The Economics of the Infield Fly Rule
40 Pages Posted: 10 Jan 2014
Date Written: 2013
No sports rule has generated as much legal scholarship as baseball’s Infield Fly Rule. Interestingly, however, no one has explained or defended the rule on its own terms as part of the internal rules and institutional structure of baseball as a game. This Article takes on that issue, explaining both why baseball should have the Infield Fly Rule and why a similar rule is not necessary or appropriate in seemingly comparable, but actually quite different, baseball situations. The answer lies in the dramatic cost-benefit disparities present in the infield fly and absent in most other game situations.
The infield fly is defined by four relevant features: (1) the significant disparity of costs and benefits inherent in that play that overwhelmingly favors one team and disfavors the other team; (2) the favored team has total control over the play and the other side is powerless to stop or counter the play; (3) the cost-benefit disparity arises because one team intentionally fails (or declines) to do what ordinary rules and strategies expect it to do; and (4) the extreme cost-benefit disparity incentivizes that negative behavior every time the play arises. When all four features are present on a play, a unique, situation-specific limiting rule becomes necessary; such a rule restricts one team’s opportunities to create or take advantage of a dramatic cost-benefit imbalance, instead imposing a set outcome on the play that levels the playing field. The Infield Fly Rule is baseball’s paradigmatic example of a limiting rule. By contrast, no other baseball situation shares all four defining features, particularly in having a cost-benefit disparity so strongly tilted toward one side. The cost-benefit balance in these other game situations is more even; thus, these other situations can and should be left to ordinary rules and strategies.
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