We’ve Gone Too Far
I had to get up early to head to the airport, so I missed the play in question. The Jays were down by one in the ninth. Jose Bautista had just walked to load the bases with Edwin Encarnacion coming to the plate with one out. I’d already missed most of the game, and just I needed sleep and I would see the result in the morning.
I didn’t think it all the unreasonable to wake up to see Encarnacion had launched a grand slam to win the game for Toronto. I never could have expected what did transpire.
It’s all Chase Utley’s fault. Rule 6.01(j) was added this offseason almost sole in response to Chase Utley’s hard slide to break up a double during the MLB Playoffs last year, which resulted in breaking the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. Watch for yourself:
With that fresh in everyone’s mind, Major League Baseball revised Rule 6.01 be adding section (j):
Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts
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 under this Rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:
(1) begins his slide (i.e., 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.
A runner who engages in a “bona fide slide” shall not be called for interference under this Rule 6.01, even in cases where the runner makes contact with the fielder as a consequence of a permissible slide. In addition, interference shall not be called where a runner’s contact with the fielder was caused by the fielder being positioned in (or moving into) the runner’s legal pathway to the base.
Notwithstanding the above, a slide shall not be a “bona fide slide” if a runner engages 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.
If the umpire determines that the runner violated this Rule 6.01(j), the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter-runner out. Note, however, that if the runner has already been put out then the runner on whom the defense was attempting to make a play shall be declared out.
So there are the precedence and the rules governing such a play as we saw last night. can only assume that MLB brass deemed that Bautista had “intentionally initiated contact with the fielder by…throwing his arm or his upper body”. Now I could point out the wording of “throwing his arm” without denoting a direction or target is awkward wording, unless we are dealing with zombie baseball (note to self: pitch new show idea to AMC). This is the only way that I can see they deemed it not to be a “bona fide slide”
Bautista met all the other criteria listed in the rule, so they must be ruling on intent. It does appear that Bautista’s arm does extend toward the infielder’s leg, but it is certainly not an explicit act. Bautista does not change his path to the base, and is still maintaining contact with the base.
Also unlike Utley, Bautista does not start his slide ridiculously late or change his path to veer outside the base and take out the player at the knees. Also, this rule was put in place to protect players from injury, much like the Buster Posey rule around collisions at home plate. This is so far from a play causing injury it is laughable. Baseball might as well put in the safe base many of use for rec softball if this is how they want to change the game. We are not talking about Ty Cobb intentionally sliding with his spikes up, as has become legend in baseball. At the same time that same image has been used for over a century to demonstrate what is beyond the fine line or grey area.
Full disclosure: I am a Jays fan, but I like to think that I would feel bad if the Jays won a game because of this rule. It serves no purpose when there is no intent to injure except to change the game from what it was. And that is the real point; this decided a game. It was only the third of the season, but if this were to happen in the playoffs it would be a travesty.
Hopefully baseball will give this some consideration and adjust the rule. It is a joke.