MLB, NFL in pair of wrongheaded moves

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (TNS)

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.

To wit:

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.

In this Oct. 10, 2015, file photo, New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada, goes over the top of Los Angeles's Chase Utley, who broke up a double play during Game 2 of baseball's National League Division Series. The controversial slide led a rule change this season.

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?

Not hardly?

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.