When Ian Happ’s slide took him past second base and he lost contact with the base, the umpires ruled Anthony Rizzo out at first base for an inning-ending double play. Joe Maddon asked for a review, and the replay crew ruled “call confirmed” based on the “slide rule” that was instituted after this play in the 2015 postseason [VIDEO].
This has been called the “Chase Utley rule” after the Dodgers second baseman who made what, in that video, appears to be a slide that was a) started late and b) wasn’t even in the line of the base. Here’s how that rule is defined:
When sliding into a base in an attempt to break up a double play, a runner has to make a "bona fide slide." Such is defined as the runner making contact with the ground before reaching the base, being able to reach the base with a hand or foot, being able to remain on the base at the completion of the slide (except at home plate) and not changing his path for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder. The slide rule prohibits runners from using a "roll block" or attempting to initiate contact with the fielder by elevating and kicking his leg above the fielder's knee, throwing his arm or his upper body or grabbing the fielder. When a violation of the slide rule occurs, the offending runner and the batter-runner will be called out.
Accidental contact can occur in the course of a permissible slide, and a runner will not be called for interference if contact is caused by a fielder being in the runner's legal pathway to the base. [EMPHASIS ADDED]
What I’ve added emphasis to in that description appears to be what Happ did during Saturday’s game — “accidental contact in the course of a permissible slide.” The description does say that the runner has to be “able to remain on the base at the completion of the slide,” and Happ’s hand did appear to lose contact with the base. The problem here is that there’s no room for interpretation. Joe Maddon wasn’t happy about the call [VIDEO] and Jon Lester was pretty upset about it too [VIDEO].
Look, I realize this is going to sound partisan but both of those men are correct. I understand why the rule was put in place — Utley’s slide injured Ruben Tejada, whether intentionally or not, and MLB wanted to try to protect infielders. This is a noble goal, but there needs to be room for interpretation. If a player is making a clean slide — and Happ certainly appeared to be doing so — then the play should be allowed to stand as played on the field, especially in cases where the runner at first would likely have been safe even if the play had been completed.
That appears to be the case in Saturday’s events. It’s unlikely that Rizzo would have been thrown out at first if the throw had been made by Aledmys Diaz. If that had happened, Kyle Schwarber would have scored a run. That would have made the score 3-2, Rizzo would have been on first base and the inning would have continued. Instead, the inning was over and the Cardinals still led 3-1.
Who knows where the game would have gone from there if the play would have been allowed to stand as it happened?
The purpose of the rule is to prevent players from getting injured on intentional slides that go far out of the basepath, not to automatically create double plays on every slide where contact is made between runner and fielder.
In my view, managers should be allowed to challenge calls like this and the replay-review crew should have the option to overrule the “automatic” double play. A slide that goes a few inches beyond the base, if clean as Happ’s was, shouldn’t result in an out just because he lost contact with the base. The folks at Deadspin had something to say about this yesterday:
Reducing the risk of serious injury on fairly routine plays isn’t making baseball “soft” or making anyone into “pansies.” It’s a reasonable effort to keep players safe, and willfully attempting to discredit that over losing one run in a close game is a bit ridiculous when compared to a very real alternative of losing a middle infielder for a season.
This isn’t an unreasonable position. However, the “lane” rule for slides into catchers was created after a slide injured Buster Posey a few years ago and put him out for most of a season, that rule got tweaked after it was put in place and no one was happy with the results. Something similar needs to happen here.
There has to be a way to set up the Utley Rule so that intent can be determined, and if there’s no “intent” — and there wasn’t on Happ’s part — or if a double play would not have been completed anyway, then the action on the field should stand. The penalty of an automatic double play is, in my view, too harsh to be enforced on every single play like this — especially since it was not similarly enforced on a slide by Dexter Fowler last month that was much more egregious than the slide on Saturday:
Here are some screenshots on that Dexter Fowler slide from last night. pic.twitter.com/kTSI95pmXU— Brett Taylor (@BleacherNation) April 3, 2017
That one apparently was ruled legal because Fowler didn’t lose contact with the base — but look how far out of the baseline he was! Go back to the way the rule is defined above: “legal pathway to the base” — does that look like a “legal pathway” to you? Fowler made a slide in Friday’s game that was similar to Happ’s, yet the rule wasn’t enforced then.
And before you accuse me of being partisan, yes, I’d be saying this even if it a similar play had benefitted the Cubs. Absolutely, MLB ought to help prevent middle infielders from suffering major injuries. But the way the rule is being enforced doesn’t make any sense. It needs tweaking. It’s not working as intended.