clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Limping Along With MLB's Bass-ackward Rules & Policies

Chase Utley slides into Ruben Tejada, apparently believing the base is about to throw to 1B.
Chase Utley slides into Ruben Tejada, apparently believing the base is about to throw to 1B.
Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

To think like MLB sometimes is to think with a randomness that combines reckless disregard for fans and players alike with a complete dearth of reason. Just something to ponder while the Astros and Royals play a Sunday ALDS game not broadcast on any TV channel.

The Chase Utley slide into Ruben Tejada showcased just the latest reminder that MLB needs to overhaul its rules and how it evaluates them. The problem wasn't the definition, or interpretation, of the "neighborhood play". The problem is that a runner is allowed to use a slide to low bridge a fielder.

A slide is supposed to have one of two purposes: to reach a base without going past it, or to avoid a tag. Why is a runner allowed to slide, intentionally, across the bag for the purpose of trying to make contact with a fielder? Why can't a batter, having hit a roller to SS, slide hard across the first baseman's knees hoping to make it more difficult to complete the out at 1B? It's just a hard slide across the base. Is there something so special about the DP?

Why would you allow a runner to slide in a way that is designed to make contact with a fielder, but not designed at all to reach the base without passing it or avoid a tag? A rule change would be simple and would essentially render the "neighborhood play" obsolete: The fielder has to touch the base with possession of the ball, no exceptions, because that's what an out looks like, and the runner has to slide to and on a base, or around a tag, because that's what a slide is for. Problem solved, situation simplified, leg intact.

The "takeout slide" ("Sir, is that slide for here or to go?") is just a drop in the ocean of insanity and inanity that drives calls and replays of calls. How did MLB come up with its policies around replay reviews? Did it put all possible scenarios into a computer program that spits out random combinations? What the heck does it matter if a play happens in front of or behind an umpire, whether it's a dribbler up the 3B line or a possible obstruction?

Every play should be potentially reviewable, based on the single criterion that the manager believes the umpire got the call wrong and that a replay review will conclusively reveal this. If you're going to have replay (and while I oppose replay, I also recognize that it is here to stay), then stop parsing which blown calls get to be reviewed and which ones don't.

The addendum to this principle is that the "subjective" (e.g., interpretation) cannot be successfully challenged because it is, well, subjective. As a result, the "neighborhood play" (which would not even exist as a concept if takeout slides were properly banned) could not be successfully challenged because the call on the field is "I interpreted the fielder to be able to catch the ball on the bag, but choosing not to in order to avoid the runner..." That is a different call from "I judged that the fielder had his foot on base while in possession of the ball," which replay can confirm or deny.

And then there's the farce of having one challenge in the first 6 innings but being at the mercy of the umpiring crew to offer a review thereafter. Given that umpires seem to agree to a review approximately 98.9% of the time, and you lose nothing if the call stands or is confirmed, it's more "you only get one challenge the first 6 innings, but then after that you get whatever you want." So why not either leave it up to umpire's discretion from the first pitch on, or give managers the right to challenge throughout a game, or give them until one failed challenge, period, so challenge with caution?

But no. Think like MLB, folks. We won't let you watch today's playoff game on TV, we let runners assault fielders in the name of preventing certain outs, we concoct an arbitrary formula for which blown calls can get reviewed and which cannot, and we set up an arbitrary system that we then don't really follow for whether you get to review the blown call even if it happens to be arbitrarily deemed to be reviewable.

Me make rules and policies for sporting game!!!!! Me major league baseball!!!!!! Seriously, folks? This is the best you could come up with?