MLB, NFL in pair of wrongheaded moves
No one needs to point out, much less enumerate, the ways in which baseball differs from football, even if that’s thanks mostly to George Carlin, the late great observational genius.
Baseball begins in the spring, the season of new life.
Football begins in the fall, when everything's dying.
In football you wear a helmet.
In baseball you wear a cap.
Football is concerned with downs — what down is it?
Baseball is concerned with ups — who's up?
So it shouldn’t surprise anyone that in this vacuous state when the two sports’ offseasons overlap, each took the diametrically opposite approach to a rules-related issue — and both sports are worse for it.
The NFL needed something — a rules clarification on the precise definition of a catch — and did nothing.
Major League Baseball needed nothing — its rules already on the books included the solution to violent collisions at second base — and did something.
Wrong and wrong.
Baseball: Let’s start with baseball.
In three weeks, the Pirates and Cardinals will launch the 2016 season on the North Shore, but Pittsburgh’s launch team might not include third baseman Jung Ho Kang.
That’s my seriously unscientific inference anyway, judging strictly by this week’s comment by Pirates trainer Todd Tomczyc, who said Kang’s immediate goal should be getting his cleats in the dirt and running in a straight line. I’m not the manager, but I should think that in a starting third baseman, Clint Hurdle prefers someone who can do more than just pass a field sobriety test.
It’ll be six months this week since Kang’s knee injury, administered by Chicago Cubs baserunner Chris Coghlan when he tried to break up a double play on which Kang was the Pirates shortstop. In those six months, in light of the severity of the Kang injury and the fact that Chase Ultey’s takeout slide in the National League playoffs snapped the fibula of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, baseball went back to its near-comically overstuffed rule book to further protect its middle infielders.
The result was an addendum to Rule 6.01, now 6.01(j), which requires that the runner arriving at second base on a force play execute a “bona fide slide.”
That’s right, so Bona Fide Slide isn’t just the main attraction at that Dunedin water park anymore.
A bona fide slide, in new baseball parlance, requires the runner to slide before reaching the bag, to reach the bag with either his foot or his hand, to remain on the bag, and to avoid changing his path toward the bag in order to collide with a fielder. That’s four components of a bona fide slide, and that’s not all. A runner must further avoid lifting his arms or his legs above the fielder’s knees.
If this keeps up, by 2020 you’ll need a team of lawyers just to turn a double play.
There’s nothing objectionable about 6.01(j) per se, but there were already at least two rules in the book that made it unnecessary: Rule 7.09 (Interference is called and the baserunner is out) when a baserunner willfully and deliberately interferes with a ball or fielder with obvious intent to break up a double play; the batter is also out and Rule 5.09 (a)(13), which includes this — “The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.”
In other words, if an umpire even thinks a baserunner is trying to interfere with a fielder in the act of turning a double play, the runner is out and the batter is out.
Just make the call.
While I encourage all runners to slide bona fide, the game has subjected itself to a kind of hyper-regulation that will bring more replays, more nuance, more confusion, so much so that it has become more and more like football.
NFL: As for the NFL, the league now has so many regs on what constitutes something as simple as catching a football, all of them subject to multiple high-definition replay jockeying in a New York studio, that few people associated with the game can even explain what a catch is anymore.
As I understand it, a receiver must possess the ball with both feet in bounds and continue to possess it through the entire process of the catch no matter what that entails, and he must then pack the ball into a league-approved shipping container, and hand the container to a league operative, who’ll examine the ball to determine whether the air therein is of the required range relative to proper pounds per square inch (psi).
Is that it?
Well maybe somebody should clarify.
The NFL, meeting later this month in Boca Raton, Fla., is said to be considering no such thing.
Instead, it would appear, the league will continue its bona fide slide into technological gridlock.