Rules are rules, and Jose Bautista actually broke two on that slide
It was an awful way to end a game. The Blue Jays went from scoring the tying and go-ahead runs on an error Tuesday night to losing because of a decision made by a replay official in New York, the implementation of a new rule that left most of us confused.
Here’s the thing, though: In Major League Baseball’s view, the Jays’ Jose Bautista actually committed two separate violations — one old and one new — with his slide into Rays second baseman Logan Forsythe.
The ruling was justified, but that does not end the discussion.
Players will need time to adjust to the new rules regarding slides on potential double plays, just as they needed time to adjust to rules governing home-plate collisions. And at some point, MLB might need to clarify the so-called "Utley rule," just as it needed to clarify the transfer rule and "Posey rule" in 2014.
The Bautista play was unfortunate. Most of us can empathize with the Jays’ frustration, and cringe at the ever-growing power of replay. The umpires on the field made no ruling, and the Rays essentially appealed on a technicality, appealed to the invisible, unidentified bogeyman in New York.
Still, if Bautista had not used his left hand to make contact with Forsythe’s right ankle and disrupt the infielder’s pivot, the Jays would have a much better case.
The Jays could argue that contact is allowed, that Edwin Encarnacion would have been safe at first regardless, that Bautista did not jeopardize the safety of Forsythe and violate the spirit of the rule.
Regardless, the reach by Bautista — which “hindered and impeded the fielder” in the view of the replay official, had nothing to do with the Utley rule. It was a violation of a previous rule, 6.01(a)(5), which states:
"It is interference by a batter or a runner when any batter or runner who has just been put out, or any runner who has just scored, hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate."
Yet, the replay official did not stop there, saying in a statement, "Additionally, (Bautista) did not engage in a bona fide slide as he did not attempt to remain on the base."
— MLB Replay (@MLBReplays) April 6, 2016
That’s the Utley rule, which established a four-point criteria for sliding into second.
A bona fide slide occurs when the runner:
*Begins his slide (i.e. makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;
*Is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;
*Is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and
*Slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
Bautista went 3 for 4, committing his violation when he slid past the bag.
Watching the replay, Bautista’s deliberate reach for Forsythe’s ankle seems far more egregious than the way he completed his slide. Yes, Bautista went past the base, but not to establish contact with Forsythe. No, the contact already had occurred.
Common sense ultimately will need to prevail, not just on this type of play, but others as well. Remember how baseball had to clarify the home-plate collision rule to state that runners clearly beaten by a throw should not be called safe on a technicality? It’s probably safe to assume that the new rules on slides will require tweaking as well.
The outlawing of the neighborhood play, in which an infielder avoids touching second base to protect himself from a runner, could lead to other issues.
Many viewed the play as a safety net for infielders, and believe that some will be exposed to harm trying to keep a foot on the bag — the opposite of MLB’s supposed intent, which is to protect infielders’ safety. MLB, however, says its research showed that nearly all infielders do touch the bag.
MLB Network’s Harold Reynolds, a former major-league second baseman, raises another concern.
"There is no responsibility on the defender," Reynolds says. "Part of the grace and pride of the pivot is that not all can do it. We are taking away the beauty of the ability to be nimble and athletic. There is a certain joy and satisfaction with not being touched."
Current and former players, remember, questioned the footwork of Jung Ho Kang when he was hit by Chris Coghlan, and of Ruben Tejada when he was hit by Utley. Neither Kang nor Tejada deserved his fate — far from it. But another former infielder, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said of the Bautista play, "If (Forsythe) turns that double play with two hands and has the proper footwork, nothing happens."
What happened Tuesday night was unfortunate. But like it or not, the ruling was justified. Jose, keep your hands to yourself!
Editor’s note: An earlier version of this story cited the wrong rule from the MLB rulebook. It has been corrected above.