The White Sox haven’t had to learn baseball’s new sliding rule the hard way, as was the case with the Toronto Blue Jays and Houston Astros in the first week of the season. But they’re still figuring out how best to adapt to the Rule 6.01(j), which prohibits blatant takeout slides on double play balls in which the runner doesn’t make an attempt to reach second base.
The rule, itself, is fairly clear. A runner must make a “bona fide slide” into second base, which means he begins his slide before reaching the bag, is able and makes an effort to reach the base with his hand or foot, is able to stay on the base after the slide and doesn’t change his path to initiate contact with the fielder.
Essentially, players have to break up double plays by sliding into the bag and not past it. The counterweight to the rule is that managers have the ability to challenge “in the neighborhood” plays in which the second baseman or shortstop drags his foot behind second base, but doesn’t touch the bag — a tactic commonly used in the past to avoid takeout slides.
Most believe the rule isn’t too difficult to understand. But the problem comes in forcing players to not rely on the instincts they’ve been taught to have since travel ball or high school — to break up a double play by any means necessary.
“It’s going to be tough on those bang-bang ones, instinctually, to make up your mind within five strides,” White Sox infielder Tyler Saladino said.
Severe injuries suffered by Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Jung-Ho Kana and New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada put those takeout slides in an ugly spotlight last year, prompting the new rule. But its effects are felt beyond just changing how players slide into second base.
On Friday, Avisail Garcia — with a runner ahead of him on second base — was caught with too big a lead and was picked off first base by Indians catcher Yan Gomes. White Sox manager Robin Ventura said Garcia didn’t have to have that aggressive a lead given he and his linebacker-esque frame couldn’t barrel into second base to break up a double play chance anymore.
It may seem like players will become overly cautious leading off and going into second base due to the new rule, but Ventura said he’s not concerned about it.
“Seeing what’s happened the last few games, it looks like everybody is still — their instinct is to still slide in like they used to,” Ventura said. “It’s hard when guy have been playing for 10-20 some years knowing they’re supposed to go after that guy and try to break it up.”
Saladino said there’s another aspect to the rule that changes things: Having to avoid sliding through the bag. In the past, when a player knew he’d be out on a double play, he could slide past second base and into the fielder without worrying about holding on to the bag because there was no chance of him being safe. Now, Saladino said, he has to think about holding on to the bag every time he slides into it.
“The one that worries me is if it’s crunch time and you really need to do something to try to distract or whatever with that defender, and then you’re only option is to hold on to the base — (I’ve) never done that before,” Saladino said. “You just slide through there. So holding on to the base, I mean, that’s a whole new move that we’re counting on our bodies to handle. That’s the one area that I’m kind of concerned with.”
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Saladino is on the other side of it as a shortstop, too. He never was a fan of being “in the neighborhood,” always choosing to tap second base as he moved to his left on double plays. He and other shortstops have to be more conscious of actually touching the base now, given replay can rule a runner safe if they don’t. But with that effort to hit the bag comes a knowledge that, if they are, a runner can’t slide late and past the bag to barrel into them.
Contact at second base isn’t completely eliminated. Players can still slide to the left or right of the bag so long as they stick an arm or leg out to make an effort at being on the base. But through the season’s first week, there have already been two instances of games ending due to reviews of the new rule.
The Blue Jays lost to the Tampa Bay Rays when replay officials determined Jose Bautista intentionally reached his arm out and touched shortstop Logan Forsythe’s leg instead of going into the bag. A few days later, Colby Rasmus clearly slid late and beyond second base trying to break up a double play and was called for interference, handing the Milwaukee Brewers a win over the Astros.
There may be more high-profile instances of interference being called, some of which will inevitably come in a pennant race. And it may take a while for the White Sox and the rest of baseball to adapt to it.
“All in all, it’s not the worst rule,” Saladino said. “But at the same time, it always comes down to the fact that we’ve done it one way for so long. It’s just going to be an adjustment.”