By Hal McCoy
CINCINNATI — Toronto manager John Gibbons may live to regret what he said — at least his wallet might regret it — when he said, “Maybe tomorrow we should show up in dresses.”
The feminists aren’t going to like that, but I do, and I’m certainly not anti-feminist. If I was my wife Nadine would remove my teeth (what’s left of them) with a karate kick to the lips.
Although umpires abided strictly by the new rule, rule 6.01j, concerning slides into second base to break up double plays, Gibbons was right about what is happening to baseball.
What used to be a rough and tumble game is fast approaching croquet in games played on lawns.
IT HAPPENED TUESDAY night in a game involving Toronto and Tampa Bay. Tampa Bay led, 3-2, in the top of the ninth inning. The Blue Jays loaded the bases with one out and Jose Bautista was on first base.
Edwin Encarnacion (remember him?) grounded to third, a sure-fire game-ending double play. But when Tampa Bay second baseman Larry Forsythe tried to turn it, Bautista, coming from first, slid hard and a little bit wide of second base. He tried to hook Forsythe with his right leg and tried to disrupt the throw with his arm.
Forsythe’s throw bounced past first base and instead of a double play and game over, two runs scored to give Toronto a 4-3 lead. . .for about five minutes. Nobody was protesting the slide, but umpires went to replay and eventually ruled that Bautista violated the new slide rule and both he and Encarnation were called out — a game-ending double play and a startling 3-2 Tampa Bay win.
OLD SCHOOL BASEBALLERS, like me, understand the safety issues and what happened when Chase Utley broke Miguel Tejada’s leg on a wicked, wicked slide last year. But if that hadn’t happened, would this new slide rule be in effect?
Probably not. Baseball is not pro-active. It is re-active. They didn’t ban bowling over the catcher until San Francisco’s Buster Posey was injured. They didn’t ban the break-up slide until Tejada got hurt.
Nearly all the old-time players can’t believe what is happening to the game. How many catchers really got hurt badly getting bowled over at home plate over the first 146 years of the professional game. How many guys got hurt at second base on takeout slides? Sure, it happens (Cincinnati second base Ron Oester’s knee was destroyed on a break-u slide in the early 1980s). But as former pitcher Pedro Martinez said on MLB-TV, “They are taking away the game we all played for 100 years. Now they are making all these rules, changing the game, softening it up.”
IT WAS UNFORTUNATE that the first time the new rule is invoked that it decided immediately the outcome of the game. If it had happened in the fourth or fifth inning nothing much would have been made of it.
But this call, even the right call, gave Tampa Bay a victory on a umpire’s call and took away two runs that gave Toronto the lead and cost them the game. An umpire’s call is no way to decide a baseball game.
Former major league umpire Randy Marsh, now an umpire supervisors and observer, said about the play, “The call was right even before the new rule. He (Bautista) grabbed at the ball when the throw was being made and that’s interference even without the new rule.”
In addition, Bautista violated the new rule by over sliding the base and using the leg kick while trying to impede the throw.
Rule 601(j) says if the runners initiates or attempts to make contact with the fielder for purpose of breaking up a double play, he and the batter are both out.
Yes, it was the correct call under the new rule, which hopefully might be modified a bit before the end of the season, but as Gibbons said, “Maybe we should show up in dresses tomorrow.”
CINCINNATI MANAGER Bryan Price saw the play and he believes, “under the new rule, they got it right.” And he says his team has been instructed, taught and lectured on the correct way to slide into second base on a double play ball.
“Any time you reach out to affect the ability of the middle infielder to turn the double play and you physically grab the player, that’s an infraction,” he said. That’s exactly what Marsh said and that’s exactly what Bautista did.
“I did think it was the right call, but it was unfortunate because the kid was just trying to break up the double play (which you can no longer do),” said Price.
“This sure got everybody’s attention,” Price added. “Anybody who looks at the play would know you can’t do that. We spent a lot of time with our video rules guy and looked at the different rules that give you the different ways you can approach second base and the ways that you can’t.
“Our guys know the rules — slide hard directly into the bag and to make sure their legs and back-sides are down before they get to the base. Do not slide past the base and lose connectivity in trying to break up a double play. But the instinct still is to try to get involved with the middle infielder to break up the double play.”
And that’s what Pedro Martinez said. It’s the way the game has been played for 146 years and players grew up sliding hard at the middle infielder, doing whatever they could to prevent the double play. And now they have to change?
That’s why John Gibbons wonders if his Blue Jays should be ‘Devils With a Blue Dress on.”