I said it before, I’ll say it now and I’ll say it forever: baseball’s new rule regarding slides at second base was and is a childish overreaction. It’s yet another example of the wussification of America and what was, once, our national pastime.
In case you missed it, the Tampa Bay Rays defeated the Toronto Blue Jays by a 3-2 score last night, though that was hardly the story. In the top of the ninth inning, with one out and the bases loaded in a 3-2 game, Toronto slugger Edwin Encarnacion hit a ground ball to third base. Rays third baseman Evan Longoria started what might have been a game-ending 5-4-3 double play, but the Jays ended up scoring two runs when a sliding Jose Bautista seemingly disrupted Tampa second baseman Logan Forsythe into an errant throw.
You can see the play here:
After the game, Jays manager John Gibbons, wondered if his team should show up for its next game wearing “dresses.” Protectors of MLB will undoubtedly point out that Bautista’s slide was illegal by the letter of the newly emphasized rule regarding slides, which has effectively neutered baserunners like Bautista from attempting to do something every major league player has been taught to do.
Here’s the biggest problem with professional sports these days: from football to hockey to baseball, league decision-makers are acting as if they fear a lawsuit from an angry parent. Maybe this has some merit in the NFL, especially, where the ever-increasing knowledge about head trauma is downright terrifying. But baseball? It’s almost solely the result of injuries to San Francisco Giants catcher Buster Posey, who was hurt in the 12th inning of a late May 2011 game against the then Florida Marlins, and New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, who was wiped out in the divisional playoff last season.
You can see the Posey injury here:
And you can see the Tejada injury here:
Obviously, no one wants to see any player get hurt. Unfortunately, it’s part of sports. Some of us still maintain that had Posey’s injury in 2011 sidelined, say, Francisco Cervelli, nobody would have cared. But because the Giants were reigning World Series champions and because Posey was MLB’s newest poster boy (the game’s next Derek Jeter, perhaps?), they overreacted. The League thought it needed to protect star players like Posey from people like Marlins baserunner Scott Cousins, who was merely trying to win a game.
As for Tejada’s injury, Chase Utley’s slide was indisputably late. But it was the playoffs. It was October, the time of year when identities are made and championships are won… when legacies are forged.
But instead of merely shrugging its collective shoulders and chalking it all up to bad luck, MLB decided to emphasize the slide rule. As a result, a pair of once-routine slides have now resulted in umpire reviews. The first came in Monday’s game between the Atlanta Braves and Washington Nationals, when Braves outfielder Nick Markakis was called for interference. The other happened last night, in the ninth inning of a one-run game, in a divisional affair between the Blue Jays and Rays.
Is this really what we want, umpires intervening to decide a game because someone slides too hard?
Tell you what: let’s just have invisible runners like we all did as kids. Let’s just make judgments as to where the runners would end up. That way, no one will get hurt.
When Posey was injured in 2011, the uproar seemed outrageous. Posey was the 2012 Rookie of the Year and key to the Giants winning the first of their three World Series. America acted as if its favorite son had been needlessly injured. Some argued that Posey’s career could be in jeopardy, which seemed ridiculous at the time, let alone now. Nobody in baseball ever suffers a career-ending injury anymore — not in his 20s, anyway — particularly with the advancement of medicine.
Know what Posey has done since his “horrific” injury? He’s hit .315 with an .870 OPS. The Giants have won two more World titles. And Posey has signed a nine-year, $167 million contract through at least 2021 that is fully guaranteed.
If you want to argue today that home-plate collisions are often violent and far more threatening than slides at second base, fine. You’d be right. But one of the problems in baseball, overall, is that talent frequently wins out, that there is no way to mitigate a disparity in talent without aggressive, sometimes physical play. The plays at home plate and second base were among the few ways baseball could measure a player’s and team’s will, and a primary reason we all watch sports is, quite simply, because of the competition.
Well, if you like what they’ve done to baseball in recent years, you probably like figure skating, too.
Tony Massarotti is an avid Boston sports fan and has covered sports in Boston for more than 15 years for both the Boston Herald and Boston Globe. He now serves as a co-host on afternoon drive on 98.5 The Sports Hub in Boston. He was a two-time Massachusetts Sportswriter of the Year as voted by his peers and has written four books, including “Big Papi,” the New York Times-bestselling memoirs of David Ortiz. You can follow Tony @tonymassarotti.