Friday, April 08, 2011

The Swisher Slide: A Non-Controversy and Rebuttal

An unfortunate accident happened during the game between the Twins and the Yankees. The Twins spent a lot of money to bring over a Japanese player named, Tsuyoshi Nishioka, and yesterday, that player broke his leg. The injury was the result of Nick Swisher sliding into second base to try to break up a double play. This writer was watching the game on the MLB Network when the incident occurred and it was just like a thousand other plays the Fan has seen in over fifty years of watching baseball. The only thing odd about the play is that most infielders jump to avoid the runner. Nishioka just stood there and got hit hard in the legs. The decision and technique would cost him most of his first season.

Dave Gershman, a writer over at Beyond the Box Score much admired here, called the slide by Swisher "dirty." Based on what? If the play was dirty, wouldn't the Twins' players have been upset? Wouldn't Nishioki have been upset? Wouldn't his manager have been upset? According to this article in the New York Times, Nishioki said himself that he should have gotten out of the way. Twins' manager, Ron Gardenhire, said it was a clean play. And if players and managers who have played the game their whole lives had nothing bad to say about the play, why would Gershman?

Mr. Gershman goes on to wonder why fans, media and the like called the play clean. Because it was. It wasn't any different than a thousand other slides into second base to try to break up a double play. Swisher wasn't Ty Cobb with his spikes flying into the player. It was Swisher's job to try to disrupt the relay throw just like it is for every other base runner in that same situation.

Gershman then goes on to wonder if the reaction would have been different if the person who broke his leg was Jeter. What does that mean? First, is he implying that since it was a Japanese player, there was no reaction? Or is the writer implying that the Yankees get special treatment by the press and by fans? If either of those thoughts were on the great writer's mind, they are baseless.

Let's take this back to last year on a similar play where the base runner got hurt instead of the fielder. Justin Morneau was barreling into second trying to claim the same bag Swisher was. The fielder jumped, as most fielders do and in the process, his knee hit Morneau in the head and gave Morneau a concussion that knocked the Twins' first baseman out of the rest of the season. Since Morneau got hurt, then using Mr. Gershman's reasoning, it must have been a dirty play by the fielder.

Base runners trying to take out the middle infielder or catcher (on a bang, bang play at the plate) are part of the game. It is expected of the base runners to try to disrupt the fielder to save an out and prolong the inning. It's been that way for over a hundred years. We don't need rule changes and we don't need to call these plays dirty when they aren't. These plays happen all the time and in most cases, both the runner and the fielder walk away without incident. Unfortunately, this time one of the players didn't. Mr. Gershman wondered whether Swisher was trying to hurt Nishioka. Not a chance. That never entered his mind. All that was on his mind was disrupting the play so that the runner behind him would be safe. That is baseball.

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