Here in Pittsburgh, we were barely a half day into our well earned grousing about the latest head scratching call at home plate under the “Buster Posey” rule. This after Pedro Florimon was called out at home on what could have been argued a violation of rule 7.13 by plate-blocking catcher Miguel Montero late Wednesday night.
Then, shortly after Thursday’s 12:35 start, Pirate SS Jung Ho Kang was splayed out in pain on the infield dirt after he was taken out on a slide by Chris Coghlan who was trying to break up a double play.
(Kang underwent season ending surgery tonight at Allegheny General Hospital on a displaced lateral tibial plateau fracture and lateral meniscal repair. His estimated return to action is six to eight months.)
Before this post gets spread around Chicago as nothing more than Pittsburgh-homer jingoism, let me make one thing clear: I don’t hold any resentment to either Coghlan or Montero. Both, in my opinion, were doing their jobs within the rules.
Well, “within the rules” in so far as how they are confusingly written… And in so far as they are confusingly applied within the “unwritten rules of the game.”
What angers me is the incongruous thinking of MLB when it comes applying rules in the name of safety.
On the one hand, baseball implemented 7.13 as allegedly a way to protect catchers from getting blown up by on-coming baserunners. The rule says that runners can’t “deviate from their direct pathway to the plate in order to initiate contact with the catcher.” But at the same time, “Unless the catcher is in possession of the ball, the catcher cannot block the pathway of the runner as he is attempting to score. If, in the judgment of the Umpire, the catcher, without possession of the ball, blocks the pathway of the runner, the Umpire shall call or signal the runner safe.” And the rule as stated at PNC Park was not violated by Montero because he was “reacting to the trajectory of a throw from the infielder.”
So…in other words, what was Montero supposed to do? And what was Florimon supposed to do?
As all of their pro sports league peers (NFL,NBA,NHL) have done many times over in recent years, MLB has mangled the wording and interpretation of this rule in a vain attempt to legislate injury out of the game. “A freak injury happened to a star player, so let’s confuse the hell out of everyone just to say that we are trying to prevent head injuries in the future, thus avoiding a lawsuit. Oh, wait. What’s that? He broke his leg? Aw hell, just write it down anyway so we cover our ass.”
Yet, at the same time, a player like Coghlan sliding out of his way from second base with his limbs flailing around is still allowed to take out a middle infielder such as Kang who was trying to turn a double play.
Kang is now done for an extended period. But he isn’t a high profile catcher. So why the inconsistency?
“I don’t know. You are asking the wrong guy,” said Pirate manager Clint Hurdle. “That’s a question for Joe Torre and the rules committee.”
Yeah. It is. And they should come up with some new answers. As of now, Hurdle stated a runner is allowed to slide in an effort to take out the fielder so long as he is within an arm’s length of the bag. Which, to reiterate, Coghlan was. Bucco middle infielders Josh Harrison, Jordy Mercer, and Pedro Florimon didn’t take issue with the slide.
But in many cases “arm’s length” is assumed by umpires to be Calvin Johnson’s arm even if, say for instance, 5’9” Jaff Decker is the one sliding.
Neil Walker was drafted as a catcher. But he has played the majority of his Pirate career at 2B. He doesn’t echo the need to rework the rule at second base as it was done at home plate. But he does want to see the current rules on the book enforced. “You are taught to slide early and go shin to shin. But if you slide late and high, that’s when you have issues,” Walker said.
To me it seems a lot easier to write a rule stating that all base runners have to slide directly into the bag unless they are avoiding a tag. And if a runner uses any part of his body to intentionally interfere with a throw by attempting to, or actually making contact with, a fielder as he is sliding away from the base he is to be called out.
There, that was a pretty decent effort for a quick attempt. Imagine if long time baseball rule makers took ten minutes to think it through a little bit more?
On second thought, I take that back. They’d probably muddy up the language if they thought about it any more than that. Just as they did with the Posey rule.
The bottom line is, baseball shouldn’t be crafting rules just to protect runners and catchers, and not middle infielders. The league shouldn’t prioritize concussions over ACL’s. If Kang’s knee injury is just the result of a “good hard baseball play” (as Joe Maddon called it), why did Posey’s have to be a rule changer? And if Coghlan’s slide was “clearly without intent” (as Maddon also said), why did the Florimon/Montero play even need to be debated?
Baseball’s flaw here isn’t the intent of protecting its players. It’s flaw is the sport’s inability to understand the balance of protecting them all equally while still allowing for some level of physical contact.