This week Major League Baseball put into place a new rule prohibiting runners going out of their way to take out fielders at or near the bases they are running to. Call it the new “Chase Utley” rule (or Rueben Tejada rule, depending on if you are a Met fan), but the MLB brass is serious about preventing unnecessary injuries during the games. While many baseball purists feel this is an integral part of “old-fashion” baseball, players like Tejada probably feel these changes are long overdue. (For those who weren’t following last year’s NLCS, or somehow forgot what happened, Utley, the Dodgers infielder sent Tejada of the Mets out of the playoffs last October with a broken leg while attempting to break up a double play).
This past Thursday, Major League Baseball announced its attempt to hopefully reduce injuries and promote player safety. Runners must make a “bona fide attempt” when sliding into second base. Rule 6.01 now states the runner needs to begin a slide on the ground before attempting to hit the base with a hand or foot. Then he must remain on the base and not change his path to try and make contact with the fielder. The new rule also precludes roll blocks or any intentional contact with the fielder. If that happens, an automatic double play will be called.
While some instances will be a cut and dry call for umpires to make, others may not be so easy. It will be another judgement call on their part – how close was the runner to the bag when contact with the fielder was made? how high up is too high for the runner’s feet to leave the field? Adding to this confusion will be the virtual elimination of the old-fashioned “neighborhood rule.”
This change, in other words, will mean that infielders trying to turn a double play have to tag second base, even if a runner is bearing down on them. Before, if they just got close but needed to avoid the runner, umpires often gave them the out at second even though they hadn’t technically touched the base with their foot. So the umpires will have to pay that much closer attention to the fielders foot in determining whether a runner is safe or out. They will have to be in a better position to make sure they see all elements of the play unfolding. This was never an easy task, and now it will be even harder in some cases to make the correct call.
According to one official familiar with the discussions, the decision to change the neighborhood play came after a video review of numerous plays in which infielders were injured on plays at second base. That study revealed that virtually every injury came as the result of a late slide, a “roll-block” type slide or a slide in which runners made little attempt to reach the bag.
But now, things will be different. All runners will be required to slide — and make contact with the ground — before they reach second base. And they need to “remain on the base” when they finish that slide. So officials concluded that eliminating the neighborhood play was not going to leave infielders as vulnerable as some folks may think.
Rule changes are inevitable with MLB every year. so the umps are accustomed to make adjustments. Given the high profile of the play which caused this rule change, we think the umps will be under closer scrutiny than other rule changes to make sure no more runners legs are broken.