[fusion_text]The playoff-bound Pittsburgh Pirates lost their star rookie shortstop for the season when his leg was hit by the base runner’s slide. Even though the shortstop was several feet away from the base, the slide was legal because the runner reached the bag with his outstretched hand while his feet were colliding with the shortstop. This is traditionally known as “breaking up the double play” and is equally traditionally applauded in the dugout as a hustle play. There is already some talk that this kind of slide should be prohibited. To me, the decision to implement a rule change accomplishing this is a no-brainer.
Unlike football, going after an opponent’s body is not part of the game of baseball. Making a runner slide directly at the base, unless he is trying to avoid a tag, takes nothing away from the offense. A well-turned double play is one of the prettiest defensive plays in baseball and deserves facilitation, not obstruction. And the most important argument for a change is to reduce the chance of serious injury. This was deemed reason enough to institute a rule eliminating most collisions at home plate, and this rule would be much easier to enforce than that one.
A secondary benefit of such a rule could be the elimination of the so-called “neighborhood” rule, in which the pivot man does not need to be in contact with second base when he catches the ball on a double play. This is a terrible rule, because it leaves so much to the umpire’s discretion: how far off second can the fielder be, no one knows or is saying. The main reason for this rule is to allow the pivot man to avoid injury from the onrushing runner. If the runner is prohibited from going after the fielder, there is less reason for this questionable protection. Before instant replay, it was often difficult to know for sure that the fielder’s foot had left the bag before the ball reached his glove; but with replay now available, that can be determined beyond argument.
In sum, I see no reason – other than the hoary one of “tradition” – to continue allowing baserunners to slide into fielders who are away from the bag, and I expect that the owners and union will quickly come to the same conclusion.[/fusion_text]