April 23, 2014

                A few quick thoughts about the rules:

                1)  We have (at least) two new rules this year, the blocking the plate rule and the replay rule.   The blocking the plate rule appears (4-20-14) to be working well, but the replay rule is having some adjustment problems, so of course we’re all talking about the replay.

                2)  Despite the Red Sox problems with the replay rule, I still think we have to work constantly, we have to work relentlessly, to improve the umpiring.    In my view, it is not fair to the umpires to allow everybody else to see the play better than the guy who has to make the call.    Everybody else gets to watch key plays in slow motion, ten angles, 100 replays.    If everybody else gets to see them that way, it’s not fair to the umpire to make him make a decision without that advantage.

                3)  The replay rule has gotten entangled, unpredictably, with the dropped-ball-on-the-transfer call; for some reason the controversial replays have tended to center on that.    In my view, there should be a simple policy about balls dropped in the middle of a double play:  If the ball hits the ground, the runner is safe.   Period.

                4)  Analogous to the blocking the plate rule, there is a set of rules that will work perfectly in avoiding injury to infielders and base runners on the double play. That set of rules is:

                a)  The second baseman must CLEARLY have the ball in his possession at the time his foot hits second in the middle of a double play.   If there is any question in the umpire’s mind about whether the ball is in his possession at the time of the tag, the runner is safe.

                b)  If the ball hits the ground near second base, the runner is always safe,

                c)  The runner coming from first base must slide feet first at second,

                d)  The runner coming from first base must slide directly at the bag; not "where he can reach the bag with his hand" or any of that nonsense.   He must slide with his feet pointed directly at the bag and his body on line behind his feet, and both feet on or near the ground,

                e)  The runner coming from first must not overslide the bag, not by one inch, and must not pop up after his slide but before the throw to first is underway.

                f)  If the runner from first violates rule c, d or e, there is an automatic double play, and any other runners return to their previous bases, even if they would otherwise be forced to advance. 


                In my view, the whole problem of the "neighborhood play" comes from allowing the runner from first to do something he should never have been allowed to do in the first place.   I am not saying it is morally wrong to try to break up a double play, or anything like that.   You do what the rules allow you to do.   I vividly remember a play in September of 1985 when Hal McRae went into second base standing up, taking the throw to first off his forehead, to break up a double play.   McRae was the best I ever saw at breaking up a double play; that was one of the things that made him a wonderful player.  He was tough, and he wanted to win.

                But there is no reason for the rules to allow a runner from first to physically molest the infielder, risking injury, to prevent the fielder from doing what the fielder is supposed to be doing.    The other miscellaneous problems with the call—the neighborhood rule, etc.—those all follow from the assumption that the runner from first has an inherent right to take out the shortstop.   That’s 19th century thinking.    In the 19th century, in the first half of the 20th century, young men were taught to use their fists when their reputation was offended.    Men were supposed to be tough.   They were supposed to be able to push and shove, and to take care of themselves in a fight.  That’s the way my father thought—but it wasn’t right.   This rule, in my view, is a relic of an outmoded way of thinking about the problem.


COMMENTS (19 Comments, most recent shown first)


Regarding your thoughts about breaking up the double play at 2nd base, it would seem to me sliding head first or feet first would solve the issue.

Anything that allows the runner to stand up and bowl over the runner, should cause immediate ejection and an automatic out.

The new rule change for catchers could be adapted for the double play at second base.

6:46 PM May 3rd
Let us say that the runner falls down midway between first and second, or commits suicide, or inexplicably decides to return to the dugout and have a doughnut. If the ball is dropped, the runner is safe AT THAT TIME. If the fielder picks the ball up and tags second, with the forceout still in effect, he would be out at that time. I can't understand why this needed to be explained, but apparently it did.
12:02 PM Apr 27th
Regarding Old Backstop comment below.

"I think it is assumed that if the ball is recovered and the base touched or the runner tagged, there is an out."

I don't think we should assume that. The rule change may have some unforeseen issues, in fact I'm fairly certain of that.
8:17 PM Apr 24th
I like the idea that to gain first base, the batter needs to touch the bag with his foot. Just take the option away from them. Or, a player can forfeit his salary if he injures himself on such a play. Money talks.

The idea of the commit line, as Craig is suggesting it, is exactly what I've proposed as well. Once the runner crosses the commit line, it's a force play, and the runner can't "uncommit".

I have the same idea for runners at first base. If the runner stays between the bag and the "pickoff line", and the pitcher tries to pick him off unsuccessfully, it's an automatic balk. But, if the runner steps over the line, then normal rules apply, EXCEPT for the balk rule of any kind.

