Major League Baseball recently announced new rules about sliding into second base and efforts to break up double plays. The so-called Chase Utley Rule, in honor of Dodgers infielder Chase Utley who broke Ruben Tejada‘s leg sliding into second base in last year’s playoffs, mandates that the runner slide prior to reaching the base, that he be able to reach the base, that he be able to stay on the base and that the runner does not change his path to the base.
Obviously the reason for the rule is to cut down on injuries to infielders and no one disagrees with that being a laudable goal. Ballplayers are creatures of habit, however, and some of them are a bit wary of the new rules. And not just base runners who may be uncertain as to what is and what is not permissible. Some infielders are as well. Like Skip Schumaker of the Padres, who tells Dennis Lin of the Union-Tribune that the new rules take away some of the craft and wisdom of the middle infielder arts.
He talks about how, after coming into the bigs, you learn over time which runners come in hard, which don’t and how they tend to operate. It’s hard to tell when reading it rather than hearing him speak, but you can almost sense a bit of fondness in his voice for the badass double play breakers. Even for Chase Utley, who he mentions as someone you always had to look out for. It’s understandable. Anyone who learns a craft has a certain fondness for even the hard parts of that craft, so I totally get it when someone is a bit wistful about no longer being able to exercise part of their craft.
Part of his comments do sort of miss the point, however:
“I love how Chase Utley plays,” Schumaker said. “You don’t go in with the intent with the hurting anybody; that wasn’t Chase’s intent. Chase’s intent was to extend the inning, which he did, and they scored a run, in playoff baseball. What guy wouldn’t want a Chase Utley on your team doing that for you? You don’t want Ruben to get hurt. That’s never the intent when you’re going in. You’re going in to break up the play. I see what Chase was doing,” Schumaker added. “I’ve been at second base, and Chase has done it to me, so I get it. You know how hard he plays, and you respect it, and you try to get the heck out of the way.”
You hear things like this from ballplayers every time there’s a new rule or some new safety measure. No one intends to hurt the catcher on a play at the plate. No one intends to injure a batter when brushing him back or plunking him on the backside. The thing is, though, that intent has little to do with it. Just as we have laws to punish or prevent someone from intentionally harming another, we have laws which are aimed at punishing conduct which may do so via recklessness or negligence. It’s about addressing risks that are too great regardless of what one intends and acknowledging that, in many situations, one’s intent and one’s actions do not correspond. That one cannot control all possible outcomes once one sets events in motion.
Keep that in mind as you follow the baseball season. Especially with beanball and plunking controversies when, as is so often the case, you hear a day’s worth of argument from fans, players, managers and commentators about what a pitcher intended or didn’t intend to do. It’s basically irrelevant but it comprises about 95% of the talk.