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Impending rule change meant to alter slides to second, not eliminate them

Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada suffered a broken leg on this play when he was slid into by Chase Utley. Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports

Chris Coghlan's hard slide into shortstop Jung Ho Kang in September wrecked Kang's leg and had the potential of destroying his career, and we had a column here the next day about the possibility of forthcoming rule changes aimed to protect middle infielders.

The immediate response to that piece from players in texts and direct messages was visceral, adamant and just about unanimous: There shouldn't be any change. I didn't save Shane Victorino's note, but the gist of what he wrote, as I recall, is that the effort to break up a double play was, at the heart of the sport, a baserunner going all-out into second base and sacrificing his body in the effort to make a difference in that particular game. Removing that play, he wrote in so many words, would be to cut into the soul of the sport.

But since early last year, Major League Baseball has been intent on changing the rules about that play for the sake of improving safety and protecting club investments. That was even before Kang's injury and before Chase Utley broke Ruben Tejada's leg with a slide that a lot of players considered dirty. As the players' association formulated a position on the issue and prepared for negotiation, sources say, it sought out opinions from its brethren and got a lot of feedback along the lines of what Victorino argued to me: The effort to break up a double play is an important part of the sport.

So whenever the final, negotiated rule change is announced in the month ahead -- as reported Monday night, MLB and the union have found common ground, and the expectation is that something will be finalized for the 2016 season -- the players' association will have honored that overwhelming sentiment from the players and ensured that baserunners will continue to have the opportunity to break up double plays. If a fielder is in the baseline between second base and first base, the runner will still be allowed to crash into the defender.

What the new rules will do is outlaw slides in which the baserunners go beyond the effort to get to second base and instead target the fielders. If the middle infielder is clearly on the left-field side of second base, sources say, the runners will not be able to go over the bag to hit the fielder; if the fielder is out of the baseline, as Tejada was when he was hit by Utley, the baserunner won't be allowed to hit the fielder. Late slides aimed only to hit the fielder, without regard to getting to second base -- and a lot of players perceived Utley's slide to be late -- will be outlawed.