Basically, it's a "social contract": if the runner promises to stay within his zone, the pitcher won't waste anyone's time trying to pick him off; if the runner is challenging the pitcher by venturing outside the zone, then game on.

The only question is where to set these lines, but with a bit of trial and error, that shouldn't be an obstacle.
3:07 PM Apr 24th
I'm fairly certain the exception of the "neighborhood play" from replay review was some sort of compromise to move forward on the implementation of replay review, and it will soon be changed as the absurdity of that exception is brought out.

I think Bill's suggestions for protecting the pivot man are on the right track but too severe. If you look at many normal slides, it is not uncommon at all to slide past the bag a bit. I would be happy if the rule simply required the runner to be touching the bag at the end of his slide. If not, it is a double play. That's a lot of leeway compared to Bill's suggestion but still a significant improvement and it would be easy to call and also review on replay.

As a former middle infielder and simply a fan, I absolutely hate the attack on a basic tenant of the game in his suggestion that if an infielder loses the ball trying for a double play after catching it, that he loses his out from the catch. Its bad enough that the umpires are now being pushed to question catches that probably are catches, but I cannot stomach a change that says you can clearly catch a ball and then nullify that catch if you then try to get another base runner and drop the ball in doing so. It also encourages runners to try and hit fielders as hard as the rules will allow -- they not only have a chance to stop a second out but can erase the first out that the defense has rightly made.

I strongly disagree that "the blocking the plate rule appears to be working well." The umpires are not calling it and the lack of big collisions thus far is simply because catchers are cautiously testing the rule, and as they catch on to what the umpires are allowing, they will again return to aggressively blocking the plate, and the runners will return to trying to clobber them.

I sympathize with the umpires. It is impossible to rule on whether a catcher is blocking the plate before the throw arrives without a clearer definition of what constitutes "blocking the plate." And then you are also supposed to allow it if catcher has to come into the baseline for his best play on the throw.

But probably the worst part of the rule is that it in the end it will do little to prevent horrendous collisions at the plate. In the vast majority of those collisions the catcher has the ball or he has gone into the baseline to get the ball, all of which is still legal. And the runner is still allowed to crash into them in hopes of knocking the ball loose. I just looked at the Buster Posey play again, and it was a "clean play" under the rules then and now.

Keeping those plays from being "clean plays" under the rules is tough. The most radical solution is to simply make the play at the plate a force play once the runner crosses a line 15 feet from the plate. All of a sudden that play becomes one of the safest on the base paths and very easy to call. Less jarring to sensibilities would be:

a) runner is ruled out if within 15 feet from home plate he makes contact in a manner other that a foot-first slide with a fielder with the ball in his possession.

b) runner is safe if a fielder -- including the catcher -- interferes with his progress without the ball in his possession, which has actually been the rule for over 100 years but rarely called correctly for plays at the plate

c) runner is safe if catcher touches a knee down in the basepath in an attempt to block the plate

Let me suggest another rule change to make the game safer but not radically different. With all the fuss about folks getting hurt on head-first slides at first base, we could simply require that a batter-runner not be safe at first base until his foot touches the bag?

10:59 AM Apr 24th
As soon as MLB said "in the neighborhood plays" at second base on attempted double plays would not be subject to review, it seemed that fielders would eventually be taught to break the rule as a matter of routine, as catchers had been taught when blocking the plate.

If MLB wants to preserve the in-the-neighborhood play, why not teach fielders to take the throw or tap the bag first and then complete the play when out of harm way.
1:36 AM Apr 24th
I think it is assumed that if the ball is recovered and the base touched or the runner tagged, there is an out.
9:03 PM Apr 23rd
I think it is assumed that if the ball is recovered and the base touched or the runner tagged, there is an out.
9:02 PM Apr 23rd
Bill you stated:

"If the ball hits the ground before the runner is safe. Period"

I must ask, even if the runner fell down 1/2 way between 1st & 2nd
& the second baseman picks up the ball and steps on the bag?

