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If the groundball goes to shortstop, we’re not having this conversation, because second basemen are carried across the back half of second base when they receive a flip from the shortstop to start a double play, whereas shortstops receiving the throw from the second baseman are carried across the front half. If Jung-ho Kang jumps as he prepares to fire the ball on to first, we’re not having this conversation, because Chris Coghlan‘s flailing, sidewinding takeout slide just clips him and knocks him harmlessly into the dirt, instead of shredding his left leg (which, instead of being airborne, was planted in that dirt).

But because Kang came flying across the front half of second base and was blown up by the hard-sliding Coghlan, ending his season and damaging the Pirates’ chances of playing deep into October, we have to have the conversation. The columns calling for a rule prohibiting takeout slides of any kind have already begun. The question is whether those columns are well founded, or just the knee-jerk reaction to an unfortunate incident.

At this point in the evolution of our society and its interactions with sport, it’s no longer reasonable to defend a rule (or a lack of one) simply by saying that the game has always been played a particular way, and therefore ought to be in perpetuity. Where injuries are preventable and the cost to the quality of the game is minimal, a rule change has to be at least seriously considered. Machismo and willful disregard for the consequences of danger are no longer acceptable, though it will be a long time before they’re extinct.

That said, we’re not as good as we used to be at evaluating or articulating the real costs to game play that can be exacted by altering the game to prioritize safety over competition. Rules that make games safer sometimes make them worse, and the cases in which that’s true force us to find the point at which the reward of watching an undiminished game is truly outweighed by the risk of serious, debilitating injury.

Consider the home plate–collision rule that was put in place after Buster Posey‘s injury in 2011. It’s a mess. It’s a disaster. That rule not only hopelessly muddles the most exciting possible play in baseball—a close play at home plate on a throw from the outfield—but fails to really protect anyone. According to the rule, a runner can’t deviate from his pathway to the plate in order to run over the catcher, but nothing prevents him from running over a catcher who possesses the ball and blocks the plate. Meanwhile, the catcher is prohibited from blocking the plate unless and until he has the ball, unless receiving the ball requires him to move into the path of the runner. In other words, the only collisions the rule guarantees to eliminate are cheap shots that are years gone from baseball, anyway. For that protection, we’ve traded the clarity and the thrill of the moment when a play at the plate actually happens, because virtually every close play at home is now challenged, and the parsing of that rule is often tedious and many-layered.

In the case of plays at second base, a takeout-slide rule would be just as confusing. It would almost certainly require a runner to slide directly at a base, instead of at the player holding or awaiting the ball, but how would the directness of a slide be determined? Consider a sharply hit ball behind a runner, to the right side. On such a play, the fundamental way to do things is to take a trajectory toward the outside of second base, the better to turn and make for third if the grounder goes through. If the runner then sees a throw coming toward the shortstop, how much must he change his trajectory in order to avoid sliding into the fielder crossing the base? If a fielder catches the ball standing right over second base, does the runner have to slide differently so as not to slide right into a collision?

Concussions, of course, are horrible, and shouldn’t be treated as simple occupational hazards. Any and all measures that can be taken to minimize the risk of serious head injuries should be taken. What of other injuries, though? What’s the right degree of hand-wringing over the ever-present risk of a player tearing up his knee or ankle? How far should we go to prevent injuries that have, more or less, only competitive implications? In particular, how much should we be willing to alter baseball in order to stop players from suffering injuries from which full and permanent recoveries are possible in less than a year?

That last one is the crucial question to answer, and to suggest one, I offer pitchers. Baseball teams have done a fair bit to limit pitcher injuries. They’ve begun using loose pitch limits within starts and proactive innings limits within seasons. They’ve slowly added two or three arms to their pitching staffs to spread workloads around.

