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The Infield Fly Rule is not a rule of law

I was watching a baseball game the other day on TV when a batter popped up a pitch.

“Infield fly rule,” one of the announcers was quick to say, as if that explained it all.

You can look it up: The Infield Fly Rule comes into play if there are fewer than two outs and there are runners at first and second or the bases are loaded. Any playable pop fly within the infield is an automatic out. Why? It would be easy for the infielder to say, oops, my bad, and let it drop, then pick up the ball and start a quick double play on baserunners who thought the ball would be caught. (See picture for how this might look).

Since a number of conditions have to converge, you don’t hear the Infield Fly Rule called very often. But watching this game made me think of something I heard back in law school — that some guy actually once wrote a law review article on the Infield Fly Rule.

Yep, there was a note published in the University of Pennsylvania Law Review in 1975 entitled, “The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule.”

It starts off, rather elegantly, with the line, “The Infield Fly Rule is neither a rule of law nor one of equity; it is a rule of baseball.”

For eight well-footnoted pages, the author slyly discusses the rule with the high tone and seriousness of purpose one finds in most law review articles. But he is, remember, talkin’ baseball.

The guy who wrote it, according to the New York Times, was William Stevens, who died two years ago. Apparently no one had ever had fun in a law review article before Stevens; one observer said Stevens’ little baseball note started “a cultural revolution.”

Well, a revolution among those who write law review notes, anyway.

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