Sarah's Take: New rules will speed up game

February 29th, 2016

Major League Baseball recently announced new rules that should make the game safer for middle infielders and faster to watch. I applaud their efforts.

During the National League Division Series between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets last season, a controversial slide by the Dodgers' Chase Utley sparked a fierce debate that led to this rule change. Although Utley's late slide appeared to be legal, Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada suffered a broken leg on the play.

From an early age, baseball players have been taught to break up a potential double play no matter what it takes. Of course, no one likes to see a player injured, but injuries are a part of the game. Utley broke up a potential double play that helped the Dodgers win the game, but the Mets ignored the controversy surrounding the late slide and dealt well with the possibly devastating injury to knock out the favored Dodgers and then beat the Chicago Cubs in the NL Championship Series before advancing to the World Series,where they lost to the Kansas City Royals.

The Mets showed a never-say-die attitude when they had adversity during the playoffs, and they always played clean and fairly no matter what happened to them. Their manager, Terry Collins, and their players should be respected for their honorable sportsmanship displayed during their improbable playoff run. Baseball needs more teams like the Mets of 2015.

Nowadays, baseball teams want to protect their multimillion-dollar investments. Also, baseball understands better the long-term effects of injuries, particularly to the head and neck. Major League Baseball wants to make the game safer for all players while not affecting the action.

In 2012, a year after Giants catcher Buster Posey suffered a badly dislocated ankle in a collision with a runner, baseball changed its rule about blocking the plate. No player can intentionally run over the catcher anymore. The catcher must leave a lane for the runner who is trying to score. At the time of this new rule, several retired catchers didn't like the rule, and they felt it was unnecessary. They argued it would change the game. So far, it hasn't, except for lessening the occurrences of concussions.

This week baseball said a player must slide in the path of the base. He can't go after a middle infielder to break up a double play unless he can touch the second-base bag. The new rule also removes the neighborhood play where second basemen or shortstops didn't have to touch the bag to retire a runner, and managers can request a review of these "neighborhood" plays.

The "neighborhood" play should never have been allowed in baseball, but the umpires were trying to protect the middle infielders, who usually have been smaller than other players. Taking these away will increase the offensive production in the game and make it more difficult to turn a double play. Increasing the offense will make the game more exciting and should attract more young fans.

In the quest to shorten the length of games, baseball will limit visits to the mound to 30 seconds. This needed to be done for a long while. A struggling pitcher gets a visit from his coach, who ambled to the mound. They talk about something. If the home plate umpire thinks they are spending too much time, he ambles to the mound to speed up the conversation, which doesn't do any good. Then, the pitching coach walks slowly back to the dugout to buy more time for a reliever to warm up in the bullpen. Cutting the length of visits to the mound will definitely shorten the game.

Another way to make baseball faster is to make a pinch-hitter face the pitcher. Many managers have replaced that pinch-hitter once an opposing manager brought in another reliever. These changes consume time, and they don't add to the enjoyment of the game.

The new rules should make the game more enjoyable for everyone.