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Revisiting the rules on takeout slides

What's acceptable when a runner is trying to break up a double play? Matt Holliday used a sharpened toothbrush handle to shank Marco Scutaro in Game 2, so let's take a look.

Ezra Shaw - Getty Images

At 5:14 P.M. Pacific, Monday, October 16, I thought Marco Scutaro's career was over. I thought his knee exploded, and that stadium workers were going to find kneecap shrapnel for the next decade.

As a Giants fan, I found this of major concern. Less Marco Scutaro means more Ryan Theriot. The FDA has limits on the amount of Ryan Theriot that can be included in a human being's baseball intake. This would put Giants fans well over the acceptable level.

If you missed it, here's why I thought Scutaro's career was over:

Scutaro's 36, so a torn ACL probably would have knocked out his age-37 season, putting him at 38 with a new knee … maybe he would have come back, but the odds would have been a little long. But he got up and played for a few more innings, eventually leaving to get an MRI on his hip.

This isn't going to be an all-inclusive debate. Over at Hardball Talk, a commenter used the word "pussification" when lamenting the special attention paid to the Holliday slide, and he was (rightfully) down-voted into the ground. If your opinion on takeout slides includes the word "pussification", I'm sorry, but there isn't a lot of room for you here. We only made so many finger sandwiches, and we're scared you won't use your coaster if we give you some of this chamomile tea. This probably isn't your scene.

The rest of us will talk about takeout slides and their place in baseball. The first step is to eliminate the worst argument: "That's just how the game is played!"

The game used to be played a lot differently:

Hal McRae used to be famous for slides like that. They even came up with a rule to stop it. Called it the Hal McRae rule.

Basically, the new baseball rule implores base runners who attempt to break up double plays to keep their efforts reasonably related to base running.

So the argument that "this is just how the game is played!" will always be silly. There have been, oh, a couple of changes over the years. The game used to be a bunch of white dudes hitting without helmets against pitchers who could use the spitball any old time they wanted. Other than that, everything's mostly written in stone.

Okay, so the pussification crowd and the baseball-can-never-be-changed crowd is out. The game survived the elimination of the ol' Joe Morgan slide up there, and it will survive further changes. The rest of us can hang out. This leads us to a couple of questions:

1. Does there really need to be a change?
You don't have to still be impressed by the miracles of fire to be in the no-change camp. A good, clean takeout slide really can be an enjoyable part of the game. I know I've stood to cheer a well-executed takeout slide on several occasions, as did everyone around me when the player who broke up a would-be double play returned to the dugout. Unlike the brutality and brainlessness of a home-plate collision, a good takeout slide fits with the timing and geometric precision of baseball. It's a late slide, designed to use the letter of the law for a temporary advantage. A player can slide a foot from the bag whenever he wants, but there's only one time when it makes sense.

Any changes to the existing rule could mess up the flow of the game. Runners could be wary of takeout slides altogether, preferring to slide normally instead of risking an automatic out, ejection, or fine. I'm not sure if that's worth it.

2. If a change is desirable, how would it be enforced?
Like most subjective things of this nature, it would be up to the umpires. Which is more than a little scary. But they already have a ton of judgment calls to make -- if a player is out of the base path, the Infield Fly rule, whether or not fan interference cost a team an extra base -- this wouldn't be the worst one.

And a simple rule change would be to require the player to slide into the bag. Not over it. Not three feet to the right. You can slide late, but you have to slide into the bag. Here's where Holiday was when he started his slide in Game 2:

Well, that would be a tough rule to enforce. Holliday slid before the bag. Kind of. But barely. The Hal McRae rule requires the runner to be able to touch the bag. Holliday could do that, so it appears to be a legal slide, which is why we're here.

One of these days, it's going to be a $150 million contract on the end of one of these plays, and then we'll know how baseball really feels. Eliminating the takeout slide entirely would be a shame, though. A happy medium between a regular slide and what Holliday did would be the best in theory, but there's no way to get there without putting more judgment calls in the hands of the umpires.

It's baseball, and players are going to get hurt. I get that. And messing with the takeout slide is right on the fringes of what's desirable and what's overkill when it comes to protecting players. I didn't like the Holliday takeout slide, but I can't think of a good way to make it illegal without affecting the takeout slide altogether.

I'm not sure if that's worth it. I'm torn. I'll let you folks tell me what to think.