Monday, February 29, 2016

Chase Utley slide rule will change the game for the better

It was the slide heard round the world last October. A seemingly routine play where Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada was taking a relay throw from Daniel Murphy and trying to to step on the bag at second, then his life and the game of baseball changed in an instant when Dodgers infielder Chase Utley decided to play NFL strong safety and upended Tejada with a hard slide into second.

Tejada broke his leg, and didn't play at short again in the playoffs. Chances are he'll never start regularly for the Mets agin with the team acquiring Neil Walker and Asdrubal Cabrera in the off-season.

As one recalls, Utley was not punished for interference. Instead MLB awarded him second base that day, and the Dodgers won 3-1.

Now, finally, baseball is getting it right. Last week baseball wrote into law a new rule that protects middle infielders from overaggressive base running like we saw in the Mets-Dodgers playoff game. Here is the rule in all its gory details:

Rule 6.01(j), an addition to existing Rule 6.01 on “Interference, Obstructions and Catcher Collisions,” reads, “If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference.”
A bona fide slide, as per the rule, occurs when the base runners 1) begins his slide (makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base; 2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot; 3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and 4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
Furthermore, if a runner tries to execute a roll block or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee, then that would constitute a violation.
A violation would result in both the runner and the batter being called out for a double play. Potential violations of this rule will be subject to review via instant replay.
As an offshoot of this development, the “neighborhood play” at second base, which hadn’t been part of the replay process, also will be subject to replay review. (New York Post). 

Looking at the rule it clearly targets Utley's slide in point 4, where it says "Slides within the reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact." Clearly Utley was out of the baseline when he slide into Tejada. It was deliberate, and should have resulted in an ejection from the game.

Furthermore, the rule makes it even clearer that any slide into a fielder with intent will not be tolerated when it says "if a runner tries to execute a roll block or intentionally initiates contact with the fielder  by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder's knee..." which Utley clearly did.

This is a justice.  I know that the baseball purists will be upset that replay will now be involved, further slowing the game down. And they will point out to the unwritten rule that baserunners are supposed to take out the fielder to stop the double play. Normally I would agree with them, but in this instance I can't. Utley's play was out of line (pun intended). Like I said before, he should have been punished, and the only way baseball is going to protect players from suffering serious career threatening injuries is to enact a rule like this. Good for baseball.

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