Friday’s Ruiz-Giles incident in the Padres-Phillies game brings up an issue I’ve been trying to figure out how to discuss for some time, and I’m going to give it a shot: what are the rules, and what is the actual practice, around breaking up a double play at second?
Here’s the MLB.com description, from the Padres story:
In the fourth inning, Philadelphia’s Carlos Ruiz tried to break up a potential double play by sliding hard into second baseman Marcus Giles. Ruiz took Giles out, and the two players had words, with both benches clearing. Second-base umpire Bill Welke ruled it a double play with interference on Ruiz.
Giles later left the game with a right hip pointer and was listed as day-to-day. After the game, Giles pointed to the sore red spot on his hip.
“It wasn’t a slide,” said a perturbed Giles. “That’s the only thing about it. It was just not a slide. The replay shows it. The only reason he went to the ground was after he made contact with me. It’s not a very good play. I’m all for playing the game hard. I think I play as hard as anybody. But you play hard, and you play clean.”
And from the Phillies story:
Steaming toward second, Ruiz changed his route and barreled into Giles. The two exchanged heated words and were separated by second-base umpire Bill Welke.
For his part, Ruiz agreed that the unintentional charge was an aggressive error in judgment, but he explained that he was just trying to break up a double play.
“That’s part of the game,” Ruiz said. “He thought I came in a little high. I saw the replay, and yeah. … He was still on the base, so … I [told him] I was trying to break up the double play.”
Watching the video, it’s… it’s one of the highest, latest “slides” you’ll ever see. It almost shouldn’t be described as a slide at all: when he makes contact with Giles, his head is at Giles’ chest.
As the throw comes off Giles’ hand, Ruiz is nearly sliding on his knees, his shoulder into Giles’ waist.
Giles then flips out and says some bad words in his outdoor voice. The umps quickly separate them, all the other players come out to say hello and socialize, the umpires confer, and they declare it’s a double play, with Ruiz interfering.
Let me start, then, with how the rules are interpreted, because this will be easier than the actual discussion of the rules.
In practice, a runner headed to second is allowed to slide into second and/or the person trying to make the transfer and throw to first as long as it’s remotely plausible that he’s going to touch the bag. Hard slides are fine, but there should be some way that you could reach out and touch the base with your arm, for instance, as you slide two feet outside an imaginary first-to-second line. Their intent can clearly be to take out the fielder and hinder the throw, but they need to have some claim of trying to get to second base.
That’s where Ruiz got into trouble: he’s clearly not trying to get to the base, but running right for Giles, and into him… and if he’d taken the same path and slid earlier, he almost certainly would have gotten away with it.
The rules, then, are quite different.
From 2.00 Definition of Terms
(a) Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play. If the umpire declares the batter, batter- runner, or a runner out for interference, all other runners shall return to the last base that was in the judgment of the umpire, legally touched at the time of the interference, unless otherwise provided by these rules.
I’ve heard it argued that on a 6-4-3 double play, only the shortstop is the fielder, so the second baseman is a legitimate target, but that’s not true: the same section goes so far as to define “A FIELDER is any defensive player.” Unless you want to argue that the second baseman isn’t trying to make “a play” based on the 7.08(b) wording that a runner’s out when:
(b) He intentionally interferes with a thrown ball; or hinders a fielder attempting to make a play on a batted ball;
Doesn’t cover “fielder making a throw”. I don’t think that’s valid.
(Obstruction’s sometimes brought into this, but it’s not applicable: obstruction, in the rules, is when a fielder who isn’t fielding the ball or trying to make a tag, gets in a runner’s way.)
There are two principles at work here:
- the fielder has the right to make a play on the ball
- the runner has the right to advance on the basepaths however they see fit
Of those, the fielder has precedence: if a second baseman’s tries to field a ground ball between first and second as a runner from first advances, the runner has to go around or stop (there’s a specific exemption of this in 7.08(a)(1): a runner is out when “He runs more than three feet away from his baseline to avoid being tagged unless his action is to avoid interference with a fielder fielding a batted ball. ”
Further, when there’s a force on at second, there’s another rule that applies in 7.09(d): It’s intereference if
(d) Any batter or runner who has just been put out hinders or impedes any following play being made on a runner. Such runner shall be declared out for the interference of his teammate;
Once the force play is made, you can’t go running around the field. They’re not going to call you out for something you couldn’t prevent, though, which is why if you slide into the second baseman, it’s cool – you’re already getting down out of the way of the throw, no foul.
Similarly, there are two more rules that specifically call the double play out:
(e) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.
and, to a lesser extent, (f):
(f) If, in the judgment of the umpire, a batter-runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball, with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead; the umpire shall call the batter-runner out for interference and shall also call out the runner who had advanced closest to the home plate regardless where the double play might have been possible. In no event shall bases be run because of such interference.
Here’s the analogy I like to use: would it be okay for the runner to second to, instead of sliding, instead punch the second baseman in the face to prevent the throw?
I know it’s a little ludicrous, but the answer is clearly no, isn’t it? It’s an act that doesn’t have anything to do with getting to second and is specifically intended to prevent the double play.
Similarly, what if a second baseman took the throw and in making the catch, ran up towards first and towards the outfield, only to be taken out by a runner who’d stopped and run after him? Similarly crazy on consideration — it’s interference, obviously — but why is that different than a off-second slide?
Intent matters. The runner’s allowed to get around the bases however they want, and the slide into second is allowed as a legitimate way to get there. The hard play at second place is allowed because runners are granted an enormous benefit of the doubt by tradition, as I noted earlier, but there are limits to what the umps allow.
And to bring this back around, it seems that Ruiz’s takeout of Giles was obviously intended to break up the double play, so much so that Giles got the interference call.
Coming up: why not run through second base?