It was so bad that Tigers fans still hold a grudge. On July 3, 2013, Colby Rasmus barreled into Tigers second basemanOmar Infante to break up a double play. Rasmus was out at second, but Infante would be out for much longer, missing almost six weeks with an ankle injury. Tigers fans -- the smart ones, too -- called the play dirty, and many haven't forgiven Rasmus for it. Show of hands: how many would welcome the 29-year-old free-agent-to-be if he signs with Detroit this offseason?
Fast forward to September 17, 2015. The Pittsburgh Pirates lost rookie phenom Jung Ho Kang to a knee injury when Chicago Cubs outfielder Chris Coghlan upended him on a play at second base. Coghlan's slide didn't even get the job done, as the Pirates turned the double play, but it ended Kang's season. With the Pirates losing out on both the NL Central Division race and NL Wild Card Game, one wonders if Kang's presence could have made a difference.
On Saturday evening, New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada became the latest player on an ever-growing list of maimed middle infielders. Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley all but tackled Tejada on a slide harder and later than Rasmus' and Coghlan's, and Tejada is now out for the series with a broken leg.
See the pattern here?
Utley's slide came on a much bigger stage than the previous two, and it has received a proportional amount of backlash. Dave Cameron said that the rule must change. Rob Neyer lost his mind on Twitter. Even MLB players cringed at the play on social media, with Padres outfielder Justin Upton calling it like he sees it.
If that was a superstar shortstop we would have a Tulo Rule being enforced tomorrow— Justin Upton (@JUST_JUP) October 11, 2015
There are plenty of arguments on both sides. Dodgers fans and baseball purists think Utley's slide was a good, hard-nosed play. The Internet wants to see takeout slide reform. Major League Baseball has scuffed its feet in the aftermath of this play, but is experimenting with players sliding directly into second base in the Arizona Fall League. Considering how the MLB breaks in its rule changes -- pitch clocks started in the AFL last year -- we might see a ruling on takeout slides before Opening Day 2016.
There should be some middle ground here. Tigers fans celebrated Andy Dirks' slide that helped score an important run in a tight 2012 AL Central race. We celebrated it as the Play of the Year. But objectively? Dirks' slide was late, and he had zero intent of making it to second base, just like Utley. The takeout slide is a play that has been part of baseball time immemorial, and there are rules in place to prevent more egregious violations (like Utley's slide on Saturday night).
It's tough to keep defending this baseball tradition, though. The game has changed substantially since Tigers legend Ty Cobb was causing havoc on the basepaths. Players are paid millions of dollars, and teams have even more money at stake. The game isn't just a national pastime, it's a multi-billion dollar industry.
Hell, even the players have changed. Cobb was considered one of the largest players in the game in his day. At 6'1", 175 lbs., he would be on the smaller side of the spectrum today. Players are bigger, faster, and stronger than before, and takeout slides have much more force behind them than in the past. Infielders have less time to defend themselves, and less room for error when the baserunner barreling down on them is the size of an NFL linebacker.
It's time to end the takeout slide in baseball. We have already identified three significant injuries in the past two-plus years, and there are likely several more within that range. Breaking up double plays in the name of more offense is a noble effort, but not at the expense of the talented athletes trying to turn them. Major League Baseball effectively ended home plate collisions without much of a hiccup, and it can do so at second base with similar fluidity.
End the takeout slide, MLB. It's not necessary anymore.