Commissioner Rob Manfred is at the Cards-Cubs game this afternoon and the sporting press just spoke with him about the fallout from the Chase Utley/Ruben Tejada play from the other night. Not surprising.
Also not surprising? Manfred’s desire to implement a new rule in an effort to prevent such a play from happening again. Or, at the very least, to allow for clear-cut punishment for someone who breaks it:
Which is ridiculous, as we already have Rule 6.05(m) on the books. That rule — which is as clear as Crystal Pepsi — says a baserunner is out when . . .
(m)A preceding runner shall, in the umpires judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play:
Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpires judgment play.
That rule totally and completely covers the Utley-Tejada situation. The umpires were wrong for not enforcing it both then and in the past, but that’s the rule, just as good as any other rule in that book and in no way in need of replacement.
Why not just enforce that rule? What rule would “better protect” infielders than that one? What would do so in a more straightforward a manner? What could baseball possibly add to it which would make plays at second base less confusing rather than more so?
I suspect what Manfred is interested in here is some means to change this from a judgment call to a clear-cut rule. It was that impulse that led to the implementation of clocks for pitchers and batters and innings breaks rather than giving umpires the discretion to enforce existing pace-of-play rules. It was that impulse which led to a tripartite (or is it quadpartite?) means of determining whether a catcher impermissibly blocks the plate or a runner barrels him over rather than simply enforce existing base-blocking rules.
But taking rules out of the subjective realm and into the objective is difficult or downright impossible in many cases, both in law and in baseball. It’s almost totally impossible when intent is an element of the thing, as it is here. It’s likewise the case that, were there a clear and easy bright line to be established in service of a judgment-free rule on this matter, someone may have stumbled upon it once in the past, oh, 150 years. And maybe even tried to implement it. They haven’t, of course. Probably because there was no need, what with Rule 6.05(m) sitting up there all nice and tidy and an army of judgment-armed umpires standing ready to enforce it should they be asked to.
Unfortunately, Major League Baseball has decided that eschewing set rules in favor of new ones is better. Rules about the time batters and pitchers should take. Rules about blocking bases. Rules about how long someone should be suspended for a first time drug offense. Late Selig and Manfred-era Major League Baseball has decided, it seems, that anything 150 years of baseball can do, it can do better. Or at least newer and without the input of people in the judgment-passing business like umpires and arbitrators and the like.
Why can’t baseball send a memo to the umpires and the players over the winter saying the following:
That rule about running into fielders that you all have already agreed to abide by in your respective Collective Bargaining Agreements? We’re serious about it now and WILL be enforcing it. If you break it, players, you’re going to be in trouble. If you refuse to enforce it, umpires, you’re going to be in trouble. Understood? Good.
If players complain, they complain. They don’t have a say about established rules. If, on the other hand, your process of making new rules is easier than your process of simply enforcing rules you already have, your system is messed up and we should be having a whole other conversation.