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Yankees Opening Day controversy proves MLB is not dedicated to player safety

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It was the first game of the season for the Yankees and already we have the first controversy of the year–and it's a telling one. If you missed the play yesterday, the game was tied in the top of the eighth with a man on third when Carlos Correa tapped a dribbler into fair territory. Dellin Betances fielded the ball and should have easily gotten the out, only Correa appeared to be running about a foot or two inside the baseline, clearly on the infield grass, and without a doubt in the way of any chance the pitcher had to get the ball to first. In a (perhaps unwise) attempt to make the play, Dellin ended up lobbing the ball over the head of the first baseman and Jose Altuve scored the go-ahead run.

The play caused Joe Girardi to go berserk when he realized the umpires weren't going to call Correa out for interference. His argument was that Betances was unable to make a direct throw to first base, so it had to be interference. However, the umpires disagreed and the play stood. After the game, Altuve commented that he would have gone either way–and I believe Betances probably should have checked the runner–but the problem is not in the result of the play, it's in the complete disregard for player safety because of how the rule reads.

It's a judgement call, which are generally not reviewable, however baseball has been trying to move away from as many judgement calls as they can. The new slide rules only seem to reinforce existing rules that were never enforced, and they lay out strict criteria so that 'judgement' does not need to be passed in regards to what is and isn't a legal slide. It is that judgement that leads to an interpretation against everything MLB claims they are trying to improve. It leads to an MLB umpire actively condoning a baseball player hitting another baseball player with a baseball:

Regardless of the ridiculous argument DeMuth makes to back up his judgement, according to him, Dellin should have just pegged him with the ball.

Of course, pegging a runner and nailing a batter with a 100 mph fastball are not the same thing, but it's not something that baseball should be asking to happen either, which Girardi seems to understand:
"I don't want to go in and tell my pitchers, ‘Just throw it and hit him in the back. Now you're asking one of our players to assault theirs."

Since Game Two of the 2015 NLDS, when Chase Utley broke Ruben Tejada's leg, the only thing anyone can talk about is player safety. Rob Manfred has stood in front of a camera more than once since then to talk about how important player safety is to MLB, and how they want to get it right. Yet for all that bluster, there are still issues–and not just minor gripes–but actual real problems. He, and MLB, say they value player safety, but all they're really trying to do is save face with a PR stunt in front of the cameras, just like they did when Buster Posey was injured in 2011. Meanwhile, the neighborhood play is now reviewable in order to make the umpire's job easier and turn what happened to Tejada into a more common occurrence when fielders realize they have sacrifice their body to be on the base when the runner is charging at them.

I really don't see how purposefully hitting the runner, as DeMuth instructs, makes things better when the fielder was clearly trying to avoid it from happening. Baseball should be attempting to avoid situations like this–where the fielder shouldn't HAVE to peg the runner with the ball and the runner shouldn't HAVE to physically assault a player near the base. This should get the league's attention as they attempt to make the game safer, but there weren't any bone-crushing injuries on the play, so it won't get any attention and there won't be any change.

MLB waited for Tejada to break his leg in the playoffs, they waited for Posey's season to end in May. They wait. This isn't even a baseball problem, it's a people problem. The NFL buries its head in the sand about concussions and CTE, American politics ignore major issues until they culminate into something we read about on the news. We are a reactive society and are naturally averse to change because we like what is the same and what is comfortable. We don't like new things because it means we have to adapt. MLB has a long history of not adapting to the changing world, and then they make headlines when they finally do. It's just unfortunate that a lot of the changes that matter happen far too late.

I'm calling for an open review of the official MLB rulebook. The 2016 version claims that the original document was adopted in 1949, but it has since been amended over 50 times with 50 different dates spanning the last 67 years. It's an incredibly old, and sometimes outdated, piece of paper and it needs to be streamlined. We can't just keep tweaking the rules when the next travesty occurs–it's time to be proactive. MLB is in the business of looking good, but this controversy–as harmless as it might seem–undermines all their efforts when one of their umpires is suggesting violence against another player as a solution to how a rule is written and interpreted.