Raze the neighborhood; take out the takeout

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Baseball was never meant to be a game of contact.
Sure, we all know how Ty Cobb went into second base spikes high, but we wouldn’t tolerate those attempts to injure players today. So why do we allow the forearm shiver or the barrel roll?
Those ridiculous slides into second base are the reason we have the neighborhood play, a big topic of controversy since Erick Aybar wasn’t given credit for straddling the bag on what would have been a double play Saturday night. It was obvious the umpire got the call right in saying Aybar never touched the base. The problem is that Aybar would have gotten that out call 95 percent of the time. Inconsistency is the major issue, of course, and Jerry Layne picked a big moment to start enforcing the rules.
So, will we see any changes in the future because of Saturday’s events? It’s safe to assume the majority of major league umps saw that call last night and might be more prone to making it in the future. It’ll certainly take several more instances of seeing it happen for infielders to start changing the way they position themselves at the bag. Odds are that it will be mostly business as usual, and that’s too bad, because MLB could use a change.
The neighborhood play exists because it’s dangerous standing on top of a base when a runner is set to do everything possible to prevent a relay throw. Far too dangerous. Middle infielders need protection, especially second basemen, who can’t see the runner coming from first. That double play turn is, in my opinion, the biggest reason why second basemen tend to have short careers.
So, it’s either keep the neighborhood play or rein in the baserunners. I prefer the latter option. Baseball was not a sport designed for collisions. Accidents will happen, but MLB can further discourage contact if it wishes. First, enforce the rule that says runners are called out if they don’t slide towards the bag. Most runners these days won’t even reach out towards the bag to even give the impression that they’re trying to touch second base when their legs are five feet off to the right. Call it.
Furthermore, the intentional overslide of the bag, an even more dangerous play, has to stop. Melky Cabrera performed just a modest overslide on Aybar, yet the shortstop still ended up taking a forearm to the thigh and a helmet to the groin. We see far worse every day, and there’s just no reason for it.
If a player intentionally overslides the bag, he should be called out. If he pulls off the Orlando Cabrera “slide into the bag, pop up and try to forearm the shortstop in the face” maneuver, he should be ejected.
Force the shortstop and second baseman to touch the bag, but make it safe for them to do so. It should be easy enough to pull off.

The Giants are winning but they’re still gonna sell

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The state of baseball in general, the state of the National League in particular and the state of the San Francisco Giants as a competitor are conspiring to create what seems like at least a mildly absurd situation.

The Giants, a veteran-laden team that, as recently as this past offseason but definitely within the past couple of years, were at least talking about being on a win-now footing, just swept a four-game series, have won five straight games and have won 12 of 14 to pull themselves to within two and a half games of a playoff spot.

Yet, that’s all for temporary show, because they’re about to sell off. At least according to Jeff Passan at ESPN. Giants president Farhan Zaidi tried to push back on that in a radio interview yesterday, denying that the club has foreclosed the possibility of a postseason push, but I’m not really buying that and I don’t think most people are.

On one level it makes sense to ignore the recent surge and forge on with a rebuild. Sure, the Giants are winning but they’re not exactly good. They’re two and a half out of the Wild Card, but there are many teams ahead of them. There’s a lot of reason to think that they’re playing in good fortune right now and that that, rather than finding some extra gear of sustainable better play, is what’s to credit. Hot streaks can happen at any time but the trade deadline only comes once a year. When you have the best starter available in Madison Bumgarner and the best reliever available in Will Smith, you gotta make those deals. That’s what I’d probably do if I ran the Giants and I think that that’s, wisely, what Zaidi will do.

Still, it’s an odd look, less for the Giants specifically than for baseball as a whole. We may in an era of cheap front offices who don’t like to contend if it means spending money, but it’s unfair to paint the Giants with that brush. They’ve spent money and acquired talent and have done whatever they can to extend their 2010-2014 mini-dynasty a few more years and in doing so they’ve made a lot of fans happy. That team has pretty much reached the end and, even in an earlier, more competitive era, they’d not be properly criticized for starting in on a rebuild. Heck, they’d be excused if they had done it a year or two earlier, frankly.

But, because so many teams have punted on improving themselves, these aging Giants are at least superficially competitive. As such, when they do sell off in the coming days, it’ll look to some like they’re waving a white flag or something when they’re not really doing that. I mean, the Rockies and the Pirates, among other teams, should be much better than they are but didn’t seem all that interested in improving, thereby helping the Giants look better, right? It’s less a knock on the Giants for rebuilding when they’re within striking distance of the playoffs than it is on the rest of the league for allowing a team like the Giants to be within striking distance of a playoff spot.

But that’s where we are right now. An insanely competitive Wild Card race from teams that, on the whole, are rather unconcerned with being competitive. What a time to be a baseball fan.