For over 160, or so, years baseball had a fairly uniform set of rules. The game’s popularity steadily rose from the infant days when Abner Doubleday invented America’s Pastime. The rules hadn’t changed much until recent years and everyone was fine with that set of rules.
The latest controversy took place this past Saturday in St. Louis. Late in the contest between the Cardinals and Cubs, with Ian Happ on first, Anthony Rizzo hit a ground ball to the infield. With a shot at a double play the St. Louis infield looked to force Happ at second. Happ over-slid second with no intent to take out the Cardinals infielder. The result appeared at first to be a fielder’s choice with Rizzo safe at first.
Let’s flash back for a moment to Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS between the Mets and Dodgers. Los Angeles’ base-runner Chase Utley was in a similar position that Happ was on Saturday. Also playing hard-nosed baseball Utley ran into Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. The play resulted in Tejada leaving the field on a stretcher with a broken leg.
Dodgers’ Chase Utley over-slides second base to break up a double play in Game 2 of the 2015 National League Division Series.
In Little League and other levels of baseball, kids are taught to play hard and play classy. It is the responsibility of the base-runner to try to keep the infield from turning a double play in this situation. That was how everyone was taught, that was the way the game was played. Until Ruben Tejada was an unfortunate casualty of hard-nose baseball on a national post-season stage.
Fast forward to this past Saturday. If Happ, who was safe at second before the slide is allowed to play the way he was taught, the Cubs would have had runners on first and second. The Cardinals lead at the time 5-3. But alas, we are in a baseball world today where you cannot bump anyone and we need to play a handshake version of the game. Both Happ and Rizzo were called out on the play due to the new rule set in place as a result of the collision between Utley and Tejada. St. Louis would hold on to the two run lead and win the game.
Cubs manager Joe Maddon and starting pitcher Jon Lester were very critical of the call after the game. ” I’m over it. I mean there was nothing malicious about that slide. He slid three inches past the bag, and we got a double play. But I’m over the rule” said Lester. “The rule was meant for guys doing dirty slides, sliding late, taking guys out. There was nothing wrong with that slide, whatsoever. We got a double play for it, cost us a run. … I’m over it. This game was meant to be played a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with that slide that Happ did. I told him in the dugout, Next time you do the exact same thing.” Lester continued.
Maddon commented,”when you’re sliding on dirt, and you have momentum, you just keep going. You keep going,” Maddon said. “The rule does not belong in the game. … I could not disagree more with the spirit of this rule. … They (the umpires) know that the game was not intended to be manipulated in a sense where you lose based on a fabrication.”
In 2011 a controversy along the same lines happened when Florida Marlins’ Scott Cousins ran into San Francisco Giants’ Buster Posey while Posey was blocking home plate. Posey was doing what he was taught to do, so was Cousins. Posey also suffered a broken leg as a result of the play.
Why is baseball at such a juncture where the rules are changed due to unfortunate injuries? Injuries are part of the game! Collisions are part of the game! Lets leave what has worked for over 160 years alone!