Commentary for Game 11|
The Slide Rule
July 5, 2007
By Andrew Wolan / MLSB.com
After Game 11, A-WOL made some very interesting observations regarding the "slide" rule.
For those that are unfamiliar with the "slide" rule, here it is in a nutshell:
If there is a close play at the plate, the base runner must make an attempt to slide to home plate. Otherwise, the runner is out.
Personally, I think this is an excellent rule: it protects fielders by discouraging base runners from making dangerous collisions at the plate. It can also protect a runner from a bad throw to the plate. However, in game 11 it had become apparent to me that this rule has two flaws, which can easily be exploited and abused.
#1: Plate Blocking
“Blocking the plate” is when the catcher (or some other fielder) intentionally places their body in front of home plate as to create an obstacle on the baseline between third base and home. This strategy makes it more difficult for an advancing running to tag home plate in a few ways.
1) If a runner tries to slide into home plate, the runner could be prevented from touching the plate physically due to a foot or some other body part blocking or covering the plate.
2) An advancing runner may have to maneuver around or even behind a fielder protecting home to tag the plate.
So what is a runner to do? Well in the big leagues, since the fielder is standing within the baselines, the runner has the right to shove and push away any fielder that is in his or her way. That is why we sometimes have these spectacular collisions at home plate in the Bigs.
But this is not the Bigs, and colliding with the fielder at home is not allowed. So if I wanted to be a jerk, whenever there is a close play at home plate, all I have to do is stand on top of the plate and face toward third base. If the runner pushed me, it’s an out. If the runner is fast and quick, he or she will need an extra few second to maneuver around me to touch the plate, which might me enough time to may a play.
You can see where I am going with this: a rule meant to protect the catcher is now giving the running a disadvantage. The solution to dilemma is a simple extension to this rule:
A fielder is not allowed to intentionally “block” home plate. The fielder may place a foot on the middle of the top half of home plate.
Of course, it would be easier if the following league rule was just enforced:
13.6 No blocking a base (or basepath), or the runner will be awarded an extra base.
Ok, so where does this discussion heading? How about a super-simple rule about plays at home plate:
No blocking the plate or runner is safe. No colliding with the fielder at home or runner is out. Ejections may occur on the severity of the offense.
#2: The Ditch around home plate
When the typically batter comes to the plate and steps inside the batter’s box, he or she will dig their cleats into the dirt to firmly plate their feet to the ground. As a result, a little bit of dirt is displaced with each batter that steps to the plate. Since the area around home plate is not maintained between games, this dirt displacement accumulates over the course of a season, leading to ditches between formed in the batter’s boxes around home plate. Since most batters are righty’s, a troublesome ditch is formed on the baseline between third and home.
This may seem like nothing, but no base runner in their right mind would want to attempt a slide under field conditions like. After all, the runner could get their foot caught in some awkward way sliding into home and risk twisting their ankle.
The simple solution would seem to be “tell the league to correct on a regular basis so this rule can be enforced.” Unfortunately, it’s not always that easy, especially since they don’t control the fields. The only league I know of that was able to not only correct the area around home plate, but the entire infield was the “Softball Complex” in Pittsfield, Ma. That’s because they owned the fields. But even they had other issues.
So, if it is not possible to get the area around home plate fix, the cautious runner is now faced the with following dilemma on close plates at the plate: either take a chance at hurting yourself and sliding into the base or not bothering at all. (Or sliding head-first into home, which seems like a bad idea for anyone not wearing a helmet.) Once again, this gives an unfair advantage to the fielders.
Ok, so what should we do? What do I recommend? Unfortunately, I have no easy answer. One on hand, I see the benefits of the “slide” rule and on the other, the disadvantages. I think it is a good rule, but just not practical enough for it to be blindly enforced given the uncertainty of field conditions. Perhaps the rule is fine as it is, just needs to be extended as so:
“If field conditions permit, if there is a close play at the plate, the base runner must make an attempt to slide. Otherwise, the runner is out.”
#3: Playing behind the plate
I did not believe that this had happened until I saw the photographic evidence. In game 11, Pierre hit a ball that got by the outfielders. With his speed, he had a good chance at converting the play into an ITP HR. As Pierre rounded third, I, the third base couch, waved Pierre home for the score.
Now here is where the play goes screwy. If you look at the photo that was taken as Pierre was to cross home plate, you will see a few things:
1) home plate was clear
2) there is a fielder BEHIND home plate
3) the catcher is behind the fielder covering home
(Yes, the photo is not great because it is not easy to see home plate. But if you open the photo in a photo editor and adjust the colors, the plate will emerge.)
As the photo was taken, Pierre slowed down so he could see where the ball was going to come-in as to avoid getting nailed with it. The fielder then moved forward and proceeded to block the plate, further complicating the play at home for Pierre. Pierre then attempted to maneuver around the fielder to tag the plate, and was eventually tagged out while attempting to do that.
In any event, the point I want to make on the play is this: if the fielder covering home is standing behind home plate, a throw to home plate will have to go over the plate in order for it to reach the fielder. This “throw zone” over home plate is in direct conflict with the “base path” of a base runner as he or she tried to cross home plate.
So why is this “conflict of space” unwanted? Most plays at home involve a strong throw to the plate. As a base runner, you have some confidence that the person covering home can at least field the ball. If the fielder is standing behind home plate, what is there to protect the runner from getting nailed with the ball as he or she crosses the plate on a close play? Nothing! Sliding doesn’t help much because it leaves the base runner exposed to late tosses at the plate.
The solution to this dilemma is simple: define where the fielder should stand on plays to the plate.
The fielder making a play at home must stand in front of the plate. The fielder is not allowed to intentionally “block” home plate. The fielder may place a foot on the middle of the top half of home plate.
I’ve presented three problems with the “slide” rule:
1) It fails to address “plate blocking”.
2) It fails to take into account the “ditch” that forms around home plate.
3) It fails to specify where a fielder should stand for safety reasons.
The solutions I presented were suggested amendments to the existing rule. If combined, the new “slide’ rule reads:
If field conditions permit, if there is a close play at the plate, the base runner must make an attempt to slide. Otherwise, the runner is out. Likewise, if the runner collides with the fielder at home plate, the runner is out.
On said plays, the fielder making a play at home must stand in front of the plate. The fielder is not allowed to intentionally “block” home plate, else the runner is safe. The fielder may place a foot on the middle of the top half of home plate.
Of course, this is a fairly lengthy extension to the rule. However, much of it can be omitted if we take into account BWCS League Rule 13.6 and 13.7:
13.6 No blocking a base (or basepath), or the runner will be awarded an extra base.
13.7 No intentional takeouts or plowing over fielders. This will result in an automatic out and ejection from the game.
Assuming these rules are enforced, my suggested extension of the rule can be simplified to as follows:
If field conditions permit, if there is a close play at the plate, the base runner must make an attempt to slide. Otherwise, the runner is out. If a fielder is attempting to make a play at home, the player must stand in front of home plate. The fielder may place a foot on the middle of the top half of home plate.
Simple, but effective.
Andy Wolan is a reporter and photographer for BWCS. This story was not subject to the approval of the league or its clubs.