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Tuesday 21st Nov 2017

The slide rule has to go.

No, I am not talking about the sticks that nerds used as late as the 1960s to do complicated calculations - before the invention of the hand-held electronic calculator sent them the way of the buggy whip. These slide rules have already been relegated to museum pieces.

I am suggesting a similar fate is needed for Major League Baseball’s rule to protect catchers and other vulnerable defenders from dangerous base runners.

Don’t get me wrong. I am all for safety, and personally, I have no issue with the intent of the rule as it is written today.

The problem is that those charged with putting teeth behind it and dealing with its after-effects do not seem to want to do that. As a result, a rule exists that is worth less than the paper it is written on.

Of course, the current event that sparked this column occurred on Monday. Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo appeared to alter his path at the last moment, crashing into Padres catcher Austin Hedges and knocking him out of the game with a bruised right thigh. Rizzo was called out at the plate because the falling Hedges held onto the ball.

San Diego manager Andy Green called it “a cheap shot”. As one would expect, Rizzo defended his actions, calling it “a hard slide”.

Don’t worry, I am not going to go where 99 percent of analysts have gone with this story. You see, it is completely irrelevant whether or not you or I believe the play was legal. It doesn’t matter what fans in Chicago or San Diego think.

MLB’s judge and jury, the only person who has a vote on the matter, confirmed that Rizzo indeed committed a rules violation.

Joe Torre, who is in charge of discipline for MLB, readily admitted the slide was illegal. When the two spoke, the Hall of Famer said he told Rizzo the collision violated Rule 7.13. It 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)…”

Even so, Torre declined to punish Rizzo, saying there is "no precedent” to do so.

Uh, Joe, did you not know that anytime there is a new rule, there is never going to be a precedent – until someone steps up and establishes it. Really, could there have been a better time than this to do so?

If one wanted to send a clear message to baserunners to not drill catchers, this was the time.

Instead, the only “punishment” mandated for Rizzo taking out Hedges was to be called out – and since he was out, anyway, he gets off with zero penalty for a slide that was clearly illegal.

By making the decision to do nothing in what seems a very cut-and-dried case, Torre has essentially neutered the slide rule.

After all, who wouldn’t risk an out in return for taking out the opposing catcher?

If not for Rizzo, how could discipline for an illegal slide be administered to anyone? By ducking putting any teeth behind Rule 7.13, Torre has established his precedent. Any penalty that would be issued down the road to others would correctly be labeled as selective in nature.

It seems to me that it would be better to have no rule at all than give lip service to one that is in reality just wallpaper. Better yet, establish a clear penalty schedule for violations, taking the selectivity out of it entirely. Something needs to be done.

Brian Walton was the 2009 National League Tout Wars champion, scoring the most points in the league’s 18-year history. He also holds the all-time NL Tout single-season records for wins and saves. His work can also be found daily at TheCardinalNation.com. Follow Brian on Twitter @B_Walton.

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