Back On My Hobby Horse – Time for Rule Change on Plays on the Bag and Ending Head-first Slides

Apologies for the lack of posts of late. We are desperately trying to sell our house, waiting for news on a probably move to the UK and traveling the globe. Fortunately it means I missed the 5-15 stretch. What do you write about then? Here’s to a 4-game winning streak hopefully.  Okay, to business:


This has been a bit of a hobby-horse for some time, and, I think I even wrote about it here once. We are seeing an epidemic of injuries involving players sliding into bases (almost always 2nd) headfirst. The Rox since 2013 have had two such injuries, both on the left side. Nolan Arenado missed about 8 weeks in 2013 and Trevor Story was lost for August and September and was a major factor in the team fading from contention last year. Carlos Correa, a man having a potential MVP season just hit the DL for the next 6-8 weeks with the same hand/finger injury that Story got last year again sliding head-first into the bag, and now Arenado’s bane, Kris Bryant has injured himself (day-to-day, though that was what we were told last year with Story…before his season was over).


ESPN has a story up (sorry, read it on my phone so no link but sure you can find it) on how teams like the Pirates are trying to train head-first slides out of their players by fining them $100 in the minors for such slides (if you are making $1600 a month, imagine the impact on your budget from one or two of these). I like that (because the union rules are different for minor leaguers you can do that, in the majors it is impossible to see such allowed unless Jesus came down, appeared to the union and league officials, and did some sort of miracle…even then it would months of negotiations). But if you want to stop players from doing this, you have to incentivize the behavior you want. In this case, because they can’t pay them more by rules, you simply pay them less for doing the behavior you dislike. Personally, I would love to see the Rox penalize pitchers for more than 3 walks per 9, and hitters for striking out in three pitches. But…I am not the comish.


Now, as much as I hate headfirst slides (and trying to remember anyone in my youth doing it aside from a young Rickey Henderson). I remember as a boy having our coaches make us slide into each base three times each practice so we learned to slide right. My hip was always burning after those practices – baseball pants of the 70s and 80s didn’t provide much protection. But to this day, I can’t slide headfirst. Proper sliding throughout baseball history until the recent past we feet to the bag. It keeps your hands safe and your feet protected by your cleats. Heck, second-basemen and short-stops are afraid of your feet. Remember playing short and getting spiked for the first time at like 14, when players started to wear metal spikes. Yeah…that made me a corner of the bag person after that.


But as much as I hate head-first slides, I completely understand it. And the reason is simply – the prolonged tag on baserunners at 2nd and 3rd. When I grew up even in the bigs if a player slide into 2nd you tagged them once and that was it. If they over-slide the bag by a bit, you let it go. And if their body momentarily popped up off the bag because of the force of the slide, you didn’t prolong your tag so you could get that mili-second of disconnection as an out. Maybe it was an unwritten rule in the bigs, but I just don’t remember players doing it until the last decade or so. Feet first slides because of the force you are applying in stopping creates a bounce. And most players do come off the bag at least some. Head-first slides avoid that because you hand brings you into the bag and helps maintain contact. So in the age of replays, a head-first slide gets you safe, and a feet-first slide has at least a 25% chance of bouncing you off the bag.


Clearly there is a disconnect. We don’t want to see the Arenados and Bryants of the league missing months of baseball. And there is something inherently unfair about a player doing it right but being called out. So I again propose this rule-change:


A player once making contact will be deemed safe until their shoulders have crossed the bag. At that point any disconnection from the bag will be viewed as an attempt to advance a base and therefore is subject to the normal tag play rules.


Boom. Now players have no incentive to head-first slide. Different studies show different data but I think feet-first is actually a fast process to reach the bag. It isn’t as clever in avoiding tags – like the swim move – but it does insure you want hurt your hand or be called out because of the force of the energy hitting the bag. Clear and simple.


An added bonus, no more long delays while the replay guys review to see if the player became detached from the bag for a tenth of a tenth of second. Th game gets faster. Talk about a win-win.


So before we see Arron Judge and Cody Bellinger on the DL, time to get this done. It puts baseball back into its historical play at the bags and protects the players. It even fits well with the slide rule enacted after the Utley incident. The players win by being healthy, the owners win by having quicker games and healthy players to market and we win as fans because hard play baseball is protected.


Hey…maybe I should be the commissioner after all!

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