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Examining Mark Canha’s controversial slide against Mariners on Sunday

It was ruled legal. What do you think?

Photo by Daniel Shirey/Getty Images

Major League Baseball has implemented a suite of new rules about sliding over the last several years, geared toward making the game safer. However, they include many intricacies and everyone is still getting used to the whole thing. Sunday’s game against the Mariners brought an interesting example, so let’s take the opportunity for a closer look.

First, let’s set the scene. It’s the 7th inning, the A’s led 3-1, and Mark Canha was on first base with nobody out. Jurickson Profar hit a grounder to the first baseman, who threw toward second base for the force out. The throw was received by shortstop J.P. Crawford, who recorded the out and began to cock his arm for a possible throw to first, but Canha slid into him and he lost his balance. The umpires checked the replay and confirmed that Canha’s slide was legal, leaving Profar safe at first.

The play turned out to be somewhat significant. The next batter popped out, which theoretically could have been the third out if Crawford had completed the previous double play. Instead, the inning continued with Profar on base, and a walk and a double resulted in two runs.

The Mariners never scored again anyway so the runs didn’t factor into the final, and you could argue that Crawford had no chance of getting the runner at first even without Canha’s slide. But this is a matter of principle, so let’s leave those points aside and just look at this play on its own merits. Here’s the video:

If the above tweet doesn’t work, you can see it here at Baseball Theater.

The call was controversial enough for Mariners manager Scott Servais to get ejected over, so it’s worth figuring out what’s going on. Heck, even our own broadcasters were surprised at the result. Here’s what Servais had to say after the game, via Ryan Divish of the Seattle Times:

“I thought it was clear. I looked at the board up there and he did make contact and stopped him from making a play. But it didn’t go our way.”

What does the rule book have to say? Here’s Rule 6.01(j):

If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:

(1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
(2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
(3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
(4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

A runner who engages in a “bona fide slide” shall not be called for interference under this Rule 6.01, even in cases where the runner makes contact with the fielder as a consequence of a permissible slide. In addition, interference shall not be called where a runner’s contact with the fielder was caused by the fielder being positioned in (or moving into) the runner’s legal pathway to the base.

Notwithstanding the above, a slide shall not be a “bona fide slide” if a runner engages in a “roll block,” or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee or throwing his arm or his upper body.

If the umpire determines that the runner violated this Rule 6.01(j), the umpire shall declare both the runner and batter-runner out. Note, however, that if the runner has already been put out then the runner on whom the defense was attempting to make a play shall be declared out.

All of that boils down to two things: Make a “bona fide slide,” and do it without kicking or hitting the fielder in the knees or above.

So was it a bona fide slide? There are four stipulations above, and the first three are easy: He did hit the ground before reaching the base; he not only was able to reach the base with his hand but indeed did reach it with both hands; and he stayed on the base after the slide. As for the fourth one, about not changing pathway, Canha himself explained it on Twitter:

With regards to the slide at second today...1) I established my running lane immediately once the ball was hit. In other words I was on the cut of the grass for at least the last 60 feet and didn’t avert my direction in order to make contact with Crawford...

He’s right, though maybe I’d downgrade it to more like 40-50 feet. The replay is clear that he’d been on the inside of the basepath the whole way and had been on the edge of the grass for a while, even before Crawford reached the bag himself. He didn’t suddenly veer off course just to target Crawford.

Perhaps you could argue that he was too far inside the basepath the whole time, in his attempt to make the first baseman’s throw as difficult as possible, but that’s a different debate entirely. All that matters here is that he didn’t “change his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder.” He established an inside path early and took it all the way to the base, and then finished the play with both hands on the base. It was a bona fide slide, no question.

But what about the other part, about not hitting the fielder too high? Well, the rule prohibits “elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee,” and Canha only clipped his ankle, so he should be in the clear there too. However, Lookout Landing said the following on Twitter:

I thought Canha’s slide was already iffy in that he was pretty clearly sliding to the defender and not the bag, but the real problem was went he went spikes-up and hooked Crawford’s foot. That’s a good way to get defenders hurt and should be enforced.

I don’t actually agree with that take. Spikes-up would suggest that Canha’s spikes were in some way facing the fielder, but he actually hits Crawford with the top of his foot. In fact, Canha seems to make an extra effort at the last moment to pull his foot back and ensure that his spikes face away from the shortstop, and also that he doesn’t completely wipe out Crawford’s legs. Canha even said as much on Twitter:

2) I did not extend my leg to try and make contact with Crawford, in fact i tucked it before making contact in an attempt to avoid hurting him 3) I slid early and did not pop up, and ended up stopped on inside part of the base with both hands touching the base...

The rule is clear about what kind of contact is a violation, and this ankle clip does not qualify. It even goes out of its way to mention that some contact is permissible.

I can see why the Mariners would be upset about this play, and why it went to replay. Canha made some contact with the infielder, he did it without going directly into the base, and one of his legs was at least some amount off the ground. I can also see where we might be miffed if an opponent did this to Marcus Semien or Profar. But looking through the letter of the rules, and the replays at hand, I understand why the umpires ruled the slide to be legal.