The play occurred two Octobers ago, but Matt Holliday still has nightmares about breaking up a double play in the 2012 NLCS against the Giants, injuring second baseman Marco Scutaro. “If I had to do it over, I never would have even tried,” Holliday said Tuesday. If MLB follows through with a proposed rule change banning hard slides on the bases, Holliday and his fellow players won’t ever have to worry about such a scenario again.
Encouraged by the positive reception of its rule banning collisions at home plate, Major League Baseball has taken the next step toward ridding the game of dangerous collisions elsewhere on the basepaths.
“The game is so much less needlessly competitive now (since implementing the home-plate-collisions ban),” said commissioner Bud Selig. “We thought: Why stop there?”
Selig and others on the sport’s Working Unharmed/Sliding Safely initiative teamed with Holliday and Cardinal manager Mike Matheny to design the new rule, which the Cardinals are volunteering to pilot in 2014 and would result in a game ejection and mandatory five-game suspension for violators.
“These guys are naturally competitive and want to do what’s best for their team, so it’s not fair to ask them to refrain from hard slides on their own. We needed a rule to be able to control them. Kind of like a leash for your pet.”
Critics contend that interpreting hard slides may be too subjective. But Selig, who has overseen the expanded use of instant replay, sees the new rule as a another application of replay technology. For borderline slides, MLB plans to have the umpiring crew, as well as a Blue Ribbon panel of former Olympic diving judges, review plays for intent and level of possible injury to the fielder.
“We see it opening up new possibilities for the game,” Selig said. “We think fans would rather spend an extra 20 minutes at the ballpark, if the bottom line is player health. The important thing is to get it right.”
Speaking on behalf of players with active consciences, Holliday agrees.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve struggled with that question of whether to ‘man up’ and slide hard or to bail like a sissy,” said the left fielder, who in the wake of his NLCS play nearly teared up as he offered a heartfelt apology to Scutaro. “Now that that choice is made for me, I don’t have to worry about it.”
But it’s not only the defensive players that are the victims of robust play. The proposed rule also aims to protect baserunners, who are often injured — both physically and emotionally — on aggressive slides.
“Players need to be protected from themselves,” Matheny avers. “If we didn’t have a rule requiring batting helmets, do you think they’d actually wear them?”
Matheny has a response to fans who may chafe at such a “less manly” approach to the game or about losing an edge on the field.
“It’s not all about winning, ” he said. “It’s about staying healthy and not hurting people. I’d rather go 0-162 in the win column and 162-0 in the ouchies column. We think that any disadvantage from not gaining an extra out is more than offset by not mentally firing up the other team. Momentum is sometimes more important than base runners.”
If all goes well with the pilot, fans can expect the rule to be implemented league-wide in 2015.
Never one to rest on his laurels or retire, Selig even has the next rule planned. With the tragic face injury that Reds pitcher Aroldis Chapman suffered this spring, MLB is considering making the protective pitching screen used during batting practice a permanent part of the field.
“It’s all part of cleaning up the game,” Selig noted. “It’s too dangerous. If it makes the game less interesting or fun, so be it. I’d rather a player be able to proudly tell his grandson someday, ‘I didn’t play to win, but I can assure you that in all the games I played, never hurt anyone.”