The rules about takeout slides are going to change. The changes will be completely reasonable. In six months, you will not notice the changes unless you really, really try to notice them. In six years, you will not notice the changes at all.
These sensible decisions are hard on the people who have to force opinions, and I wish people would think of us more.
We heard two weeks ago that the rules were likely to change, and the changes were confirmed in a joint press release from Major League Baseball and the Players Association. The new rule on slides follows a four-point plan of common sense:
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 bona fide slide! I like it. Because of the rhyming. And if you want to put these in plainer terms.
- Slide before the base, dummy
- Hey, you'd better be able to at least touch the base
- Don't slide so hard you end up in the outfield
- Don't target the fielder because baseball isn't a contact sport
Nothing should change the game you're used to. If you really need violence with your sports, preferably one with a side of strategy, there are other sports for you.
If there's anything to give us pause about the new rule, it's that the old rule wasn't too different.
Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play
That's from the 2014 rules regarding runners who "intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball." It was never enforced because the definition of "intentionally interfere" was stretched to exclude runners who could touch the base in theory after intentionally targeting the fielder. The new rule requires the runner to make an effort to touch the base.
There were changes to the pace of play rules, too, with innings breaks being shortened by another 20 seconds (2:05 for local broadcasts, 2:25 for national broadcasts). Manager's visits to the mound will also be limited to 30 seconds, and the penalty for violating this time limit will be ... a visit from the umpire. Which means the rule change is more about setting standards than drastically changing what we're used to.
But the biggest changes have to do with the slides, and baseball did what it had to after Jung-ho Kang and Ruben Tejada last year. Slide. Slide late. Hey, slide late to break up a double play if you want. Just don't swing out of the baseline to annihilate an infielder. Don't slide on the top of the base, which you would never do on purpose, to annihilate an infielder. Why weren't these the rules all along?
There will be some unfortunate judgment calls that will look much clearer with a slow-motion replay. They will affect games, and fans will be upset. They will have a right to be upset. But these calls will get rarer and rarer as umpires get used to enforcing the new rules.
Baseball players can't intentionally screw up a shortstop or second baseman making a play now, just like they couldn't screw up a third baseman or first baseman making a play before. It sounds so simple, and now fewer players will get hurt. Carry on, baseball. Carry on, and good work.