Blue Jays see benefits in changes to slide rule

Watch as Mike Napoli breaks up a double play that could have got the Blue Jays out of the inning.

DUNEDIN, Fla. – Put simply, the gist of baseball’s new rule covering slides on double play attempts is this: Don’t do what Chase Utley did to Ruben Tejada.

The tackle slide by the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman that left the New York Mets infielder with a broken leg during last year’s playoffs was the driving force behind Rule 6.01(j), unveiled Thursday by Major League Baseball and the players association.

Under it a base runner is “specifically prohibited from changing his pathway to the base or utilizing a ‘roll block’ for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder.” So now, officially, those epic knockdowns of infielders from the 1970’s and ‘80’s all over YouTube are a thing of the past.

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, goes over the top of Los Angeles Dodgers' Chase Utley. (Gregory Bull/AP)

New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, goes over the top of Los Angeles Dodgers’ Chase Utley. (Gregory Bull/AP)

But there’s more to the rule than just that, and another dangerous slide from last year’s playoffs – Mike Napoli’s takeout of Ryan Goins in Game 2 of the American League Division Series between the Texas Rangers and Toronto Blue Jays – is also outlawed.

On that 11th-inning play, Elvis Andrus hit a grounder to third, Josh Donaldson fired to Goins at second and Napoli charged into him, jumping a step from the base, sliding through the dirt cutout around the bag and finishing up on the turf toward left field.

Goins ended up on the ground, Andrus was safe at first, and pretty much everything about Napoli’s slide is what the rule is also intended to eliminate.

“No doubt,” said Goins. “It is what it is, and he didn’t get me, but I really didn’t realize how bad it was until I saw a picture where he’s really far past. There will be times when guys don’t get me, but they’ll get close, and [Jose] Bautista will come in yelling from right field and I didn’t even realize it. It’s something guys are definitely aware of, protecting their teammates, so I think [the rule] will be good. It will be interesting to see how it’s enforced, for sure.”

Contact between base runners and infielders will still be allowed, but for the purposes of the rule, a “bona fide slide” happens when the runner starts his slide (essentially makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base; is able to reach the base with his hand or foot; is able and attempts to remain on the base after finishing his slide; and slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway.

Slides are subject to replay review, as are the so-called “neighbourhood plays” when second baseman were sometimes given force-out calls even if their foot was well off the bag.

If you watch closely on Napoli’s slide, he doesn’t touch the ground until his foot is past the base, makes no attempt to stay on the bag, and could have only reached it with the elastic arms of Mr. Fantastic. The new rule would lead to both him and Andrus being called out.

“I’m all for taking guys out the right way and extending innings and playing hard-nosed, but to go out of your way to not slide, we as guys on the field remember it,” said Blue Jays centre fielder Kevin Pillar. “He gets hurt there, our season possibly goes in a different direction. He’s a big part of our team.”

That’s why Pillar mostly likes the new rule, although he feels runners should still be allowed to change their paths because there’s a right way to remain aggressive and hard-nosed without endangering an infielder.

“I feel like I play clean and I don’t necessarily agree that if I start inside I can’t go outside,” he said. “I do agree that you should have to make some sort of attempt to remain on the base, you should have some contact with the ground before you try to break up a double play. There are right ways to do it and it’s still very effective. You don’t want to see anyone get hurt, especially for a second baseman, when he’s catching a ball, he doesn’t really know where the runner’s at, that’s kind of chicken [expletive] if you come in and take him out.”

Toronto Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar checks on Kansas City Royals' third baseman Mike Moustakas (Nathan Denette/CP)

Toronto Blue Jays' Kevin Pillar checks on Kansas City Royals' third baseman Mike Moustakas (Nathan Denette/CP)

Manager John Gibbons said the Blue Jays will discuss the new rule with their players, and while he expects some complaining during the season over controversial calls, he ultimately doesn’t foresee any major issues in players adjusting.

The concern he has is with the potential that the bases are run with less edge.

“You used to be able to hit that guy pretty good and it was just a part of the game. Then they changed the home-plate rules so you knew this was probably a matter of time,” said Gibbons. “There’s that fine line. Personally, I like good, aggressive baseball, you don’t like anything cheap, but you can’t eliminate everything. There are some [slides] that jump out at you, like hey, that could cause some problems, and I’m sure they’ll deal with those, but you’ve got to be careful, too.

“You still want these guys in an aggressive frame of mind, trying to do a job, break up a double play to help their team win something. You can usually tell when there’s some dirty intent.”

That’s why Goins won’t take anything for granted when turning two this season. Competition is fierce and players let their guard down at their own risk.

“I take pride in being one of the best defenders in this league and I’m going to keep doing what I’ve been doing. Slide rule or not, I’m still going to turn double plays the same way,” said Goins. “In the heat of the moment you don’t think about that guy coming, honestly. If you’re thinking about the guy coming, you’re not thinking about making plays, and I just try thinking about making plays. If they get me, they get me, if they don’t, they don’t. I’ve been lucky enough for guys to not really get me.”

Still, the new rule does make him feel a bit safer, particularly knowing that the kind of “roll block” Utley delivered on Tejada is strictly off limits.

“You saw what happened when guys go outside the baseline on what a normal slide would be, it turns into injury and a lot of sports are looking to prevent the injuries that are preventable,” said Goins. “This is one of those and if those rules were in place last year, maybe Ruben Tejada doesn’t break his leg in the playoffs. Overall, there are still going to be guys who push the limits, and that’s how it’s going to be. Any rule you make there will be guys who push the limits in any sport. That’s part of the game because there’s going to be a time when you do need to break up that double play, you know? It’s bad to say because a guy got hurt, but it is the playoffs and I understand that.

“There’s also a fine line of what’s right and what’s wrong and a lot of people thought that was wrong.”