Baseball has been America’s national pastime for well over a century and a half. Yet it still provides long-time spectators with events that they have never seen before – or will again. And sometimes, change is hard to handle.
On Saturday afternoon, Ian Happ – in his debut major league appearance – was on first base in the fifth inning of the contest against the St. Louis Cardinals. Down 3-1, Anthony Rizzo tapped a comebacker to pitcher Carlos Martinez, who threw the ball to shortstop Aledmys Diaz. Happ made certain that Diaz could not make a throw to first for the double play.
Prior to the 2016 season, Major League Baseball, the Major League Baseball Players Association, and the World Umpire Association all agreed to add 6.01(j) to the Major League Rule Book. The rule, entitled Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts, states:
If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for the purposes of Rule 6.01 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.
A runner who engages in a “bona fide slide” shall not be called for interference under this Rule 6.01, even in cases where the runner makes contact with the fielder as a consequence of a permissible slide. In addition, interference shall not be called where a runner’s contact with the fielder was caused by a fielder being positioned in (or moving into) the runner’s legal pathway to the base.
Notwithstanding the above, a slide shall not be a “bona fide slide” if a runner engages in a “roll block” or intentionally initiates (or attempts to initiate) contact with the fielder by elevating or kicking his leg above the fielder’s knee or throwing his arm or his upper body.
If the umpire determines that the runner violated this Rule 6.01(j), the umpire shall declare both the runner and the batter-runner out. Note, however, that if the runner has already been put out then the runner on whom the the defense was attempting to make a play shall be declared out.
Whew. Now, let’s take a look at the video once more to see where Happ went wrong.
First, the four numbered points:
- Although he appears to begin his slide late, it was certainly before the bag.
- He clearly is able to reach the bag with his body.
- His late slide puts him well past the bag, and in the end of the video you can see him attempting to reach back with his hand and failing.
- Although it is subtle, it appears he slightly alters his pathway to the bag in order to better reach the fielder and not the bag.
Based just upon these four criteria, interference was correctly called by second base umpire Mike Everitt due to Ian Happ’s failure on criterion number three, and correctly upheld by the replay review in New York.
However, even if Happ was able to reach the bag, Everitt had due cause to call him out for interference. Take a look at this picture taken during the middle of the slide.
That is a classic position for a slide becoming a “roll block,” and it was Happ’s clear intent to make certain that Diaz could not make a throw to the first baseman.
Manager Joe Maddon excoriated the rule, if not the application:
Don’t tell me that’s protectionism, don’t tell me a middle infielder as protected and don’t tell me a middle infielder was in danger right there. None of that holds up. I’d like to see the rule rejected.
Unfortunately for Maddon, excising this rule from the rule book would not, in fact, change the course of events. This rule merely acts as clarification of what is and what is not a good slide. The actual rule that is being applied is NOT 6.01(j), but rather 6.01(a)(6) which states:
If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.
This rule is not new, as can be seen by viewing the 2012 Official Rule Book (The MLB rule book has been renumbered since 2012; the rule at that point was 7.09(f)). Since there is no doubt that Happ was willfully and deliberately interfering with Diaz, the call of interference still should have been called even without 6.01(j) in place.
There is little doubt that players, managers, and analysts (Hello, Jerry Remy) are all blowing gaskets about this rule. They feel, not incorrectly, that this type of interference has been a part of the game for as long as they have been a part of it. However, major injuries due to the proliferation of poor slides put the onus on baseball to actually call the rules as they are written. Baseball was never meant to be a contact sport – except when a bat makes contact with a pitched ball.