Could Taking Away The Neighborhood Play Increase Injuries?

By Gary Oversen
Apr 17, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki (26) slides at second base as Cleveland Indians third baseman Juan Uribe (4) throws to first base after a fielder
Apr 17, 2016; Cleveland, OH, USA; New York Mets catcher Kevin Plawecki (26) slides at second base as Cleveland Indians third baseman Juan Uribe (4) throws to first base after a fielder /
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Baseball has always been a game that was able to police itself. You don’t get six fouls to play with like in basketball, or sent to the penalty box like in hockey. Without neighborhood play, middle infielders could be at greater risk.

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But the days of being grown ups and being able to keep the game balanced looks like they are in the past. And it isn’t the players who are at fault in this either.

When Major League Baseball started tweaking things “a little”, they tweaked them a lot. And now the players, managers, and even the umpires have very little to do with keeping the balance.

It started with the hit-by-pitch rule, when a warning can be given to both teams in order to restrict any retaliation. It becomes a problem when a team can’t pitch inside the rest of the game, and they’re the ones that had someone hit.

But most recently, it’s the 2B rule, or the “Chase Utley” rule. So-named for the infamous take-out slide at second base of Ruben Tejada by Utley. Whether it was a dirty play or not is really irrelevant when it comes to the response.

Baseball decided that, since it had no rule against a player trying to viciously take out a fielder at second base, in the playoffs, in front of a national audience (who can instantly tweet how graphic and horrible the play was), it had to make a rule.

A rule was then made to tell a runner to slide directly in to second base.

Sounds fair on the surface. But boy is it not fair, and could have huge ramifications in the future.

With the introduction of the new second base rule, a player may not slide toward anything but the second base bag, sliding late, and therefore past it, is also prohibited.

The problem with that part of the rule is the human being that is running to second base. They are human beings still, and the timing of the slide isn’t going to be the same on every field. Some dirt is different, and, its just the human element. You can’t expect someone to run as fast as they can, and then tell them to slow themselves down for the purpose of sticking to the bag. That is similar to telling a runner to stop on first base when hitting a chopper to short instead of running through the bag.

There are ways to fix the issue if you really want to have a rule change. You can make the bases bigger. Pretty easy, just more area to slide into and keep your foot on as a fielder. You can also have a double base, like they do in some softball leagues. But really, the solution was the first one they reached for. Suspension of any player who forcefully causes bodily harm to another player, end of story.

The reason this situation is so messy is that baseball took away the one thing that middle infielders could always use as protection. The “Neighborhood Play”. Used in every sandlot, youth league, and until this year, big leagues. The Neighborhood play allowed the middle infielder to be “around” second base when turning a double-play. The importance of the play cannot be discounted, and shouldn’t be part of the instant replay system.

A shortstop and second baseman must keep their foot on the bag, while hoping that the runner is able keep his cleats from sliding above the bag and slashing his ankles.

Unfortunately there are going to be injuries in sports, And the play at second base in baseball has always been dangerous. But short of deterring a specific player from playing the game dirty, there didn’t need to be an overhaul. A middle infielder can protect themselves simply by allowing them to be around the bag, and get out of dodge.

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Hoping that a runner and a fielder will figure out how to slow themselves down around the bag is not the way to go. Just suspend players without pay for plays that are deemed to have vicious intent. Major League Baseball had the right answer immediately (may have been a little too short), but decided to “clean up” a mess that wasn’t even there.

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