Safety on slides a focal point at Owners Meetings
New rules governing the way runners can legally slide into second base and the feasibility of increased safety netting at ballparks will be among the focal points when the quarterly Owners Meetings begin Wednesday in Dallas.
Preparations to begin negotiations on a new Collective Bargaining Agreement will also be discussed; the current labor pact expires on Dec. 1, 2016.
While Major League Baseball had already been exploring the possibility of modifying rules governing how runners slide into second base on potential double plays, the topic was highlighted when Chase Utley's takeout slide broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada during the National League Division Series.
Those deliberations will include the so-called neighborhood play, in which a middle infielder is close but not in contact with the base when receiving the ball and throwing to first base, and the fact that with instant replay, infielders are now taught to keep their gloves on the runner on tag plays in case his foot comes off the base, even for a fraction of a second. Any changes must be negotiated with the Major League Baseball Players Association.
MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre noted during the General Managers Meetings in Boca Raton, Fla., last week that for a second straight year, MLB is experimenting with requiring runners in the Arizona Fall League to slide directly into second base.
"Basically it's sort of tied into the neighborhood play with the replay, too, because that was based on the fact that we want to keep the infielders safe," Torre said.
Torre has gotten feedback on runners being called out following a replay review after sliding safely into a base.
"When you're dealing with replay and you're dealing with technology, it is what it is," Torre said. "If you get that separation and the ball is on the runner, you can't ignore that. But I've talked to a number of managers about that, and in a lot of ways, they feel that's unfair. We're going to talk about that, because there's been a lot of inquiries about is there any way we can sort of tweak the rule to keep that from happening? Because a lot of times, you're negating good baserunning."
This is all an outgrowth of rules passed two years ago to safeguard both runners and catchers in home-plate collisions. Torre said he couldn't predict whether there will be new rules in place before the 2016 season.
"I don't know," Torre said. "The one thing we don't want is to have guys carried off the field. Even though we've had a lot of criticism on the collision play at the plate, we haven't had anybody carried off the field in a couple years. And to me, that's great."
The former player and manager said MLB must proceed cautiously.
"Obviously, you can't lose sight of what the game is about," Torre said. "You don't want somebody not trying to get to second base and not trying to keep the inning going. So it's a thin line that you have to walk."
The issue of extending safety netting isn't as clear cut as it might first appear, either.
"Obviously, we're very concerned about fan safety, so additional regulations relating to netting in the stands will be a major topic of conversation," Commissioner Rob Manfred said during the World Series.
"But it's also important not to lose sight of the fact that there are a lot of fans out there who prefer to view the game without having netting in front of them. And that netting can be an impediment to interaction between players and fans, which is really important for us. Hopefully we'll have the wisdom to find the right balance between those two important objectives."
Adapting guidelines to the individual configurations of each ballpark only increases the challenge.
"If you go out and look at the ballparks, it becomes evident that a simple uniform [standard] is not workable," Manfred said at the General Managers Meetings. "It's going to have to be a little more complicated than that if, in fact, we move ahead. We're going to have a full conversation about this. I don't want to prejudge the outcome of that."
Other subjects likely to be discussed include continuing pace-of-game initiatives and ways to protect intellectual property when executives move from one team to another.