When Chase Utley’s slide broke Ruben Tejada’s leg in Game 2 of a National League division series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the Mets, the relatively common tactic of trying to break up a double play was put under a microscope, with many assuming it would force a change in baseball’s rules.
On Thursday that change happened when Major League Baseball and the players’ union agreed to a reworking of the rules regarding slides, while also adopting new procedures to continue the league’s effort to improve pace of play and to make “neighborhood plays” at second base reviewable.
“Our goal in amending the slide rule was to enhance player safety, reduce incidents of injury and to do it in a way that respects and preserves the bona fide hustle plays that are integral to our game,” Tony Clark, the executive director of the players’ union, said in a statement. “I am optimistic that this new rule will accomplish those goals.”
Under the new policy for sliding, designated Rule 6.01(j), a slide to break up a double play will have to include a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on base. Contact with the fielder is permissible, but the runner cannot change his path to initiate contact or engage in a “roll block.” The plays are subject to review under video replay, and if it is determined that the runner did not engage in a bona fide slide attempt, then interference will be called and both the runner and the batter-runner can be called out.
The criteria for a bona fide slide is stated in the rule as follows:
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.
Asked about the changes, Mets manager Terry Collins said the combination of the new slide rule and the ability to review neighborhood plays could be dangerous.
“We’re making a slide rule that keeps you on the bag,” Collins said. “You’ve got to be near the bag. And now we’re making a decision on the neighborhood play that you’ve got to stay on the bag. You know what that’s going to mean? Someone is going to get their clocks cleaned.”
For many in baseball, any change in the on-field rules is met with skepticism, but Utley’s slide, and a Chris Coghlan slide that ended the season of Jung-ho Kang of the Pittsburgh Pirates, seemed to be a result of plays in which it was questionable whether the intent was to break up the play or harm the opponent.
Immediately after the Utley incident, many players reacted to the play by calling for a change.
“If that was a superstar shortstop, we would have a Tulo rule being enforced tomorrow,” Justin Upton, then with the San Diego Padres, said on Twitter.
Pedro Martinez, the Hall of Fame pitcher who was occasionally accused of playing dirty by throwing inside, called out Utley’s slide as well, saying, “If you tell Utley to teach kids to slide on second base? Would he teach them the way he slided tonight?”
Utley was not without his defenders, however. His former teammate Shane Victorino said it showed he was a “winner.” Jerry Hairston Jr., who played just under 800 games as a middle infielder, took Utley’s side on Twitter, saying: “Clean play by chase. Touch bag with the left hand. Hard nosed play. Can’t pirouette around the bag in the #postseason.”
Umpires previously had the ability to call interference on the play, but this rule sets specific criteria for them to follow, and when combined with the ability to review the “neighborhood play,” in which fielders are often given credit for simply being near the bag when they receive the ball during a double-play attempt, could result in an uptick in the number of challenged calls in the coming season.
The other changes involve the pace of the game, with coaching visits to the mound being limited to 30 seconds and breaks between innings, reflecting the time allotted to broadcasters, being adjusted to 2 minutes 5 seconds for locally televised games and 2:25 for nationally televised games. In both cases, it is a reduction of 20 seconds from last season.