Maybe I'm missing something.
7:34 PM Apr 23rd
Agree completely with the proposed rule changes regarding double plays. This is a tangent, but I am always amazed at how quickly the runners from first are able to get to second base. Did you ever think about how little time has elapsed between the time a sharply hit ground ball is fielded by the shortstop and tossed to the second baseman? What is it? 2 seconds? And these guys are constantly in position to take out the second baseman. I have no idea how they get there that quickly. Back in the stone ages, when I played amateur baseball, I never came close to being in a position to break up a double play. If the second baseman had the ball by the time I got there, the batter was almost to first base. Anytime there was an actual double play, I was a full ten to twenty feet from second base when the second baseman released the ball.
6:43 PM Apr 23rd
Tango, as I recall, there was a Texas town awhile ago that imposed a $15 fine for assaulting someone burning an American flag. I've always thought that maybe the third man in sort of carried that same condonation of the one-on-one fight. Maybe the answer is...what happens if two fans started throwing punches on the field? Guys in yellow shirts break it up and escort them out. We have them all over every ballpark. If a player thought he would be treated like every other amateur public pugilist and be perp-walked out on camera, maybe it would give pause. At any rate, my comment came from watching a game with my son in about (insert a late nineties year) and there was that stupid scene with the bullpen emptying and having to answer his questions. (PS: the correct answer is: "enough TV, let's go have a catch").
3:55 PM Apr 23rd
Hockey has the "automatic ejection for third-man in" penalty. You can give a "third-man in" a five game suspension.

The two guys fighting get three games each.

You can give anyone out of the dugout or bullpen a twenty game suspension (hockey gives 10 games for an 82 game season). And you give the manager a ten game suspension (hockey gives 5 games) in any scenario where there is more than a two-person altercation.

What do you think will happen here? Well, if it's like the NHL, this will ELIMINATE all bench-clearing brawls, and should eliminate the three-person fight. No player will want to get his own coach suspended, especially if that coach controls his playing time.

Let the four umpires separate out the two or three guys.
3:21 PM Apr 23rd
OldBackstop, I thought the saddest sight in sports is getting a Dodger preseason game on MLB Network expecting to see Vin Scully, and you get Charley Steiner instead.
2:55 PM Apr 23rd
Be careful with draconian penalties, like automatic 162-game suspensions for any altercation. You would have situations where there's an accidental collision on the bases, a little jawing, and while getting up one guy pushes the other, and all of a sudden your starting center fielder is gone for 162 games.
2:24 PM Apr 23rd
"How would you fix it?"—"it" being the problem of bench-clearing brawls? Well, you could impose a 162-game suspension on any player who physically attacked another, for any reason. That would virtually eliminate fights. And impose the same suspension on any player or coach or manager who joined in a physical altercation for any reason, including holding players back or any other peacemaking—because eliminating fights would in turn eliminate the perceived need for players to join the fray in defense of teammates. I'm sure there are other solutions that would be equally effective. The problem isn't the lack of possible solutions; it's the lack of will to impose them, whether that stems from laziness, as tantotiger suggests, or a perception that such changes would be unmanly or whatever.​
2:11 PM Apr 23rd
The saddest sight in sports is when the bullpen doors open up and a gaggle of tubby pitchers halfassedly run/trot toward some spat, trying not to be last in line, like they are anxious to get there in time to matter, while the announcers herald it like a grand slam: "And the bullpens are emptying !! "

1:28 PM Apr 23rd
Tango, agreed, it needs to change pronto; but isn't baseball different to any other sport in the sense that at any point there isn't the same number of players from each team on the field? Basketball, hockey, football, futbol, etc. all have the same number of players at any point during the game (the exception would be futbol if a jugador gets a red card, then it'd be 10-11).

The issue seems to be "ensuring" the safety of the hitter for being outnumbered by the team on the field. How would you fix it?
12:08 PM Apr 23rd
Rob Neyer had a great line: baseball is best played as a non-contact sport. It should be its guiding principle.

Next up is the bench-clearing brawls. Given that the contact-heavy-and-wonderful NHL has eliminated (not reduced, but ELIMINATED) bench-clearing brawls, MLB should seriously take steps to eliminate it as well. The "party of no" will tell us that it's not possible because of x,y,z. Those people simply are too lazy to give us solutions a,b,c.
9:27 AM Apr 23rd
Steven Goldleaf
I was brought up to believe, and to play as if, baseball was a contact sport, but I've come around to thinking you're right. What the phantom play at second base signified to me was that the double play would be pretty rare, because the runner had so much leeway in what he could do to bust up the double-play (and the infielder)--but I think the DP is a great play. Now what I think is: if the runner is a bruiser sliding cleanly into the bag, and the toss to second doesn't arrive in time to get the throw off smoothly, then you lose the DP, but otherwise not. It's a very small minority of attempted double plays that the narrow path we want the runner to be on AND the timing of the throw can mess up a DP. The problem is that the umps allowed the runner to slide all over the field, kicking and scratching, in the pretense that this had anything to do with sliding into the bag. Once you define what a legal slide is, narrowly and specifically, problem solved.
8:53 AM Apr 23rd
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