We should be serious, as a baseball family, about protecting the health of the men who play the game. Sometimes events can’t be controlled, such as when Mariano Rivera tears his ACL after shagging fly balls or Hunter Pence loses most of a season to a broken wrist after being hit by pitch. Risk is a part of the game. What is not a part of the game is preventable injury. Just as Buster Posey’s injury brought attention to the rules about blocking the plate and changed the conversation about home plate collisions, two injuries this month need to change the conversation about slides, especially takeout slides.
Pirates rookie Jung Ho Kang was injured on a takeout slide at second base on September 17th. He had reconstructive surgery to repair a “displaced lateral tibial plateau fracture and also required a lateral meniscal repair”. The prognosis is a 6-8 month recovery time. The truth is that plays like this are not uncommon in baseball, a fact that Cubs Manager Joe Maddon acknowledged. The truth is that plays like that shouldn’t happen. It should not be possible to disrupt a double play by sliding into the second baseman instead of the base itself..
More recently, Ruben Tejada of the Mets suffered a broken leg from a take out slide attempting to break up a double play in the 7th inning of Game 2 of the NLDS between the Dodgers and Mets. Chase Utley, the player attempting to break up the double play, has always had a reputation for being aggressive on the base paths. There is nothing wrong with that as he has always been within the rules of baseball. However, this is the second such incident in a month and is indicative of the fact that something must change. There must be a different standard when it comes to being aggressive on the base paths. The Commissioner’s Office should re-evaluate the rules for slides into second base. The plays were completely legal and I do not fault the opposing players involved. I hold MLB and their disregard for the health of their players at fault. Accidents happen but Kang and Tejada’s injuries would have been prevented by a simple rule change.
Baseball is a game that involves a player standing 60 feet and 6 inches away from you and throwing a ball 98 miles in your direction. There is not a lot of room for error. Error does happen occasionally though. Matt Holliday of the Cardinals was hit on the head by a pitch on September 18th. Accidents happen. Pitchers lose control of the ball. A player crashes into a wall. Those things can’t be eliminated.
Sliding, especially takeout slides, are more than that. They aren’t uncontrollable risks but injuries waiting to happen, injuries that put player’s health and livelihoods at risk. Baseball isn’t going to stop having pitchers pitch and outfielders catch. One might as well ban the game altogether. What can be looked at, what must be looked at, is unnecessary risk. The Kang and Tejada injuries require everyone to take a step back and think about just how necessary to the game takeout slides are. Baseball needs to react to this injury by instituting an interference call on takeout slides that automatically makes the runner at first base safe. They need to disincentivize the takeout slide in order to protect something more important than the game of baseball: the long term health of those who play the game.
I love baseball. I consider myself part of the family of baseball fans. I want to see a game that is robust and interesting and transcendent. I don’t want to see a game that puts entertainment above a player’s health. We must remember that ballplayers aren’t just ballplayers, they are people. It is their personhood we must keep foremost in our mind when the tides of baseball change.