Clarified interpretation makes sense, results in less debate
By Mike Bauman
Rule 6.01 (j), the so-called "Chase Utley slide rule," has been clarified by Major League Baseball. In the process, the rule has been made more workable.
The adjusted rule was in reaction to Utley's slide in last year's National League Division Series that broke the leg of then-Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. Nobody could quibble with the motivation: protecting the health and well-being of middle infielders.
But in practice, the rule tended to punish both the guilty and the innocent. This became clear in an opening series this season between the Astros and the Brewers.
Houston was rallying in the ninth inning when Jose Altuve hit a ball softly to Milwaukee second baseman Scooter Gennett. The runner on first, Colby Rasmus, was forced to make a late slide on a close play at second. His momentum carried his slide beyond the bag, and thus was, according to the new rule, an illegal slide.
There was very minimal contact between Rasmus and Brewers shortstop Jonathan Villar, who was covering second. Milwaukee had no play on Altuve at first. In fact, Villar made no throw to first. Still, the rule was applied, and because Rasmus's slide had gone beyond second base, interference was called; the Brewers were awarded a double play. The game ended on that note.
But Major League Baseball recently informed managers in a memo that the interpretation of the rule was being altered. Now, there will be no automatic double play called if the runner does not actually impede the fielder.
This is more sensible, less debatable. A handy example of the new interpretation occurred Tuesday night in a game between the Tigers and the Nationals.
With the bases loaded, one out and the score 3-3 in the sixth inning, the Tigers' Andrew Romine hit a ground ball to the right side that Nats second baseman Daniel Murphy fired to shortstop Danny Espinosa at second in hopes of starting an inning-ending double play. Anthony Gose, the runner at first, slid wide and went beyond the bag in an attempt to disrupt Espinosa, but Espinosa got off a clean throw without having to adjust. Romine beat the throw to first, allowing Justin Upton to score the go-ahead run from third.
The Nationals appealed the call. Under the original rule, a double play would have been awarded and the go-ahead run would have been disallowed. Under the new interpretation, Gose did not impede Espinosa, so there was no interference call. The play, and the Detroit run, stood.
"In [the umpires'] judgment, [Gose] didn't impact the fielder's ability to turn the double play," Tigers manager Brad Ausmus said.
There may still be an element of judgment involved. But the new interpretation eliminates the situation in which an automatic double play is called, even when the runner did not interfere with the fielder, as occurred in the Houston-Milwaukee game.
"The only thing that they added was if it doesn't impede the ability of the middle infielder to make the play or turn the double play," Ausmus said. "So if you don't have a 'bona fide slide,' it doesn't [necessarily] mean you have interference."
"The only thing they've changed, really, in this memo is if it doesn't impede the ability of the middle infielder to make the play, it's not a double play. That's where they kind of clarified it.
"So if you don't have a 'bona fide slide,' which is your butt has to hit the ground before the base, you can't go past the base and you have to make an attempt to touch the base, if you do all of those things, you can't be called for anything. But just because you don't do all those things, doesn't mean it is interference, because it may not impede the middle infielder's ability to turn a double play."
The rule is still going to have a deterrent value. Ausmus said his players would still be instructed to slide directly into the base in any situation in which a run would be at stake.
"We told them in Spring Training," Ausmus said. "As a matter of fact, we told them about this specific incidence: Bases loaded, first-and-third, don't risk it, because it might cost us a run. Just slide into the base.
"We essentially said, 'Especially when there's the potential for a run to score, just slide into the base. Leave no doubt.' It will be reiterated to the players. When a run's at stake, just slide into the base."
The habits of a lifetime are being altered here, so in that sense, the rule is having an obvious impact.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.