Jose Bautista and the New Slide Rule

That didn’t take long. Just a few days into the season, we have a controversial play relating to the slide rule instituted this offseason. Last night, trailing 3-2 in the top of the ninth with the bases loaded and one out, Toronto Blue Jays batter Edwin Encarnacion hit a ground ball to Rays third baseman Evan Longoria. Longoria threw to second base to force out Jose Bautista, who had been running from first base. As second baseman Logan Forsythe attempted to throw the ball to first base for an inning-ending double play, Bautista’s arm caught Forsythe’s foot, Forsythe’s throw went awry, Encarnacion was safe, and two runs scored. Officials overturned the call, ruling that Bautista violated Rule 6.01 for interference and Encarnacion was declared out at first, ending the game in favor of Tampa Bay.

Those are the basic facts of what happened last night, and while the interpretation of the rule might be subject to criticism, there can be little dispute about what happened. There is also likely little dispute about the impetus of the new rule — player safety — and that last night’s play had little to do with player safety. That leads to a couple questions. Like, was the rule interpreted correctly? And like, should the slide rule cover plays like Bautista’s when little harm is likely to come on the play?

Before we take a look at the play, let’s consider the precise language of the new rule itself. Rule 6.01(j) is the relevant one here, titled “Sliding to Bases on Double Play Attempts”. So what does the runner have to do?

If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01.

The runner needs to make a bona fide slide, which requires four things:

Requirement number one is that a runner needs to begin “his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base.”

Before moving on to the second, it might be a good time to take a quick look at the play in question.

While the new rules do not require an actual effect on the play, the throw to first would have been a close play if accurate.

As to the slide rule, for the first part, Bautista appears to meet the requirement as he is on the ground coming into the base.

Requirement number two is that the runner “is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot.”

Again, Bautista meets this requirement, as he pretty clearly comes over the base as part of his slide.

Requirement number three is that the runner “is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide.”

Here, Bautista is in trouble. He clearly slides right through the bag and makes little attempt to remain in contact with second base. Now, before we say for sure Bautista committed interference, we should revisit the beginning of the rule, which requires a non-bona fide slide and that the runner “initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play.” While one could argue that contact Bautista made with Forsythe was of more an incidental nature and that Bautista didn’t intend to make contact, we can use requirement number three to inform that intent. If Bautista was not trying to initiate or attempt to make contact with Forsythe, why in the world would he have engaged in a slide that ended with him off the bag? Bautista meets both parts of the rule and committed interference. The correct call was made.

For good measure, Bautista might have violated the fourth part of the bona fide slide rule as well.

The fourth requirement dictates that the runner must slide “within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.”

This one is a bit more murky, as determining pathway is less clear, but it’s possible to say Bautista changed his pathway at the end, which is why he ended up wide of the base. If this were the only basis for a ruling, it might be more controversial. As far as controversy is concerned, however, Blue Jays manger John Gibbons’ suggestion that his team will “come out wearing dresses tomorrow” should create more controversy than the ruling itself.

If this sequence of events from last night’s games does causes controversy, it will most likely be a product of the play’s relationship (or lack thereof) to player safety — i.e. the impetus for the rule change to begin with. In no way is Bautista attempting to hurt Forsythe, nor is this play likely to cause an injury like those suffered by Jung-ho Kang and Ruben Tejada. However, that doesn’t mean he doesn’t run afoul of the new rules, and while the new rules focus on takeout slides, they can clearly be read to emphasize a focus on interference in general.

The old rule, which is still on the books and gave wide latitude to the umpire’s discretion, reads as follows (5.09(a) 13):

(13) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s 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 5.09(a)(13) Comment (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 umpire’s judgment play. (See Rule 6.01(j).)

That very last part of the rule above mentions Rule 6.01(j), which is the new slide rule put into effect this season. It is not the only rule that now references 6.01(j) as 5.09(b)(3) (“intentionally interferes with a thrown ball”), 6.01(a)(5) (a runner just out who “hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner”), 6.01(a)(6) (“base runner willfully and deliberately interferes”) and 6.01(a)(7) ( batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes”) all do, as well. There is clearly an emphasis on clarifying interference rules — not solely takeout slides — and Bautista was in clear violation of the new version of the rule.

For those who wonder if that type of call might lead to controversy in the playoffs, recall that in 2013 a World Series game ended on an obstruction call when Allen Craig tried to move past Will Middlebrooks to get home, or that in Game 6 of the 2004 American League Championship Series, Alex Rodriguez was called for interference for slapping the glove of Bronson Arroyo, ultimately preventing Derek Jeter from scoring. Baseball has a lot of rules and sometimes games hinge on interpretations of those rules. There will be more plays like Bautista’s throughout the season, and fans and players will become acclimated to the rule due to plays like this one. The new rules were set out for player safety, and while they do slightly more than that, better player safety and better clarification of the interference rule are both better for the game of baseball.

Craig Edwards can be found on twitter @craigjedwards.

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6 years ago

Is Bautista even out? Forsythe never touches the bag in that GIF.

6 years ago
Reply to  jlukebeld

Nevermind just watched the full video.

6 years ago
Reply to  jlukebeld

The whole idea of a controversy is ridiculous and we have the umpires to thank. Interference has always been interference the umps just stopped calling it, much like the high strike. Under the old rules you never were allowed to intentionally wipe-out (interfere) with a fielder while making a play. Then magically it became ok to do so at second base (don’t dare do the same thing when sliding into first, the baseball etiquette gods will shame you to no end). These non calls of interference then led to the mythical “neighborhood’ play, where the fielder didn’t actually have to contact 2b while holding the ball to record a force out (once again don’t dare try that at first base). the whole situation was preposterous and flew in the face of the rules of baseball thank goodness mlb has taken steps to correct this atrocity that had gone on way too long.

6 years ago
Reply to  jlukebeld

So that everyone is clear, whether or not Bautista interfered in a vaccuum is NOT reviewable, per the Video Replay regulations:

Reviewable Calls
The only calls eligible for Replay Review are set forth in this Section V. Calls not identified below may not be reviewed at any time:

Interference for the Purpose of Breaking Up a Double Play.:

An Umpire’s determination under Official Baseball Rule 6.01(j). NOTE: Other than for purposes of determining whether the runner interfered with a fielder within the meaning of Rule 6.01(j), whether a base runner willfully or deliberately interfered with a fielder with the intent to break up a double play, within the meaning of Rule 6.01(a)(6) or (7), shall not be reviewable.

The ruling was exclusively based on Rule 6.01(j), which requires that:
a) Bautista initiated contact with the fielder for the purposes of breaking up the double play (check); AND
b) The slide was NOT a bona fide slide (check, since Bautista did not attempt to stay on the base)

The language of MLB’s ruling (use of the word ‘additionally’) was confusing to many. In fact, both elements needed to be present in order to overturn the call on video replay.

Hope this clears everything up!