Slide rules a necessary addition to MLB

By Chris Puzia / Contributing Editor

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Some things in Major League Baseball are inevitable, despite the adage that “you can’t predict baseball.”

For example, the San Francisco Giants — winners of even-year World Series in 2010, 2012 and 2014 — began their undeniable slog to another championship run with a 12-3 rout over the Milwaukee Brewers Monday.

Comparable to the Giants’ guaranteed every-other-year success, though, is early-season squabbling over league rule changes or exceptions to said rules. Even when managers have no case to win or the umpires have no ability to reverse a call, they will argue and extend the length of games to make a point.

The Toronto Blue Jays were upset about a late call Tuesday that likely cost them a chance at winning because of a recent rule change. The new “Chase Utley Rule” regarding improper slides took effect this year, and even though it has player safety in mind, Blue Jays manager John Gibbons took exception.

Down a run with the bases loaded in the ninth inning, the Tampa Bay Rays appeared to botch an inning-ending double play with a poor throw. But Rays manager Kevin Cash challenged the call, arguing that Jose Bautista interfered with the play while sliding into second base.

Cash’s challenge held up, the call reversed and the Rays won after replay showed Bautista reaching out and grabbing the defender’s leg from under him while he was trying to make a throw.

“Are we trying to turn the game into a joke?” Gibbons said after the game. “[The call] was flat out embarrassing. That cost us an opportunity to win a Major League game. Was that the intent?”

Another similar call occurred the same day in a Braves-Nationals game when Nick Markakis slid wide of the bag to break up a play.

While players and coaches may be upset, this new rule change should be fresh in their minds.

The league implemented the new slide rules in the offseason, named for Utley after he injured Mets’ Ruben Tejada in blatant disregard for sliding into the base. Umpires made clear it would be a point of emphasis moving forward.

MLB rule 6.01(i) calls for a “bona fide” slide attempt, where the runner “is able and attempts to remain on the base … after completion of the slide.” In addition to grabbing the thrower’s foot Monday, Bautista far overslid the base while attempting to do so, effectively breaking two rules in one play.

Gibbons may be upset his team lost, but he should think back to last season, when Tejada and the Pirates’ Jung Ho Kang suffered serious injuries because of poor and insincere sliding.

I am all for managers arguing calls to defend their players — I miss the days of Lou Piniella earning ejections and subsequently kicking dirt on the umpire to really solidify his case.

But when player safety is involved, managers need to bite their tongues and remember which side they’re on. It isn’t hypothetical anymore: Kang missed the playoffs and then couldn’t help the Pirates try to advance to the NLDS because Chris Coghlan decimated his knee in a takeout slide. To the Cubs, rules were rules and there was no wrongdoing.

“I’m completely within the rules,” Coghlan said after the game. “It just stinks because he didn’t have time to jump over me.”

“That’s a good baseball play — it’s been going on for the last 100 years,” Cubs manager Joe Maddon said. “There was no intent by anybody.”

Ethics aside, the slide was legal at the time. But now it is not, and Gibbons and Bautista have less ground to stand on. When he argues that a rule created solely to prevent season-ending injury ruins the integrity of the game, Gibbons comes off as unsympathetic and indifferent to positive league change.

“I guess we’ll come out wearing dresses tomorrow,” Gibbons said. On top of the blatant sexism, Gibbons — and other managers, not just picking on the Blue Jays’ skipper — should pay more attention to player safety.

We need to remember what matters in these games: young players should not fear for their careers when they try to turn two in an early April baseball game.

The occasional out that baserunners save just isn’t worth it.

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