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Holbrook wasn't wrong . . . but that doesn't mean he was right

By Danny Knobler | Baseball Insider
Fredi Gonzalez pleads his case during the NL wild card game Friday night. (US Presswire)

Sam Holbrook wasn't wrong to apply the infield-fly rule on the controversial play Friday night in Atlanta.

But that doesn't mean he was right.

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Baseball officials familiar with the rules and the umpiring system said Saturday that Holbrook correctly applied the rule as written, when he called Andrelton Simmons out after his short fly ball fell untouched. But they also said that some umpires would have chosen against making the call.

So was he right, or wasn't he?

It's not that simple.

By the letter of the rule, he was right. Umpires are taught to use the infield-fly rule when an infielder calls for the ball, as Cardinals shortstop Pete Kozma did. They're taught to wait until the ball is coming down, as Holbrook did.

They're also taught that just because an outfielder could have caught the ball (as Matt Holliday could have), that shouldn't prevent you from ruling that it's an infield fly.

But major-league umpires also learn that in some cases, it's better to not call something than to call it, no matter what the letter of the rule says.

In the case of Friday's controversial play, if Holbrook hadn't called infield fly, it's very unlikely there would have been an argument.

Similarly, umpires regularly choose to overlook clear balks, because calling them would prompt and argument while ignoring them wouldn't.

Umpires call it "game management," and there's nothing wrong with it.

You can be sure that baseball wishes Holbrook had chosen to overlook the letter of the rule in this case, because if he had, there would be no real controversy. No matter how the rule is written, no one from the Cardinals or from anywhere else would be saying anything if Holbrook had simply stayed silent.

But that doesn't mean he was wrong.

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