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“Utley Rule” Making Big Impact

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—During the offseason the MLB powers that be elected to put a new rule into place, rule 6.01(j) dubbed by most as the “Utley Rule”.  The nickname stems from Chase Utley and his frequent slides into second that many considered to be dirty plays committed to intentionally hurt other players. The new rule reads as follows:

(1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;

(2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;

(3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and

(4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

After losing two key players on two different playoff teams at the end of last season Major League Baseball knew something needed to be done about dirty slides into second base.  But is this rule that baseball needed? At first glance it’s definitely an attempt to keep players injury free and on the field.  But is this also taking something that has always been a part of the game and throwing it away?

For as long as I can remember sliding into second to break up a double play has been part of the game.  It was an unspoken rule that you went hard into the base, not hard into the other teams player.  Middle infielders either held their ground and made the play, or got nervous and took the easy out or no outs at all. It was part of what made infielders stand out, their grit and determination to make plays happen.  But then somewhere along the line injuries started to happen more frequently.  Runners started to slide with their foot up at knee height looking to take out the other player before tagging the base rather than making getting to the base the priority.  And now we are starting to see runners with their hands out grabbing at the infielders while they try to make the play.  Where did that unspoken rule disappear too?

I agree that something needed to be done.  But has this new rule taken it one step to far?  In the case of the Houston Astros 9thinning rally verse the Milwaukee Brewers I believe that yes, the rule went to far and called a runner out that should have never been out.  In the case of the Toronto Blue Jays and Tampa Bay Rays, the rule did exactly what it should have done.

What’s the difference between the two plays?  Simple, in the case of the Astros Vs Brewers, the runner sliding into second did not make a motion to take out the infielder, who also made no effort to continue the play toward first base.  Since that infielder clearly made no motion toward first in my opinion he had no intention of throwing it.  The runner on first should not have been automatically out.  However, in the case of the Blue Jays Vs Rays it was clear that the runner sliding into second base was trying to interfere with the infielders ability to make the play by grabbing at the infielder.  So yes, there is definitely a difference.

Now it is in the hands of MLB to make this rule right.  They are the only ones that can clarify the way the rule is written to allow the game to be played the way it should.  We the fans as well as the players just have to wait for them to take action and make the adjustments necessary to prevent unnecessary outs from being called in games.  Its early in the season, the time is now to get this rule fixed.