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Monday 22nd May 2017

I was in the press box, working the Giants/Marlins game on May 25, 2011, when Emilio Bonifacio hit a short fly to right in the top of the 12th inning with Scott Cousins on third of a tie game.

When the ball was hit, we could all see Cousins poised to head for the plate just as we could all see Giants backstop Buster Posey brace himself while strong-armed Nate Schierholtz set under the fly, ready to throw to the plate. As this transpired, those of us in the booth were on our feet for we all knew there was a play at the plate and there was going to be a collision.

Of course the fallout from that play is well documented: Buster busted his leg, Cousins scored, the Giants back was largely broken then for the game and the season, and three years later the new rules about sliding into home was enforced. The new rule, 7.13, states "a runner attempting to score may not deviate from his direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher (or other player covering home plate)."

My truth is that I never ever want to see anyone get injured doing much of anything, and I get the Giants have a serious financial investment in Posey: one they want to protect at all costs to get the value out of said investment and fuel their team, ideally to a Series win.

And, I know I am kind of turning into a cranky old man (#iambecomingabesimpson) in a lot of ways, but similarly, I understand times change and baseball indeed must change with the times, not just to keep players as safe as permits, but to keep the baseball competitive and fan interest of this wonderful game growing and engaged.

Now, though, we have rule 6.01 which was invoked the other day, adjudicating that Jose Bautista went out of the baseline and attempted to disrupt second sacker Logan Forsythe, and as a result a game ending double play was called and that was that. This new law is known as "the Utley rule," after the Dodger second sacker's hard slide into Ruben Tejada last fall, for like Posey, that was it for the year for Tejada, although the remainder of the season was a lot less at the time.

As noted, change is inevitable, and safety is important, but at what point does the abandon with which the game is played becomes trumped by fear of infraction? I am thinking of Frank Robinson and Bill Buckner and David Eckstein and Brett Butler, all of whom played with dirty uniforms all the time, all of whom did not play to hurt the opposition, but to essentially win the play, and part of the game was that guys sometimes got hurt. That is what happened to Posey, and I believe to Tejada.

One of the problems with rules like 6.01 is the change really needs to be made from the bottom up, not the top down. In other words, t-ball and little leagues and then Pony and American Legion Leagues, and high schools, and then colleges all need to start teach the way to play is within the confines of the new rules, and as such they need to be strictly enforced all around.

I realize there are rules around such sliding in most little leagues, but suspect things get looser in high school and leagues like the American Legion, where the way the game was taught to be played was in trying to take out the guy receiving the ball if you could disrupt the play. Baseball has always been played as such, but even if little leagues ban the "take out" play, if colleges and other organized leagues and constructs don't, then there is no way for a player to consistently make "the correct" decision when coming into a base as part of a big play. 

I suspect both Utley and Bautista were indeed trying to do just that, and that is something that again has been taught always, so, how a 30-year old, who has been playing a certain way for 25 of those years, is suddenly supposed to retrain his muscle memory in what is really a pressure situation is beyond me.

To me, the issue is one of consistency, for again, unless some variation of the Utley rule is not embraced by all factions and levels playing baseball, we are asking for more confusion and upset than we already have.

More so, I understand fans like offense, and though I prefer no DH--for part of the beauty of baseball is everyone is supposed to show they can play both offense and defense--I can accept it. But, I just wish both leagues would simply follow the same rules, just to invoke that same kind of consistency.

I am on record to being against the use of instant replay, because baseball is a game played by human beings, and judged by human beings (you know, those guys we call umpires) and I simply think in the long run the replay undermines the authority of those umps, who do make mistakes, but not that many when one considers the number of calls made. Furthermore, more than often, even with the camera and film and slow motion, it is still not possible to see exactly what happened. But, the real nail in that coffin is one of the other beauties of baseball is the good breaks and the bad ones tend to even out, meaning justice finds a way to show her strength, whether we like it or not.

I hate to think that Rule 6.01 is just another aspect of our increasingly sentimental culture, that insists everyone get a trophy and that we are all winners. Don't get me wrong, I am all for supporting our fellow humans and encouraging folks to be their best, but I also believe (self) acceptance and success are different things. And, they are neither inclusive, nor exclusive.

Because like it or not, Rule 6.01 changes a lot of the game at its core, further blurring those lines between good competitive play and limiting the ability of a player to fully utilize his skill set and play the game using all the athletic and mental resources at his disposal.

Because if that becomes the norm, it would indeed be another shame for our species at large, not just baseball.

 

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