Frustration Over ‘Utley Rule’ Leaves Nats GM Hoping for Change

WASHINGTON — Major League Baseball has been flooded with objectionable implementations of its new second base slide rule (colloquially referred to as the ‘Utley rule’) since the start of the season because, by rule, it is confusing to understand and implement.

If a runner does not engage in a bona fide slide, and initiates (or attempts to make) contact with the fielder for the purpose of breaking up a double play, he should be called for interference under this Rule 6.01. A “bona fide slide” for purposes of Rule 6.01 occurs when the runner:

(1) begins his slide (i.e., makes contact with the ground) before reaching the base;

(2) is able and attempts to reach the base with his hand or foot;

(3) is able and attempts to remain on the base (except home plate) after completion of the slide; and

(4) slides within reach of the base without changing his pathway for the purpose of initiating contact with a fielder.

Most baseball rules are inherently complex because they must account for everything, but you could imagine the confusion on the baserunner’s part in trying to adhere to that jumbled mess above.

The Nationals fell victim Rule 6.01(j) last Thursday before the break, when Jayson Werth was on the wrong end of an objectionable call with the Nats trailing by two in the ninth inning of a division game against the Mets. Werth and Daniel Murphy, the hitter, were both called out, effectively halting Washington’s chance at a rally.

Mike Rizzo was so hot about Jim Joyce’s call, he confronted the second base umpire in a hallway at Citi Field after the game. A few reporters oversaw the spat, and, you know, that led to it being reported.

“There was absolutely no physical confrontation,” the Nats GM told The Sports Junkies during his weekly 106.7 The Fan appearance Wednesday. “We did have some words, unfortunately. I made my opinion known and he made his opinion known about my opinion.”

“It’s never a good thing when you’re yelling back and forth with umpires in the hallway of Citibank Field and the press sees it and that type of thing,” he added.

The irritation level by players, managers and now general managers is beginning to boil over, not dissimilar to the reaction two seasons ago to baseball’s new transfer rule, when the cries for change grew so loud, the league eventually listened and offered an amendment.

The time between when that rule was first introduced and then revised was undeniably awkward, and that’s kind of where baseball is lodged now with the Utley rule. It’s… awkward.

“Like I said, it was two competitive guys expressing their opinions. And, like I said, it was unfortunate and I’m not proud of it,” Rizzo said. “Really, I was more upset about the interpretation of the rules and what is the rules? Our players are confused by it, I think some of the umpires are confused by it.”

When asked, in hindsight, who between Joyce and himself was ultimately correct, Rizzo said, “I think according to the letter of the law possibly that the call was correct.”

“But if that’s true,” he said, “there were two other slides at second base in that same game and also there was a call, if you remember on May 10 against the Tigers, that we felt was clearly against the four points of the rule, all four points, and it wasn’t called. It’s just the inconsistency of it.”

“Jayson Werth did the exact same slide earlier in the game and there was no call whatsoever,” Rizzo continued. “He even spoke to the umpires about it and said ‘was that good?’ because he slid past the base a little bit, and the ump assured him that that was good.

“And then the exact same slide happens in a very important part of the game in the ninth inning and then they call it. The consistency of the rule is the thing that frustrated me the most.”

“I do believe Major League umpires are the best officials in all of sports, in my opinion. They get 95 percent of the calls right,” he said. “Unfortunately we put these rules in, and as the rules are being discussed and debated in real time in the games, they often times have to be tweaked.”

“You remember the fly ball rule where you had to have complete control of the ball before throwing it in? And a few guys dropped a few balls and so they tweaked that, and changed that rule, because they didn’t see it working. I’m sure this rule will be tweaked and be more consistent in the future, because that’s what we’re aiming for.”

Burke & Herbert Bank Fan Question of the Week: What’s one area you would like the (54-36) Nationals to improve on in the second half of the season? — Marcus in D.C.

“We’d like to continue to play good baseball,” Rizzo said. “I think we need to really focus in on playing good, fundamental defense and good, fundamental offense. Be very run efficient. Our offensive efficiency was better in the first half than it was last year and hopefully it’ll continue. Driving in runs with runners in scoring position — you know, two-out RBIs — I think that’s something that we’re going to focus in on in the second half and I think those things are very important.”

Follow @ChrisLingebach and @1067TheFan on Twitter.

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