Bill Shaikin of the Los Angeles Times first reported early Sunday that Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley would not be facing a suspension stemming from the violent late slide he took in Game 2 of the NLDS last year.
Flashback to October 10th at Dodger Stadium, where the Mets were clinging to a one run lead in the bottom of the seventh inning. Bartolo Colon induced a ground ball up the middle by Howie Kendrick that Daniel Murphy had to range to his right to grab. Murphy flipped the ball to Ruben Tejada, who had to turn his back from the second base bag to secure the underhanded toss by Murphy. When Tejada pirouetted around to make sure he touched the bag, here comes Utley charging to the right of the second base bag, sliding as Tejada was lifting his left leg to plant and throw onto first.
What resulted was a cringe worthy sight; one in which the viewers witnessed Tejada pop up in the air, and land violently on his side, fracturing his right fibula. It was tough to watch Tejada lay on his stomach after the play, clearly writhing in pain. He eventually was carted off the field, and replaced by Wilmer Flores for the rest of the playoffs and World Series at shortstop.
What makes me frustrated is the fact that Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer who has the power to dole out player suspensions, offered this reply on November 12th in Florida about the incident.
“With the Utley situation, he hit Tejada before he hit the ground,” Torre said. “I thought that was a little overly aggressive. He slid too late and he didn’t make an effort to touch the base. His target was the infielder.”
Flash forward to March 6th, when it was announced that there would be no suspension for Utley to start the year. Torre cited the fact that it was only recently (February 25th) when MLB enforced a new rule to help protect middle infielders on the slides into second. In regards to upholding a suspension from last year, when the rule wasn’t in place, Torre offered the following statement,
“I think it would have been an issue,” Torre said. “There wasn’t anything clear-cut to say that play violated a rule.”
While I understand that there was no rule in place specifically enforcing the safety of the slides into the bag, this case should merit some different attention. Utley broke a young man’s leg on the play and showed very little remorse for what he did.
Actions like these need to be discouraged and dealt with properly. I believe upholding his measly two game suspension would’ve given MLB a bit of credibility for standing their ground. Even if the case had went to an appeal and MLB lost, it would’ve been better than this outcome. It would have demonstrated that MLB has a backbone, and wants the game played cleanly. Backing out of a suspension that was originally placed on Utley during the NLDS to me is unfair and leaves a bad taste in ones mouth.
Critics will argue that Utley has been sliding like that for his whole career. Others will ask about similar plays that occurred in the past, such as Matt Holliday’s collision with Marco Scutaro, and Chris Coghlan’s late slide with Jung Ho Kang, with no suspensions handed down. All are fair and legitimate questions to raise. And while purists will say the hard slide has been a part of baseball for over a century, it does not make it any less right or permissible when we’re speaking of player’s health and well-being.
What’s more, is that now Mets pitchers might feel they need to take action into their own hands, and deal with Utley when he comes to bat during the May 9-12th series this year. And with the history fresh in many people’s minds, the Mets pitchers will have to walk a tight rope with possible suspensions of their own for any type of retaliation that occurs during this series. And keep in mind the Mets did not retaliate against Utley in his at-bat in Game 5 of the NLDS. Does the non-suspension of Utley change that now?
Here’s what Anthony McCarron of the Daily News thinks:
“Utley had better hope Bartolo Colon’s spot comes up in the rotation for his first at-bat against the Mets — if he gets a flesh-seeking missile from Colon, at least it’ll be traveling about 8-10 miles per hour slower and presumably leave fewer stitch marks wherever it strikes.”
I’m glad that the resulting outcome of this play turned into a new rule change to help protect middle infielders. This needed to happen years ago, and be better enforced by umpires. Mets general manager Sandy Alderson said it best on Sunday in reference to the ruling,
“The most important thing is that the rule was changed, as far as I’m concerned,” Alderson said. “I’m glad they changed the rule. I think that was the best outcome from that incident.”
Indeed it was, yet it cost Tejada the rest of the playoffs. With rumblings that Tejada may not make the Mets roster and head north with team, if nothing else, we owe thanks to Tejada for finally waking up Major League Baseball to make some serious changes for the future safety of its players.