Less than 72 hours into the Major League Baseball season and we already have a serious problem as a result of the short-sighted overreaction to one illegal slide.
Last night the Tampa Bay Rays won a game because Chase Utley broke Ruben Tejada’s leg during the National League Division Series last October. They won a game because Jose Bautista was punished for playing baseball the way it’s been played for over a century. They won a game because an in-stadium replay caused fans to groan.
This can’t be the direction MLB wants baseball to go. It can’t become the new normal.
Bautista was called out under new rule 6.01(j) that states players must make a “bona fide slide.” One of the necessary requirements of a legal slide is that the runner stay on the base. Replays reveal that Bautista technically violated that part by oversliding the bag by a few inches. He also reached out to grab Logan Forsythe’s foot with his hand.
The proper call was made under the new rule. That’s not the issue. The issue is that that new rule is deeply flawed.
It’s a dangerous stance to take a position against player safety, which is why the change was enacted. But it’s also impossible to see what happened last night and not have serious reservations about what baseball is becoming.
Bautista’s slide was not dirty, no matter what the new rules say. There isn’t a middle infielder out there who wouldn’t do the same thing with the game on the line.
Look at the postgame comment from Rays manager Kevin Cash. It’s tinged with a bit of guilt.
"“The rule’s put in to protect players,”[he] said. “You saw what happened last year in the playoffs. … You know what, it is what it is. We’re happy we won, but I can understand the frustration on the other side. We all deal with that a little bit in this game, and especially with the replay, what it’s brought out.”"
Blue Jays skipper John Gibbons was understandably more heated.
"“What are we, trying to turn the game into a joke? It’s a flat-out embarrassment,”[he] said. “Baseball’s been a hard-nosed game. … There’s really no explanation for it. I don’t get it."
Gibbons went on to suggest the players come out in dresses for the next game. That ill-advised statement is what the media will latch onto. Denigrating an entire gender is not the best way to make the point Gibbons wants to make.
The best way, to me, is to simply ask if the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater.
Resisting change because change is bad is stupid. Revisiting that change to address unforeseen consequences is smart.
This can’t become the new normal for baseball. Laugh all you want at my assertion the game has fundamentally changed. Players and mangers agree with that sentiment. It will be an awkward assimilation as they try to unlearn old habits.
It’s not unreasonable to ask that the new rule be revisited for the good of the game — so it remains the game and not some neutered version.
What happened last night was not a step forward. It’s time to take a step back and reassess.