In case you didn’t know, BASEBALL IS BACK!!!!

Do you know why winter is so dark, cold and long?  Because baseball is not being played.  Rogers Hornsby famously said, “People ask me what I do in winter when there is no baseball.  I’ll tell you what I do.  I stare out the window and wait for spring.”

This offseason was particularly brutal if you are a Cardinal fan, such as myself.  Two of the top free agents turned down offers to come to the Cardinals in favor of more money (David Price) or a better contract (Jason Heyward) – yes, the Cardinals offered more money, but the Cubs offered a better contract with two opt-out clauses so Heyward could potentially make more money in three or four years.  Lance Lynn was lost for the season, requiring the infamous Tommy John surgery.  And Jon Jay, certainly a fan favorite and great personality for the clubhouse, was traded to the Padres.  All along, though, I was eagerly anticipating the coming season.  With last season’s three best teams all in the NL Central, this year should shape up to be quite a race as well.

BUT, that’s not what I’m writing about today.  This offseason, MLB instituted the so-called “Chase Utley” rule.  Utley famously slide into second, attempting to break up a double play in a playoff game, and proceeded to break the leg of Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada and spark a debate as to whether or not Utley was a dirty player.  Utley wasn’t the only player to have hurt somebody in a way that impacted the playoffs in 2016.  The Pittsburgh Pirates lost their shortstop, Jung Ho Kang, in a similar play in mid-September.

The resulting slide rule is as follows:

a “bona fide slide” occurs when a player: 1. begins slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base; 2. is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot; 3. is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; 4. and slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

If it is determined that the runner did not make a “bona fide slide,” the runner is out, as is the runner going to first.

Essentially, what this rule is supposed to do is prevent players from targeting middle infielders to break up a double play.  Frankly, some of the collisions are pretty nasty, and there’s no reason why they should happen in the first place.  In Tuesday’s game, the rule turned out to be a game-changer… literally.

In the top of the 9th inning, with the bases loaded and trailing 3-2, the Toronto Blue Jays had Edwin Encarnacion at the plate.  He hit a sharp ground ball that was fielded by the third baseman, thrown to second to get the force out, and the throw to first for the double play got away from the first baseman.  The tying and go-ahead runs both scored, and the Blue Jays had a 4-3 lead with two outs in the ninth inning.  Until the play at second was under review.

In the replay, it was obvious that Jose Bautista reached out to grab the foot of the Rays’ second baseman Logan Forsythe.  Bautista was called out, and as a result of the new rule, the runner at first was called out as well.  Double-play, the runs don’t count, game over, and the Rays win 3-2.  This displeased the Blue Jays.

After the game, Blue Jays’ manager John Gibbons was not shy about stating his displeasure, saying, “It turned the game into a joke. That’s flat embarrassing. That cost us a chance to win a major league game.”  Later on, he said, “Maybe we’ll come out and wear dresses tomorrow. Maybe that’s what everybody’s looking for.”

His comments play into an overarching theme that we are seeing being played out all over.  The “wussification of America” implies that we aren’t as tough as we used to be; that we are a nation of wusses.  A “wuss” is one who is “weak or ineffectual”, or “to fail to do or complete something as a result of fear or lack of confidence.”

Somehow, it has become manly to put people in harm’s way, to intentionally try to hurt somebody for the sake of winning.  That seems to be the implication of what Gibbons is saying.  Something is very wrong here.

Are we okay with people getting hurt unnecessarily?  Are we okay with putting people in harm’s way because we think, somehow, that it is more manly for somebody to slide into the knee of an opponent in an attempt to break up a double play, than to simply play the game.

Let’s not forget, if you’ve seen the replay, then you know what happened, Bautista reached out his hand to grab the leg of an opposing player.  I guess, at least according to Gibbons, that would make him more manly – intentionally tripping somebody.  Let’s say he gets a better hold of Forsythe, upends him and he gets a broken arm as a result.  How would the conversation go?  It would clearly be focused on how dirty the play was.  Just because the result was different, does it make the play any different?

A few years back, Alex Rodriguez tried to slap the ball out of the first baseman’s glove as he was trying to beat out a grounder.  Everybody called it “Bush League” and said he was trying to take a cheap shot.  He was just playing hard and trying to win the game.  Doesn’t that mean he was more manly?  Clearly not.

Playing the game right does not mean that you do whatever you can to win the game.  It means you play it with respect for all people on the field.  It means you don’t try to trip somebody because it may give you an edge.  If protecting the players is “wussification” then, I’d much rather watch a game played by a bunch of wusses than by a bunch of manly men who are going to go out of their way to hurt somebody.

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