Major League Baseball updated its rules about sliding into second base prior to this season, and the change included the elimination of what had become known as the "neighborhood play." On Friday, the Oakland A's got the chance to take advantage of this new rule, so let's take a moment to look at what happened.
The neighborhood play existed to make it safer for middle infielders to turn double plays. Rather than standing directly on second base while receiving the throw from his teammate, the fielder could simply have his feet "in the neighborhood" of the bag. This made it easier to get out of the way quickly and avoid the slide of the oncoming runner. From MLB.com:
Potential violations [of the slide rule] will be subject to instant-replay review, as will "neighborhood plays," in which a middle infielder straddles the base or glides past it on a double-play pivot. That play was previously not eligible for replay review, and this change will mean an end to the tactic, meaning middle infielders will need to touch the base while in possession of the ball when turning a double play.
Although the league removed this particular safety rule, things are still safer overall than they were in the past. The neighborhood play was a way to give the fielder a head start on avoiding crazy slides, but instead the league just got rid of the crazy slides. Now that the fielder only needs to get a step or two clear of the bag to get out of range of the slide, it's fair enough to require him to actually touch the bag while he has the ball. It's a sensible tradeoff, and the result is people playing baseball rather than chasing around trying to tackle each other.
Here is the play from Friday. With Stephen Vogt on second and Coco Crisp on first, Khris Davis tapped a grounder to short. Ryan Goins fielded it and flipped to Darwin Barney, who turned and fired to first. Davis was called safe at first, and initially it appeared that Blue Jays manager John Gibbons might challenge that ruling. Instead Bob Melvin came out, and moments later the umpires were donning the replay headsets to see if Barney had touched second base. To the video!
The call was eventually overturned, and Coco was called safe. The assist went to A's video coordinator Adam Rhoden, who noticed the transgression and suggested the challenge (via Susan Slusser). It's not the first time the neighborhood play has been reversed in MLB this year, but it was the first time A's fans have seen it called.
On one hand, I like the new slide rules. They reduce the possibility of dangerous plays and thus should reduce the unnecessary injuries incurred on those plays. And I think it makes logical sense to eliminate the neighborhood play as part of the overall update, since touching the base while you have the ball seems like one fundamental premise of baseball. But I can't help but agree with baseballgirl's sentiment from the game recap:
[U]pon review by Bob Melvin, Coco Crisp was called safe at second; the Blue Jays victim of the neighborhood replay, which has been adamantly enforced this early season. So with the bases loaded and one out, Alonso struck out and Semien lined out to end the inning. Ball don't lie, I guess. Sure, the replay call was technically correct, but c'mon.
Overturning the call was correct, and the rules were properly enforced, but it still feels kind of ticky-tacky. Barney was set up in plenty of time, so what's the difference if he was just straddling the base and didn't quite put his foot right on it? He's a former Gold Glove and Fielding Bible winner, so he certainly knows what he's doing out there. But this, like the recent changes regarding slides into home plate, will just require players to adjust to new habits so as to avoid such pedantic challenges.
What do you think of the elimination of the neighborhood play? Vote in the poll and duke it out in the comments!