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MLB Wild Card: An Injustice to the Game of Baseball

(Curtis Compton/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/MCT)
Atlanta Braves ground crew members clean trash off the field after fans littered the area protesting an infield fly rule call on the Braves’ Andrelton Simmons in the eighth inning against the St. Louis Cardinals in the National League Wild Card game at Turner Field in Atlanta, Georgia, Friday, October 5, 2012. Officials ruled Simmons out on the infield fly rule. The Cardinals defeated the Braves, 6-3.

As the Atlanta Braves and St. Louis Cardinals clinched both of the National League Wild Card spots, there was an incredible amount of excitement among fans, as they were about to witness the very first “win or go home” Wild Card playoff game. This elimination game was put in place only a year after the Atlanta Braves and the Boston Red Sox both experienced two of the biggest collapses in the history of baseball, sliding 10.5 games in the Wild Card standings to miss the postseason altogether.

As the lights came on at Turner Field on October 5th, 2012, 52,336 fans packed the stands in anticipation of a Braves win to further advance them into the postseason for Chipper Jones’ final season before his storied career came to a close. As the game began to unfold, the Braves began to do the same. Again, they are on a big stage, and yet again they began to look like they had never been there before. Three errors got the best of Atlanta in this game, however this game will not be remembered for the costly errors, it will forever be remembered by left field umpire Sam Holbrook making a horrendous infield fly call that may or may not have changed the outcome of this game.

In the bottom of the seventh inning, Braves shortstop Andrelton Simmons hit a fly ball to shallow left field, in which the Cardinals’ Pete Kozma and Matt Holliday came racing toward each other to make the play, and the ball miraculously dropped in between them, setting up a bases loaded situation for the Braves with one out. There was joy among fans, as a feeling of a comeback was now a distant possibility. This was all about to change, as Holbrook threw his arm in the air, indicating an infield fly. Braves fans everywhere were distraught, but none more than the 52,000 in attendance. Trash rained onto the field, progressively reaching a very dangerous point in which home plate umpire Jeff Kellogg was hit with a liquor bottle. The call brought about a 19 minute delay, as Atlanta manager Fredi Gonzalez put the game under protest.

The first ever Wild Card game, needless to say, was a complete disaster, bringing up the question, is this one game playoff good or bad for the game of baseball? It’s simple: the answer is, it’s terrible. It is a complete injustice to the team that finishes in the first place spot. In Atlanta’s case, they came into the game as a 94 win team, just four games from being the division champions of the National League East. The Cardinals on the other hand came into the game with 88 wins, and finished a distant nine games back of the Cincinnati Reds.

It’s a no-brainer, the game should have never taken place. Harold Reynolds of MLB Network said, “It gives teams more of an incentive to win their division.” By that logic, we should have a game between the first and second place teams in the division to decide first place. Teams that finish in second place deserve to be there, bottom line. A team’s fate should not be decided on one October afternoon after being successful for the entirety of a long season.

Any team can lose any game on any given day of the week. This game was littered with errors, and to put the icing on the cake, Holbrook’s terrible mistake to send the Cardinals further into the playoffs. The infield fly rule clearly states, “an infield fly is a fair fly ball, which can be caught by an infielder with ordinary effort, when first and second, or first, second, and third base are occupied, before two are out.” The rule also says that the umpire must make the call immediately so there is no confusion among the runners. Holbrook will always be remembered as the Cardinals MVP of the game due to the call.

The ball landed 90 feet beyond the infield grass, which is 247 feet from home plate. At that very moment, no one could believe what they were seeing, questioning the umpires as if they were no better than NFL replacement referees.  Even after looking at the replay, Holbrook said, “I absolutely made the right call.” Sure, in what world? Kozma was on his horse to get to the ball, and you made the call way too late. What constitutes an infield fly there? Nothing that anybody can be completely sure of. It may be a judgement call, but please use better judgement. The call was made 47 feet farther than any infield call all year long.

In the playoffs, the league adds two extra umpires in order to make sure the correct call is made at all times to avoid situations like these. It just so happens that the very first Wild Card matchup will be marred by the controversial infield fly call. The Wild Card was just fine before this one game was put into place. It was fair, as the first place team went on to play in the division series for their league. If this situation is to continue, it needs to become a Wild Card Series. Not many people would complain if an extra week were added to the season. Major League Baseball needs to fix this, and fix it fast. Reviewing the rulebook over the offseason wouldn’t do any harm either, to make sure that such an atrocity never tarnishes the great game of baseball again.

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