Envision a scenario where there are runners on first and second base with one out in a late-and-close situation. The batter hits a chopper to third base and since the runner on second was going on contact, he's close to the third baseman who is attempting to turn-two by throwing to first base. Suppose the runner completely knocks down the third baseman, barreling him into the ground -- or more subtly, suppose he knocks into his ankle as the fielder attempts to throw to first. We wouldn't stand for this injustice!
Yet, for a good portion of baseball history, we allowed this exact scenario to happen under the reasoning of, ‘well it's always been this way'. This caused all sorts of externalities including the ‘neighborhood play' and a multitude of players getting injured in what were in retrospect, completely avoidable collisions. Well, in 2016, we have found a better way!
With the the implementation of the new sliding rule, the ambiguity is gone. Players have to aim for the base and the fielder most definitely has to touch the base in order for the runner to be ruled out. Rereading that sentence should make it pretty clear that baseball has been operating under some shaky assumptions for a while.
Under the new Rule 6.01(j)a runner will have to make a "bona fide slide," which is defined as making contact with the ground before reaching the base, being able to and attempting to reach the base with a hand or foot, being able to and attempting to remain on the base at the completion of the slide (except at home plate) and not changing his path for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
This new rule came into effect in the Rays / Blue Jays game earlier this week. While sliding into second base, Jose Bautista extended his arm away from the base to purposefully (at least in the mind of a New York-based officiant after video replay) hit Rays Logan Forsythe's ankle. In some respect, the contact with Forsythe is irrelevant because Rule 6.01(i)(3) states that a bona fide slide occurs when the runner, "is able and attempts to remain on the base after completion of the slide" but regardless, the runner at first was called out, and the Blue Jays lost a game in which they thought they had plated the tying, and go-ahead runs.
Blue Jays beat writer Brendan Kennedy quoted Bautista after the game:
This comment basically implies that in the past, Bautista would have bowled over the shortstop, but instead he decided to merely move towards grabbing his ankle. This sentiment vindicates baseball already, because the new sliding guidelines have clearly entered into the players' consciousness, and they're adjusting their previous style of play.
As player salaries continue to explode, and baseball is more appropriately and accurately viewed as a business, there will continue to be updates to the rules and regulations of the game to mitigate risks and protect personnel -- the real assets of this business.
Baseball has always been a game of finesse and skill (although an overpowering fastball has worked pretty well too). The victors do not necessarily prevail through a feat of physical strength and contact between players is minimal. The new sliding rule did exactly what it was intended to do this week and the game is better off for it. The players are conscious of how they are sliding into bases, there are actual and real consequences of continuing to test the waters, and ultimately, as the players become adjusted to the new rule the sport will be in a better place.
Steven Martano is an Editor at Beyond the Box Score, a Contributing Prospect Writer for the Colorado Rockies at Purple Row, and a contributing writer for The Hardball Times. You can follow him on Twitter at @SMartano