Look, watch the video. Watch Jose Bautista's hand. While Bautista's slide was nowhere near as egregious as Chase Utley's slide in the postseason or Chris Coghlan's takeout slide of Jung Ho Kang in September, both of which saw the offending sliders veer away from the bag to take out the fielder, Bautista's slide clearly violated the new rule.
Bautista reached out with his hand in an attempt to affect the throw of second baseman Logan Forsythe. That's pretty obvious. It wasn't inadvertent contact; Bautista deliberately tries to grab Forsythe's foot. I don't know if the contact actually affected Forsythe's throw -- you can see him having trouble getting a good grip on the ball -- but it seems pretty clear Bautista violated the new rule on slides. The overturned via replay turned a 4-3 Blue Jays lead -- two runs scored on the errant throw to first base -- into a 3-2 victory for the Rays. Victory by interference. Give the win to the Rays' video person who suggested that manager Kevin Cash ask for a review.
Under the new Rule 6.01(j), a runner will have to make a "bona fide slide," which is defined as making contact with the ground before reaching the base, being able to and attempting to reach the base with a hand or foot, being able to and attempting to remain on the base at the completion of the slide (except at home plate) and not changing his path for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.
The trouble with any rule like this is there's going to be a gray area, at least when the sliding player doesn't go all Hal McRae on the fielder. In the end, it's a judgment call by the umpires and the replay officials. Unfortunately, this means the slide rule has the potential to turn into MLB's version of a catch in the NFL. Did Bautista slide in a baseball motion? Bueller? Bueller? Bueller?
At the same time, I can understand the reaction from fans on Twitter, as Bautista's slide wasn't dangerous:
No doubt @MLB going to lose lot of fans if that is the way new slide rule is going to be called. Complete BS rule, ruining the classic game.— Parker Michaels (@kreatture) April 6, 2016
That was Bautista's reasoning:
The new slide rule is SOOOOOOO STUPID!!!!!!! @MLB— Matt Vargas (@matt_djmj) March 25, 2016
Bautista went on to say, "I just don't see how my play was unsafe" and "I felt like I respected the rule."
I almost agree with him, but the intent of the rule is clear:
Slide into the bag, and slide hard into the bag if you want. Just cut out the extracurricular activity, including trying to grab a fielder's foot.
Look, I also get the cadre of ex-ballplayers hating on the new rule, even if that's like listening to the old-time hockey guys talk about the glory days of fighting. Nobody likes to the see the game they played start to change. But what happens when we let players manage their own game? We get guys sliding four feet off the bag and half-jumping into defenseless fielders and breaking their legs; we get pitchers giving up home runs and then throwing at the next batter out of frustration, which leads to more hit batters and so on; we get some players upset at bat flips because the game needs to be played their way. (What does Bautista think about that?)
Blue Jays manager John Gibbons was, needless to say, upset as well. "Are we trying to turn the game into a joke?" he said. He also made an unfortunate reference to the Jays showing up in dresses on Wednesday.
No, MLB is not trying to turn the game into a joke. It's trying to protect the most valuable resource it has: its players. These are employees making millions of dollars, and it's wise for the sport to keep them on the field. In that regard, baseball has come a long way from the days when, as former slugger Dave Kingman once said, athletes were treated as "pieces of meat." This isn't about the game going soft or telling its players not to play hard. It's about creating an environment where they play hard -- but play clean.
But hey, we can go back to treating players as just another commodity, to be replaced by the next guy on the shelf. Back to the days when pitchers were simply told to pitch through pain until they could no longer pitch and players were told to play through an injury or they'd be released. To the days when Sandy Koufax would rub a compound players called "atomic balm" -- derived from red-hot chili peppers grown in China -- on his ailing elbow. It worked by depleting substance P, the brain's pain messenger, "the medical equivalent of hitting your head against the wall," as Jane Leavy wrote in her biography of Koufax.
Back to the days when McRae could plow through a second baseman like a crazed linebacker.
But maybe we're just getting soft. Maybe baseball is getting soft. That's what many of you think. It's a tough, cruel world, and sports should be just as tough and cruel.
Of course, imagine if this play happens in the World Series: Game 7, Cubs down 3-2 to the Mariners, bases loaded, one out, Kris Bryant hits a grounder, Anthony Rizzo crashes into Robinson Cano, a wild throw, two runs score, Cubs win!
Wait, hold on ...