If Coghlan makes that slide 100 times and doesn’t injure anyone, the close-to-unanimous consensus would be that he plays hard and that the slide, while hard, was a good slide. He does it and it injures someone, however, and people’s views change somewhat, leading to the conversation many have been having since yesterday afternoon. Contrast this with how intent many in baseball are that people who “go about their business” in a certain matter are wonderful ballplayers even if they don’t produce while some great performers are disdained for the manner in which they accomplish something rather than lauded for the accomplishment itself. In some cases, intent is all that matters. In other cases, intent is rarely considered, only results are.
That’s not the deepest insight in the planet, but I offer it because it interests me and because any time anyone proposes changing something in baseball, the opposition casts itself as the defenders of some sort of reasoned and settled orthodoxy. It’s anything but. Baseball, like most of society, has been sort of making up justifications for why things are done in a certain way for 150 years, so let us not pretend that assessing the way any one thing is done somehow goes against that allegedly reasoned and settled orthodoxy. Sometimes baseball cares about results only, sometimes baseball cares only about what’s in the player’s heart.
As for Coghlan’s slide: personally, I hate such slides and think that any effort to upend the fielder which exceeds the effort to reach the base safely should be illegal because it poses the risk of an injury like the one Kang sustained. Or worse. I realize people feel differently about that. And I realize that, as things stand, Coghlan was within the rule and didn’t have any specific intent to hurt Kang. Both sides agree on that, actually. I’m not calling for discipline or lodging any hot takes here because this situation doesn’t lend itself to that. Coghlan was playing the game the way he was taught and the way it has been accepted for long before he came into the league and nothing here is offered as a criticism of him or his intentions.
But I do think the rules and the habits of ballplayers in this regard should be changed. I don’t care if slides like Coghlan’s have, traditionally, been seen as playing “hard but clean.” The results here — a season-ending injury which seriously harms the chances of a contending club — are a logical and inevitable product of the act. When you try to take out a fielder, sometimes you’re really gonna take him out. When you allow the introduction of contact into what is otherwise a non-contact sport and a sport in which, 99% of the time, no one is prepared for such contact, someone will inevitably get hurt.
In society at large and even in baseball in most instances, reasonable steps are taken in an effort to prevent such things from happening. This situation should be no different. Any slide calculated to physically upend the fielder as opposed to evade a tag at the base should result in an automatic out and the rules should be changed to that effect.
If your response to that is “this could be hard to implement and would make for tough judgment calls,” well, I agree. It could be hard and it would require changes in the way umpires, players and coaches do their business. Any rule change does that and folks in the game are pretty good about adjusting.
If your response to that is merely that change to something which has long persisted is bad for its own sake, well, tough. That’s not an argument against rules about sliding. That’s an argument against progress and improvement. And I don’t think such arguments are worth a damn.