There’s a much longer list of actions teams haven’t taken. They haven’t asked their pitchers to stop throwing so hard. They haven’t retrained them to minimize injury risk at the expense of stuff and deception. They haven’t lowered the mound to reduce the stress of the kinetic chain of pitching. Teams want to prevent injuries, but they’re going only so far to do it. They aren’t willing to alter the craft to maximize health.

Injuries are part of baseball, and not every measure designed to minimize them is worthwhile. Head and back injuries, heart problems, and the like are lifetime issues that should be eliminated at almost all costs. In this day and age, though, with modern sports medicine able to restore so many players who suffer what were once career-ending injuries, and with players getting bigger and stronger and faster all the time (making injuries more likely at least as fast as rule changes can make them less likely), changing the course of baseball (even by a few degrees) in order to minimize acute injuries like the one Kang suffered is a bad deal.

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briankopec
9/21
It's not that hard.

How about this... if a runner makes contact on a slide with a standing fielder at or above the knee, it's an illegal play. That's easy to determine much more cut and dry than the ridiculous home plate collision rule. It's hard to argue that if you are sliding and make contact with a standing fielder at or above knee level that you are making a clean hard slide.

I'll leave it to the lawyers to determine what the punishment should be.

Alternatively, MLB umpires can just call the rule as it is stated in the official rule book. Section 7.08(b): Any runner is out when he intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball.

There is a difference between a hard slide meant to break up a double play and the act of jumping directly into contact with another player. Watch the play from the proper angle and decide for yourself what was the intent of the slide. Coghlan makes knee to knee contact on the play. I would not characterize that as a slide of any kind.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dF7bbQGe9xc
briankopec
9/21
It occurs to me that the NFL outlawed hits to knees to Quarterbacks in the pocket a few years ago.

Why is it that professional football disallows this type of contact (where it is rightly viewed as dangerous and likely to cause injury) and yet MLB continues to allow runners to launch themselves at vulnerable fielders? Is baseball best played when the chance for dangerous contact between players is possible/inevitable..contact so dangerous that even the NFL has outlawed it?
cmaczkow
9/21
I've always hated the takeout slides that are so blatant that the runner never actually ends up making any contact with the base. I was think that would be an extremely easy starting point for enforcement and harsher penalties.
cummings
9/21
I agree with this completely. There is no way to police this without causing more problems. Look at the slide of Molina in the game on Sunday between the Cubs and Cardinals. He didn't hit the ground until he was past the base. The roll blocks were too much, but a slide is a slide, accidents happen.
misterjohnny
9/21
They don't have takeout slides in Korean baseball, which is why Kang was not used to the US way of turning a double play. US could adopt Korean written and "unwritten" rules
newsense
9/21
Concussions are not all "horrible", at least in relative terms.Most concussions end in full recovery in a week or two. If we are talking about the kind of concussions that lead to permanent cognitive impairment, that's another matter. Concussions are a particular problem in football because they tend to be more severe and more likely to be repeated.
beeker99
9/22
Except that having a single concussion significantly increases the likelihood that you will have another concussion and increases the severity of that more likely second concussion. . . and we still don't know the full extent of injury to the brain that a single concussion causes.

I'm not even sure what a "full recovery" from a concussion means anymore. If full recovery is supposed to mean you return to the same state that you were in before the injury, such that the injury is no longer detectable, it is possible that, in terms of damage to the brain, there is no such thing as a full recovery from a concussion.

And, of course, you yourself allude to the fact that not all people make a "full recovery". For some people, one concussion is enough to do lasting, long-term damage.
352361957
9/21
Coghlan made a late slide. How else could Kang throw a strike to first and complete tailor-made DP and then have his leg broken. That slide reminded me of old photos showing Ty Cobb taking out an infielder with his spikes high in the air. Of course, when Cardinals came in hard a few days later, Maddon pissed and moaned.
dbiester
9/22
The NCAA has a perfectly fine rule that eliminates the worst take out slides. NCAA baseball is lame, but that's because of the ping not the baserunning rule.