With the addition of expanded instant replay in 2015, Major League Baseball was able to propel itself in the 21st century of sports. It started with the home run replay a few years ago, but now, nearly all plays are reviewable and the umpires have received some much needed help with the most difficult calls.
However, there are still some plays ineligible for review, and they continue to present significant challenges to the game. One big example – prominently on display in 2015 – is the neighborhood call at second base. In an effort to avoid controversial slides like the ones discussed here, MLB has not allowed the neighborhood play to be reviewable. The reason is that, without review, the middle infielders can come off the bag at second base sooner (even without the ball) to avoid a hard slide while still recording an out.
…which is why there might be a change! Hooray for voicing concerns and appropriate response.
According to this report at ESPN, Buster Olney is hearing that the MLB and Players Association is working on a rule change that should be completed and ready for the upcoming 2016 season. Reportedly, there is a focus on ensuring the runner is targeting the bag, as opposed to the player standing atop it. “Effort toward the bag” is the often-repeated phrase.
The Players Association – while willing to make updates – are apparently treading lightly with the severity of the change. Most of the resistance comes from the “heart of the game” argument, which states, plainly, that going hard into the fielder at second base has been taught since little league. If you’ve read many of my opinions before, you’ll know that I’ve never been a fan of “tradition” as the sole argument against any new rule or update.
Just because something has been done one way or another for X amount of years, doesn’t make it inherently correct. That said, that doesn’t mean I’m not open to avoiding changes for the sake of the spirit or essence of game. Sometimes, things are perfect the way they are. However, they can’t be perfect the way they are, just because they’re perfect the way they are. Perhaps, then, the safety of the players isn’t something that can be left entirely up to them.
In a separate piece on the matter, Olney hears that the movement towards a change actually started before the season-ending slides into Ruben Tejada and Jung-Ho Kang. Those injuries probably increased the momentum, and added more fuel to the fire. Still, preserving the essence of breaking up a double-play is a top priority, and sliding into the defender will still be allowed (provided he stays mostly in line with the bag).
Expect to hear more on the official rule change in the upcoming month, as Spring Training is around the corner. Once the final details come out, we’ll have more on the implications for the players and the sport.