When William S. Stevens was law student at the University of Pennsylvania in 1975, he wrote a law review note about the infield fly rule:
Published as a semi-parodic “aside” in June 1975, “The Common Law Origins of the Infield Fly Rule” quickly achieved legal fame, in part because nothing like it had ever appeared in a major law review, in part because of its concise, elegant reasoning. It continues to be cited by courts and legal commentators. It is taught in law schools. It is credited with giving birth to the law and baseball movement, a thriving branch of legal studies devoted to the law and its social context. It made lawyers think about the law in a different way....On Monday, in Anchorage, Alaska, he died of a heart attack at age 60.
“After Stevens, law reviews were never the same,” [said lawprof said Robert M. Jarvis.] “It was a cultural revolution. It cannot be overstated.”
The much-misunderstood infield fly rule was adopted in the 1890s to prevent fielders from taking advantage of a force-out situation at third base. It states that when there are fewer than two outs, and there are men on first and second base, or the bases are loaded, any fly ball in fair territory that, in the judgment of the umpire, is catchable by an infielder “with ordinary effort” is automatically deemed an out, even if the fielder drops the ball. The rule prevents a fielder from intentionally misplaying a fly and then turning a double play by throwing out the runners anticipating a caught fly ball....
Supporting his argument with a raft of footnotes dropped in like legal punch lines, Mr. Stevens described the infield-fly rule as a technical remedy for sneaky behavior that would not have occurred in the days when baseball was a gentlemen’s sport played for exercise.
Baseball, to keep alive the gentlemanly spirit underlying the game, drafted rules to enforce correct behavior. In civil society, the writ system evolved, giving plaintiffs a specific rule to appeal to when seeking redress. “Conduct was governed by general principles; but to enforce a rule of conduct, it was necessary to find a remedy in a specific writ,” Mr. Stevens wrote.
Like common law, the infield-fly rule developed bit by bit, with refinements added to address new problems as they arose, just as common law uses judicial decisions and legislation to make legal remedies conform to new situations.
ADDED: Stevens is an inspiration to law students everywhere. You could write a little note and everyone would remember it. When your life is over, you could have a big NYT obituary for that elegant idea you worked out between classes and exams. Imagine hitting upon an analogy that everyone in your profession would remember -- an analogy that people would think of if the question were simply: What's a great analogy?