Joe Maddon and Jon Lester have come out hard against MLB’s slide rule after it cost them a run in the fifth inning of yesterday’s loss against the Cardinals.
On the play in question, runner Ian Happ overslid second base by several feet on an Anthony Rizzo grounder back to the pitcher. He didn’t collide with St. Louis shortstop Aledmys Diaz, who was covering the bag and wouldn’t have had time to turn the double play anyway, but both Rizzo and Happ were deemed out under the violation of the slide—which not only ended the inning, but also cost the Cubs a run as Kyle Schwarber had been at third base to start the play and easily made it home before the call was made.
The rule, introduced last season, is designed to stop takeout slides that can seriously injure a middle infielder. That requires a “bona fide slide,” which means that the runner “is able and attempts to remain on the base...after completion of the slide.” This is the part of the rule that Happ violated, even though he didn’t make significant contact with Diaz that would otherwise constitute a dangerous slide.
At the time, the Cubs were down 3-1; they ultimately lost 5-3. Losing out on a run in this situation is obviously frustrating, and the fact that the rule was enforced on a play where the middle infielder wasn’t in clear danger of injury makes it even easier to be frustrated. But manager Joe Maddon and pitcher Jon Lester went a little beyond simply frustrated at seeing the rule enforced in this specific case. Here’s Maddon, as captured by ESPN:
“I have no idea why these rules are part of our game. There was an out created there. That was just one out they did not have to earn. I totally, absolutely disagree with that. It has nothing to do with safety and protecting the middle infielder.... There was nothing egregiously dangerous on the part of our runner. Don’t give me hyperbole and office-created rules because I’m not into those things, as you guys well know.”
“Baseball has been played for over 100 years the exact same way, and now we’re trying to change everything and make it soft. That’s baseball, man. We’re out there playing with a bunch of pansies right now. I’m over this damn slide rule and replaying if it’s too far and all this other B.S. We’re grown men out there.”
Maddon should be pretty familiar with why these rules are part of the game, as he was managing in one of the 2015 games that led to the 2016 rule—when his player, Chris Coghlan, took out Jung Ho Kang with a slide that broke his leg and tore his MCL. Coghlan said it wasn’t intentional; Kang accepted that and said that he understood it was only an attempt to break up a double play. But the fact that it didn’t need to be any special intentional act—that the potential to literally break a leg was just accepted as something that came along with trying to break up a double play—is exactly why these rules exist.
Reducing the risk of serious injury on fairly routine plays isn’t making baseball “soft” or making anyone into “pansies.” It’s a reasonable effort to keep players safe, and willfully attempting to discredit that over losing one run in a close game is a bit ridiculous when compared to a very real alternative of losing a middle infielder for a season.