Right Field

Why Do We Cheer a Force Out?

The scene is every professional baseball stadium. The home team has a runner on first base and there is one man out. The batter hits a slow, bouncing ball to the second baseman, who flips the ball to the shortstop for the force out at second base. Two outs. In turn, the shortstop guns the ball to first base. The play is close, but the batter manages to beat the throw. Up to half of the home team fans cheer. 

Huh?!?

From 1993 to 2010, the inning run expectancy index of a runner on first and one man out has been 0.555 runs, whereas the index of a runner on first and two men out is only 0.240 runs, a greater than 50% drop. In other words, the batter did nothing to help his teammates win.

Put it another way: if the batter had hit an infield fly that the second baseman caught, the result would have been the same — a runner on first with two outs — but none of those fans would have clapped.

So what’s the story?

Are these folks appreciative that the batter hustled down the line? Is the cheering just a knee-jerk reaction to seeing an umpire give the safe call?

Your thoughts are most welcome.

Jason Epstein is the president of Southfive Strategies, LLC. He was a public-relations consultant for the Turkish embassy in Washington from 2002 to 2007.

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