The rules allow slides like the one executed by the Dodgers' Chase Utley in the pivotal seventh inning of L.A.'s 5-2 win in Game 2 of the National League Division Series against the Mets. The rules also used to allow collisions at home plate, where the catcher wears protective gear from head to toe.
And so the hunch here is that the broken leg Ruben Tejada suffered late Saturday night inspires a change to the rules covering the double-play pivot, much the same way Buster Posey's broken leg inspired change to the rules governing plays at the plate.
Just know that such change doesn't happen overnight.
Despite some uninformed cynicism to the contrary, the days of the dangerous, late breakup slide are numbered. What unfolded at Dodger Stadium landed in the nebulous realm of "judgment call," and, naturally, inspired a wide range of emotion and opinion, from this ...
Since when was starting your slide past the bag OK? I get that you're playing hard but that was not a slide, that was a dive! #cmonman
It's not unusual for a single incident such as this to engender such a range of reaction. All you have to do is watch a few minutes of C-SPAN to see how hard it can be to get two human beings to agree on anything.
And so, sensible new language to the rules to ban the kind of perilous run-in Tejada endured is clearly necessary. Umpires didn't have a hard-and-fast rule to fall back on Saturday night. But with MLB already experimenting with the NCAA rules regarding direct slides into second base in the Arizona Fall League this year, don't be surprised to see new language as soon as next season.
The NCAA rule is as follows:
1. On any force play, the runner must slide on the ground (via a headfirst slide or a slide with one leg and buttock on the ground) before the base and in a direct line between the two bases (with his entire body), though it is permissible for his momentum to carry him straight through the base. The runner may deviate from the direct line as a means to avoid making contact or altering the play of the fielder.
2. Contact with a fielder is legal provided the slide is legal and direct to the base.
3. Interference is called if the runner slides or runs out of the base line in the direction of the fielder and alters the play of the fielder (with or without contact), the runner uses a rolling or cross-body slide to make contact with or alter the play of the fielder, the runner raises his leg to make contact higher than the fielder's knee in a standing position, the runner slashes or kicks the fielder with either leg or the runner illegally slides toward or contacts the fielder even if the fielder makes no attempt to complete the play.
If any of those qualifications are met with less than two outs, the batter-runner, as well as the interfering runner, are declared out and no other runners may advance. With two outs, the interfering runner is declared out and no other runners advance. And if the runner's slide is deemed flagrant, the runner is ejected from the game.
Obviously, "flagrant" remains a judgment call, but the rest is pretty clear. And in the controversial play involving Utley and Tejada, there was nothing "direct" about Utley's so-called slide -- except for the fact that it went directly after Tejada's leg.
MLB does have a rule -- 6.01(6) -- policing plays around the bag, and this is what it says:
"If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner."
Again, it's a judgment call. And the fact is, it is very, very rarely enforced. Runners have been utilizing takeout slides on middle infielders for decades and, generally speaking, it's an accepted element of baseball culture.
Catcher collisions used to fall in that category, too.
Just as baseball wisely handled the violence at the plate after the Posey incident, Tejada's fractured fibula (especially occurring as it did in the spotlight of the postseason stage) will be an a-ha moment all its own. The outcry against what Utley did demonstrates that, for many people in and around the game, the public acceptance of the takeout slide has waned considerably, and MLB's already-in-place Arizona Fall League experiment shows that the game is listening.
Again, change won't happen overnight -- and it certainly didn't happen in time to save Tejada. But change is coming.