Every sport comes with certain risks and dangers for players and Major League Baseball is no exception. Over the years, baseball leagues across the country have continuously made strides to improve safety by fine tuning rules that govern game play and safety equipment. A few recent changes are set to further improve the safety and well-being of players.
New Slide Rule at Second Base
In February of 2016, the MLB passed a new rule that governs slides into second base and is meant to protect players and prevent injuries. Essentially, the new rule makes it illegal for runners to purposefully slide into infielders in order to disrupt a play.
Illegal slides include situations where a runner changes his pathway to the base in order to make contact with the infielder, makes illegal contact with an infielder above the knee, does not attempt to reach the base or remain on the base after the slide, or did not begin his slide before reaching the base. Slides in which a runner makes contact with the ground before reaching the base, begins his slide before reaching the base, attempts and is able to reach the base, or was within reach of the base without changing his pathway are still considered legal.
Pace of Play Changes
Rules regarding the pace of play, timing of coaches’ visits to the mound, and length of breaks between innings have also been shifted slightly. Although previously, managers and coaches could visit the mound with no time limits, a 30-second limit has now been imposed. The timer starts when the coach leaves the dugout and he must leave the mound when the timer hits zero.
Additionally, between inning breaks have been shortened to match the commercial time for broadcasted games. Commercial time is 2 minutes and 5 seconds for locally broadcasted games and 2 minutes and 25 seconds for nationally broadcasted games. These changes are aimed to help the end of breaks more closely match up with the resumption of play and to improve the pace of play overall.
The Intentional-Walk Rule
The intentional-walk rule is set to be changed in two significant ways. First, pitchers will now be allowed to signal their intention to walk a batter rather than pitching four balls outside of the strike zone. Batters will then be allowed to go directly to first base. Second, the lower end of the strike zone will be changed from its current position at the bottom of the player’s knees to the top of the player’s knees. Changes to this rule allow for better pace of play and protect players from the fatigue of making unnecessary pitches.
Providing players with the right gear is a vital part of protecting their safety. The MLB has recently begun developing new headgear for pitchers that is expected to debut during spring training. The headgear, described as a combination of a hat and a helmet, features a carbon fiber shell, sun visor, and single earflaps. Headgear is designed to be specific for right or left handed pitchers and comes in different sizes and weights depending on the head size of the player. It is designed to protect a pitcher’s head in the most vulnerable places, especially the temples.
Rules relating to safety have evolved over the years for MLB players. Slide rules that prevent injuries, pace of play rules that reduce player fatigue, and improvements in safety gear all help players stay safe and at the top of their game. Although changes aren’t always well received by players, coaches, and fans, safety must remain a top priority for MLB officials.