Sunday, October 11, 2015

Winter Meeting Hot Stove Topic: Take Out the Take Out Play?

Sound familiar? An awkward turn at second, well off the bag, results in a broken leg for the infielder when a late and high takeout slide wipes him out. The latest version came in the Mets-Dodgers NLDS game when Chase Utley crumpled Ruben Tejada. In this case, Utley, who never touched the bag (he did reach out, but never made contact with the base) and jogged back to the bench, but was awarded second anyway to add insult to injury.

Jung-Ho Kang gets taken out (photo via Baseball Photos) 
The practice itself dates back to baseball's earliest days, and the break-up slide is both a time-honored drill and legal as long as the runner is within reach of the base, and that covers a lot of neighborhood. To us, breaking up a potential bang-bang DP is part of the game; we don't advocate a Jack Lambert "put 'em in dresses" 'tude. But painting a bullseye on a guy who's already forced you out by a couple of steps is over the line.

There are a couple of rules to cover it:

Rule 6.05: A batter is out when --
(m) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire's judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.

Rule 7.09: It is interference by a batter or a runner when -
(f) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball, with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead; the umpire shall call the batter-runner out for interference and shall also call out the runner who had advanced closest to the home plate regardless where the double play might have been possible. In no event shall bases be run because of such interference.

6:05 (m) is the general rule-of-thumb; 7:09 (f) covers DP's specifically, and both seem pretty clear-cut. The fly in the ointment is that the interpretation of the rule involves leaving the baseline to trigger the rules, and the baseline on a force means within reach of the base. With a good stretch of the back arm, a runner has several feet to play with, and some use every inch.

Ditto Ruben Tejada (image via TBS)
Baseball recognized the inherent danger of this relic when it initiated the neighborhood play. They've already defused another age-old situation when they initiated the Buster Posey catcher collision rules, decades after Pete Rose clocked Ray Fosse. The take-out slide is the red-haired cousin of the plate mash-ups, and it's time to take a hard look at it.

First, it's a hard enough game to begin with; elbows, shoulder, knees, noggins and hammy's take a beating. Wayward knees, elbows, walls, railings and inside pitches create another set of injuries waiting to happen. In this case, guys who play a premium middle infield position are being put at risk, and mainly because of a loose baseline interpretation. They already need to be acrobatic to avoid a straight-on slide while trying to turn a DP as is without being targeted in short left field. Why make them more vulnerable?

Secondly, just from an industry POV, assets worth millions (the players) and not easily replaced are being lost because of a legit if borderline practice.The inventory of good shortstops isn't exactly overflowing in the majors.

It's not really a very difficult fix by rule; just adopt the amateur standard, used all the way from little league through college, that requires a slide straight to the bag.

of course, major league rules are not an easy animal to rein; a change requires buy-in from the owners, administration, union, which you would hope comes down on the side of its memberships' safety, and umps. Often it involves a minor-league break-in period.

There could be movement coming. Adam Rubin of ESPN talked to Joe Torre, who said "It's a concern. ... What we're doing in the [Arizona] Fall League, and I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but in the Fall League, we're having the players work on sliding directly into the bag, just to see how that works..."

Here's hoping they fast-track that test and import it to the show as quickly as possible. The game is the players, and keeping them on the field should be concern #1 of MLB.

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