A few more words about that "slide"
I agree with everything Dave Cameron already wrote about that horrible, horrific play Saturday night in Los Angeles.
Well, except for one thing.
David cited Rule 6.01. If you read that one very specifically, though, it’s about the runner interfering with a fielder “in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play.”
But of course Ruben Tejada wasn’t in the act of fielding a batted ball. He was in the act of catching a throw from Daniel Murphy, who’d fielded the batted ball.
Good news, though! Major League Baseball’s Official Rules seem to have this one covered, too! According to Rule 5.09 (a) (13),
A batter is out when ... A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.
Further, the comment immediately afterward says this:
The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously, this is an umpire’s judgment play.
Except that the umpire doesn’t actually use his judgment often enough.
Just three weeks ago, Jung Ho Kang also suffered a broken leg when Chris Coghlan slid into him with the obvious purpose of interfering with a fielder.
Just a month or so ago, somebody named Chase Utley – couldn’t be the same guy, could it? – took out Jedd Gyorko ... and it was so obvious, the umpires actually called the batter out, too (unlike when Nick Swisher took out Tsuyoshi Nishioka back in 2011; like Tejada, Nishioka suffered a broken fibula).
But remember this play, three years ago?
Matt Holliday did almost exactly what Chase Utley did, Saturday night. Holliday was out on the force play (unlike Utley, upon video review), but the batter was not. Just last week, Didi Gregorius did almost exactly the same thing; Gregorius was out, but the batter wasn’t.
Why not? Because Holliday and Gregorius didn’t go outside the baseline. Because they could still touch the base, just like Utley (even though Utley didn't actually do that). Go back and read that comment, and you see it specifically mentions “the runner leaving the baseline.”
Does that comment preclude the umpire from calling the batter out when someone does Utley and Holliday and Gregorius did? I don’t believe that it does. What the comment does, though, is give the umpires an excuse for not making that call, and umpires really don’t like using their judgment.
There’s plenty of blame to go around here. You can blame Utley for a late “slide” that could have – and alas, in this case did – cause a serious injury, even while recognizing that Utley almost certainly had no intention of hurting Tejada. You can blame the umpires for refusing to recognize what was clearly a violation, if not of the letter, then certainly the spirit, of the rules. Not to mention all that’s holy.
But most of the blame goes to Major League Baseball, which should have fixed this a long time ago. It’s a stupid policy and it’s a stupid rule that doesn’t work and it will be cleaned up. Maybe as soon as this winter. But maybe not so soon. And certainly not soon enough to help Jung Ho Kang or Ruben Tejada. And their blood is on MLB’s hands.
p.s. Oh, and the union’s hands, too. Shouldn’t forget about the union, whose primary responsibility should be ensuring the safety of its players. But nothing ever seems to change until a few guys have been badly injured, broken legs and whatnot.