MLB finally came out with their revised rules in response to the Chase Utley takeout slide that ended the 2016 postseason for Ruben Tejada. How about a big round of applause for MLB, as it only took them 5 months to respond to something so simple and straightforward.
So here is what they came up with:
“A runner is still allowed to make contact with the pivot man, provided the following four conditions are satisfied:
- He begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
- He is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
- He is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
- He slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
As well, the runner may not engage in 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 or throwing his arm or his upper body.”
So there it is. It took them 5 months to come up with that, and quite frankly it is completely and utterly meaningless. I see it as nothing, but a pointless rebranding of the already muddied takeout slide rules. The first point would be meaningful if we were addressing the sliding style of Pete Rose in the 1970 All-Star Game, but at this point in time all the players are starting their slide before they reach the base. The second and third points say “attempt” to reach the base and stay on the base. It’s going to be real fun watching umpires debate “an attempt” for 162 games. And the final point is the key one in my mind and will ultimately determine the success of the rule. The runner can’t change his “pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder”.
This is going to come down to one simple thing: Look at the base. I know it says “pathway”, but they really mean the runner shouldn’t shift his focus from base to fielder. It is going to become the “look at the base” rule. Chase Utley, Chris Coghlan and all the other hard-nosed players are going to have to sell the legitimacy of their slide by staring at the base the entire time. When Coghlan and Utley crushed Kang and Tejada, they both had their arm extended and made varying attempts to touch the base. Utley didn’t make much of an attempt to stay on the base, and technically his move was a “roll block” because he threw his upper body. But an adjustment to avoid the definition of a “roll block” can easily be made by the dirty players. They just need to stay low and reach for the base. Chris Coghlan stayed low and reached for the base when he took out Jung Ho Kang. But almost all these dirty slides involve the runner visibly shifting his focus and attention from the base to the fielder. They all look up or to the side or wherever the fielder is standing. And from now on, all they are going to do is keep their arm out and their face aimed at the bag.
All the rule deliberation is pointless. It always has been. The only way to eliminate this practice is for the umpires to consistently call the runners out. If they consistently side with the fielder then the practice will die out. It’s no different than helmet to helmet hits in the NFL. Once the referees threw the flag the players adjusted and now most guys aim low. If the umps call the runners out, they’ll give themselves up, slide as a mere formality, and the takeout strategy will become non-existent. Let’s just hope that the umps protect the fielders all season and ignore all the complaining sure to come from baserunners and old school managers.
Pace of Play Miracle: The other announcement from MLB today, was the beginning of the stopwatch era. Now mound visits by managers and pitching coaches will be 30 second timed visits. Hooray. It’s what we’ve all been waiting for. The league has yet to expand on these ground breaking pace of play developments but I am assuming any arguments about violations of the 30 second clock will be limited to 60 seconds for each manager and any challenges to the 60 second manager objection will be sent to the replay center in New York for review.
The second pace of play change is the one I find appalling. Now break timers between innings will mirror the time allotted to broadcasters between innings: 2:05 for locally televised games and 2:25 for nationally televised games, a reduction of 20 seconds each from the 2015 season. I don’t know about you, but if this takes away one single Cellino and Barnes or Grand Prospect Hall commercial on SNY I am going to lose my mind.