Atlanta Braves Perspective: Lobbying the Slide Rule

There has been much hand-wringing about baseball’s version of Replay Review this year.  Yet with all of the angst about it, few have offered a solution.  Here’s one.

If there’s been any consensus in baseball this year, it’s the notion that the Replay Review rule ‘was never intended to be used’ for a frame-by-frame look at whether base-runners hold the bag at every millisecond of a slide.

Except that it is being used exactly like that.  And our Atlanta Braves seem to have been a disproportionate victim.

It is difficult to quantify, but fading memories suggest 4 or 5 instances in which Mallex Smith – in particular – was called out after a successful stolen base because he failed to maintain continuous contact throughout his entire slide.

For the season, Mallex tallied 16 steals and was “caught” 8 times.

By this writer’s reckoning, he was caught by Replay Review on roughly half of those occasions.

Two Possibilities

If this is truly a problem that baseball wants to fix, then they’d better act quickly before this gets any more ‘institutionalized’ than it already is.

Runners are being taught to change how they slide.  Infielders are being taught to keep a tag locked onto a runner until they stop moving.  This is changing the game in fundamental ways.

So either baseball needs to put the word out that they will live with the situation they’ve now created for themselves… or change it.

Here’s One Idea

Admittely, this scares me a bit – because of the trouble caused the last time that we had a new slide rule… just earlier this season.

The wording has to be very precise…. because umpires.  So this suggestion is offered with appropriate fear and trepidation.

As an introduction:  There already is precedent for treating certain bases differently.

At first base, runners are permitted to run through the base without penalty.  No one is required to ‘hold’ the base until his motion ceases.

At home plate, the same situation exists.  You could argue ‘but once the runner scores, it doesn’t matter’.  Sure, but it is nonetheless a situation identical to first base:  the runner is allowed to run through this base as well.  Once you make contact, that contact ‘sticks’.

Second and third bases do not permit such an actionand I’m not actually advocating this be the case either.  At least not to that extent, as chaos could ensue if runners were allowed to decelerate into the outfield as they pass second base.

But we can logically treat these bases with a unique perspective because of their own role in the game.  Here’s how:

NEW RULE PROPOSAL

A runner approaching second or third base is considered in contact with the base under the following circumstances:

  • Any part of his person or uniform is in physical contact with the base (‘contacts the base’)
  • If, during the process of executing a bona fide slide, a runner contacts the base at some point during the slide and also contacts the base at the completion of he slide (i.e., when forward motion ceases).  In such circumstances, said runner will be considered to be in continuous contact with the base.

Exception 1:  A runner who intentionally breaks contact with the base (when attempting to evade a tag or some such action) will not be considered to be in continuous contact with the base while that contact is occurring.

Exception 2: A runner who cannot reach the base at any point during a slide will not be considered to be in continuous contact with the base.

(And of course any runner tagged out while not in contact with a base he is entitled to is out)

The intent and purpose behind this proposal is trifold:

  • accounts for the physical reality that player bodies do not remain flat during a slide – especially a head-first slide.  They tend to bow, resulting in a break in contact.
  • accounts for the physics involved where players will ‘bounce’ off the ground or a base despite the fact that they have otherwise done everything normally expected to earn the base.
  • avoids having players change their behavior to try and overcome these physical forces in order to maintain contact with the base during an entire slide, which could result in injury.

It also has the net effect of speeding up the game.  We would no longer have wait for a manager to decide on a challenge and then have an umpire in New York pore over slow motion footage for 3-4 minutes to see if there’s any single frame showing a tag applied at the same millisecond of a break in base contact by the runner.

All those who didn’t want Replay Review in the first place should applaud such a change… for those people were right in warning about this aspect of that rule.

Commissioner Manfred:  do you want to speed up the game?  Get this done.

Mallex Smith might send you a Christmas card for it.

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