Nothing dirty about slide that took out Jung Ho Kang
When Jung Ho Kang was taken out at second base on Thursday in Pittsburgh, suffering a season-ending injury, a fury erupted on social media. "The play was dirty"…"There’s no place for that in baseball," etc., etc.
I grow tired of these overreactions and you should, too. What happened to Kang was unfortunate, but the play was as clean as it gets.
Baseball is a sport, a sport where millions of dollars are at stake. For the men who play the game at this level, the season is both a physical and mental grind. Contact with other players, while rare, does happen.
Attempting to take out middle infielders at second base is part of the game; it always has been and always will be. Middle infielders are taught how to best avoid these collisions.
The game in Asia is played differently. There are no collisions at the plate, there are no take-out slides. It was something that really caught my eye in the four seasons I played between Japan and Korea. On the rare occasions contact would happen, it would always involve a foreigner. Those players were looked upon as dirty players for playing the American style game in Asia.
But this isn’t Asia and our version of baseball involves some contact. It is unfortunate that we have seen two Japanese infielders, Akinori Iwakuma (torn ACL, Rays, 2009) and Tsuyoshi Nishioka (fractured fibula, Twins, 2011), sustain significant injuries while being unable to avoid contact with runners on plays at second base.
Jung Ho knew this, so much so that we’ve even seen him abandon the Korean way and slide like a MLB player.
In that play (courtesy of mlbpark.donga.com) Jung Ho actually changes his direction strictly with the intention of taking out shortstop Danny Santana to break up the double play. He was successful. However, Santana was able to avoid contact, despite Kang coming in knee high with his right spike. You could argue that his play was dirty because Kang could not reach second base from where he was sliding, but no one made a big deal about it.
The problem with what happened Thursday was that Jung Ho seemed to bring his momentum toward the runner as he was throwing to first base and he never got his feet in the air. On the Kang/Santana play above, Santana is able to get both of his feet in the air while Kang attempted contact.
Chris Coghlan was probably surprised with how early he made contact with Kang in this play. But Coghlan played it clean; he could still reach the bag. This was just one of those unlucky things, and Jung Ho has admitted as much since the incident.
It’s been a great first season for Kang, and he has done wonders for the exposure position players from the KBO will now receive. We’ll miss seeing him in the postseason this year, but sometimes that’s just how the game goes. Tune out the screams that are saying this was dirty and calling for rule changes. This is just part of our game.