On the professional level, instant replay has most definitely changed the pace, flow, and dynamics of baseball. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse. One of the rules instant replay has affected tremendously is the “Neighborhood Play.” Neighborhood in this context means “in the area of” second base. The “Neighborhood Play” occurs when the second baseman or shortstop is receiving a throw to the second base bag for a force play or the front end of a double play. The basis for the “Neighborhood Play” is to protect the fielder from an oncoming baserunner attempting to slide into second base, or in years past, slide into the fielder. Meaning, as a safety precaution, the “Neighborhood Play” allowed the fielder to catch the baseball “around” the second base bag, then pivot to throw to first base or simply continue his momentum away from the bag to avoid getting “taken out”. Back in the day, as we baseball veterans say often, you “took out” the guy at second base to prevent a double play from occurring.
As a double play is developing, the role of the baserunner from first base to second base is to distract, prevent, and disrupt the fielder or fielders starting the double play at second base. In years passed, runners would run directly in the base path to make things more difficult. They would of course “duck” when the baseball was thrown towards first base, or risk getting plunked. Or, when approaching the second base bag, runners would attempt to slide into the fielder – even if the fielder was nowhere near the second base bag. This wasn’t necessarily a malicious act, this is what we practiced. We weren’t trying to “cleat” the fielder or injure him/her in anyway. We were taught to get down and try to take the fielder out to prevent the double play from happening.
The “Neighborhood Play” allowed the fielder to catch the baseball around the second base bag and still record an out. Umpires would allow the “Neighborhood Play” to happen in the interest of safety and recognizing the game situation. Unless the fielder was clearly out of the neighborhood of second base, the out was typically recorded and the “Neighborhood Play” was allowed. Now comes instant replay. Instant replay of the “Neighborhood Play” clearly shows the fielder not receiving the baseball while their foot was on second base. Thus, the out call on the field can now and will be overturned by instant replay. If a manager is watching a double play occur, he and his staff pay close attention to the fielder at second base during a double play. If there is a slight chance of the “Neighborhood Play” occurring, the challenge flag comes out and the play is reviewed.
Due to several key injuries in recent years due to sliding out of the baseline, the sliding rules have changed in professional baseball. A questionable baseball slide is also a reviewable act for instant replay. So, you can no longer slide maliciously or out of the basepaths nor use the “Neighborhood Play” in professional baseball without the consequence of instant replay. Here is more from Major League Baseballs Rules Glossary about the changes “The amendments to the sliding rules were implemented after a 2015 season in which a number of middle infielders were injured by sliding baserunners while covering second base. In accordance with the rule change, MLB determined that questionable slides and the neighborhood play would both now be reviewable by instant replay.”
On the youth baseball level, interscholastic level, and most amateur levels, there is no instant replay. You rely on the judgement of the field umpire to determine whether or not the fielder at second base maintained his/her foot on the bag when receiving the baseball. Also, the umpire determines if the baserunner is in the base path or not during an attempt to disrupt the double play at second base. Managers and coaches have a right to challenge calls on the youth level up to the amateur ranks but don’t have the benefit of video confirming a play did or did not occur. A field umpire will confer with the home plate umpire or another field umpire if there is one. Most of these plays happen so fast, it ends up being a judgement call on the part of the umpires. Some will enforce the rules of baserunning and making sure the fielder is in compliance at second base. While others will allow the “Neighborhood Play” to just play out.
In closing, I just wanted to say that the “Neighborhood Play” was an equal rule for both teams. One inning, your team is on defense and you record a double play via the “Neighborhood Play.” The next, you are the baserunner who is running to second base only to witness the other team’s shortstop’s foot clearly off the bag as he starts a double play against your team. Give and take, that used to be the ebb and flow of a baseball game. And it maybe the case on the lower levels (youth, interscholastic, amateur) of baseball, but not so on the professional level. Instant replay can now sniff out the “Neighborhood Play” and distinguish it with a click of the mouse. No more acrobatic jumps over the runner sliding into second base to take you out, that’s for sure. Instant replay has taken away the “Neighborhood Play,” for better or worse.
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