The goal should be second base, not the fielder’s legs

by Paul West

Generally speaking, I find Jose Bautista to be articulate, fair-minded, and likable. But regarding the recent controversy over his game-ending slide against the Rays, I believe he has no reasonable argument.

Reaching out to grab a fielder's legs is silly.
Reaching out to grab a fielder’s legs is just silly.

The long-overdue modification of the ‘neighborhood play/takeout slide’ interaction at second base was precipitated by the premeditated, dangerous and season-ending football move (a move which, by the way, would probably also be penalized in football, even in the old days of clothesline sacks…but I digress) that Chase Utley executed on Ruben Tejada in last year’s NLCS. Somehow, it wasn’t precipitated by things like Albert Belle’s disgraceful forearm shiver to Fernando Vina’s face back in 1996…but again, I digress. To be clear: in trying to break up a game-ending double play, Bautista slid, as he was supposed to, into second base. After he’d clearly crossed the base with a good portion of his person, Bautista reached out with his arms and tried to grab the legs of Logan Forsythe, who was turning the double play. He was, justly and correctly, called for interference, and the game ended on the play. Amazingly, there’s been controversy over this. Amazingly, this has led to people being ‘confused’ over how one’s to be expected to slide into second base. To which I retort: what’s so hard?

In a postgame interview, Bautista asserted that he didn’t ‘try to injure’ Forsythe, and he went on to say, ‘I could have done worse.’ If you think about it, he’s essentially asserting that because he didn’t slide-tackle or leg-whip a guy, everything should be cool. That he saw fit to say this with a straight face, and was actually supported by many observers, is to me astounding. Reaching out to grab the second baseman’s legs, when you’ve already completed your slide and are already clearly out, is flat out silly. Moreover, it would probably get you thrown out of most rec league or pickup games, if not beat up (which is not to justify beating someone up over such a thing).

To dispel the confusion that persists over this matter: when going into second base, your object is second base. The ‘accidentally-on-purpose’ appeal to plausible deniability that is the takeout slide, is near the top of the slippery slope which has brought the game to moments like Belle’s WWF move and Utley’s slide tackle. As usual, people only seem to reconsider prevailing realities when things go terribly wrong; but now that a leg was broken and a postseason ended by a player with a history of jelly-rolling into second base (and who, if you can believe it, attempted a similar wipeout slide not even a full game into this season, this time at home plate against the Padres), people still don’t seem to grasp the actual objective of sliding into second base.

Hint: it’s sliding into second base.

Blue Jays manager John Gibbons suggested, “maybe we’ll come out and wear dresses tomorrow,” which is so ridiculous, sexist and outdated as to not be worth addressing further. But it does, sadly, serve as a reminder that the game is still filled with too many who favor ‘toughness’ over safety, fairness or even sound reasoning.

Utley's dirty slide-tackle resulted in an overdue rules change, but people still miss the point.
Utley’s dirty slide-tackle resulted in an overdue rules change, but people still miss the point.

It isn’t ‘making the game soft’ to suggest that there’s no need to reach out and grab a player’s legs, in a manner that in no way assists you in reaching base safely. It isn’t ‘making the game soft’ to suggest that there’s no need to body slam, leg whip, jelly roll, forearm shiver, or otherwise upend or risk injury to an off balance and defenseless player. It’s tantamount to shoving an airborne opponent in basketball: sure, its desired ends can be justified in a strategic sense, but really, it has no place in the game and the kind of risk incurred isn’t worth whatever game-related rewards might ensue.

But really, this isn’t all that hard to understand.

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