The New Rules at Second Base

In every sport we see rules that are constantly debated. The NFL seems to have a new theme every year, whether it’s flagging personal fouls for contact to the head or the dreaded “what is a catch” discussion. Both seem to rely more on the refs’ judgment rather than a well-defined rule. The NHL has a version of this that is being discussed constantly in the goalie interference rule. Again, it seems like this is a rule that changes depending on which crew is on the ice that night. Baseball has a couple of rules that are left up to the judgement of the umpire. The most prominent one is the strike zone. Every umpire’s is different. In general the width of the plate, bottom of the letters, and top of the knees should define the zone, but in many cases it doesn’t and that conversation has been heavily debated.

But that’s so 2015. This year already has a new theme: the slide into second base to break up the double play. To clear the air, I’m partially for this rule and partially against it. As a former baseball player I always enjoyed the ability to derail a potential double play (especially because I was slow and rarely got there in time) but as a rational thinker I understand why owners and GMs don’t want their players subject to an extremely dangerous play that can result in injury. There are basically four rules that are now going to be strictly enforced:

  1. The runner must make contact with the ground before reaching the base. So no more sliding just as you get to the bag to take out the shortstop who steps behind it to get clear.
  2. Being able to and attempting to reach the base with a hand or foot. Pretty obvious, you need to at least try to make it look like you’re not sliding for the sole purpose of up-ending the fielder.
  3. Being able to remain on the base at the completion of the slide. Similar to the first rule, this eliminates the runner oversliding to catch a fielder who has stepped behind the bag.
  4. The runner must not change the path he is on to initiate contact with the fielder. There it is. There’s the judgement call that will have people pulling their hair out. So in the case of a potential double play where the runner clearly changes his route, was it done on purpose or not? Good luck, blue.

The Jose Bautista call was easy. He grabbed his damn leg. That’s probably called last year too. That’s not where these debates will take place. They’ll happen when the runner’s intent is not clear. Just like we aren’t sure if the safety’s intent was to hit the wide receiver’s head. Just like we aren’t sure if it was the forward’s intent when screening a goalie to fall into him and impede his ability to stop the puck illegally.

The MLB is also tinkering with the neighborhood play. If you aren’t familiar, it’s when a shortstop or second baseman doesn’t really hit the bag on a double play but comes close enough to where the umpires will gloss over it. It’s mostly used to avoid incoming runners and turn the double play quicker. Well, now that play is reviewable which means managers can challenge whether the fielder made contact with the base or not. Kind of throws out the whole changing the rules to diminish injuries theory, unless the slide rule is going to be strictly enforced. Either way, get ready to hear about this almost every day.

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