentionally and turning a quick double-play. That's why it exists.
The reason Braves fans feel so jilted by the call on Friday, and the reason this call was so terrible, is that after the infielder "dropped" the ball, the outfielder picked it up not more than a second or two later, and was unable to throw out even one of the base runners. If that had truly been an infield fly rule situation, then at least one out, if not two outs should have been gotten on the base paths.
The fact that no outs were made after the drop, the fact that the outfielder fielded the ball, the fact that the infielder was 50 feet away from the infield cutout are all reasons that this was a terrible call.
Major League Baseball has, to my knowledge, never upheld any protest of an umpire's call, so I get why they didn't uphold it here. The rule is written such that it's up to the judgment of the umpire, so that gives MLB an easy excuse to not uphold the Braves protest of the call.
What I think should come out of this experience is a limiting of the outfield umpires responsibilities on the field. The infield fly was called by the left field umpire (the outfield umpires are present only during playoff games). These outfield umpires should have their duties limited to calling fair or foul balls and home runs, and that's just about it. An umpire who is not in the infield has no business calling an infield rule.
As for the reaction of the Braves fans to the call, to litter the field with bottles and cans; I must say if I were there I don't believe I would have contributed to that display. But I also don't think it was too far out of bounds. Judging from the amount of trash on the field this obviously wasn't the actions of just a few, but of a large portion of the fans. As misplaced as their passion may have been, this was the act of passionate fans. So let no other team ever again question the passion of Braves fans, or their desire to let their voice be heard.
I'm not advocating for this to be the norm by any means, or for this to ever happen again, but for that moment, for that call, it seems to me like an appropriate reaction that I would have expected from passionate fans of any team. Not all fans, not all passionate fans, but some.
And finally, as for one-game Wild Card games, do I like them or hate them? Even after this loss, I like them. I liked the idea before this game, and I still like the idea, though I understand that a one-game playoff in baseball is a new and novel concept and hard for a lot of fans to come to terms with.
The Wild Card should have always been the conciliation prize of the postseason, and should never have been on an equal footing as winning a division. The entry into the baseball postseason is to win your division, and any additional teams who don't win their division, regardless of their record, should have to do some extra work to play those division winners.
The Wild Card game makes the Wild Card team play an extra game, and use their best starter, and puts them at somewhat of disadvantage when they finally advance to face one of those division winners. That's how it should be, and by making this change, baseball brings back the importance of winning a division.
So those are my opinions of the hot topics of the past 72 hours. I'm sure some will disagree ... it wouldn't be a sports discussion if someone didn't disagree.