An Utley Situation

Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada winces as medical personnel immobilize his right leg that he injured in a play at second in the seventh inning. Tejada was upended when the Dodgers' Chase Utley went sliding in hard to avoid a double play. ///ADDITIONAL INFO: dodgers.1011 - 10/10/15 - Photo by PAUL RODRIGUEZ, STAFF PHOTOGRAPHER - Dodgers vs. Mets in game two of the NLDS.

Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada winces as medical personnel immobilize his right leg following dirty slide by Dodgers Chase Utley.  Photo by Paul Rodriguez, Orange County Register

Last night on baseball’s biggest stage, during Game 2 of the post-season National League Division Series, an assault on NY Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada was committed in clear sight of millions of viewers across the country. It was captured on camera of course, and its painful outcome which was sickening to watch was replayed ad nauseum.  Tejada was placed in an air cast, driven off the field and taken for x-rays which revealed a fractured right fibula. At best, he is out for the season. Hopefully this will not impact the young player’s future career.

utley slide 4

Note that Utley is beyond the base before beginning his slide (tackle) and aims for Tejada to take him out rather than attempting a slide into the base, which he never touched. Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images

Dodger second baseman Chase Utley committed the assault, ostensibly to break up a potential double play that would have prevented the tying run from scoring in a closely fought game.  Sliding hard into a base to prevent the fielder from continuing the play has always been a part of America’s pastime.

But what occurred last night was well beyond. It was an ugly, dirty play. If it occurred on the streets of Los Angeles the LAPD could have issued an arrest warrant.  Rather than slide cleanly into second base, Utley waited until he was already at or beyond the bag, went out of the base path to the right and assumed the role of a defensive tackle in football, throwing his body at and barreling into a defenseless Tejada who was pivoting in mid-air and didn’t see what hit him. warrant.

mlb logo 4To quite literally add insult to injury, Major League Baseball (MLB) severely mishandled the incident. To begin with, Utley should have been called for interference, an infraction of not one but two separate MLB rules. Rule 709 states:

(e)  If, in the judgement of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.” 

Rule 605 states:

A runner is out when…

m) a preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.

Rule 6.05(m) Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.”

If they had decided this correctly, it would have been an automatic, inning-ending double play (the batter would also be out because of his teammate’s indiscretion). However, second base umpire simply called Utley out, allowing the tying run to score.

terry collinsMets manager Terry Collins should have protested this but ironically, it was Dodger manager Don Mattingly who appealed the play for further review by the MLB remote umpiring tribunal who judge disputed calls from a studio in New York. Surprisingly, they too missed the clear interference call based on existing rules and further mishandled the situation, by overturning the “out” call. They ruled that Tejada missed touching the bag and therefore Utley was safe. In order to protect their safety, MLB allows players to miss the bag in these close plays under what is termed a “neighborhood play” but for some bizarre technicality, they chose not to apply that here. One has to ask, if not now, when would this be more relevant?

In all my years watching baseball I’ve never seen a more blatant infraction of the rules. Players cannot be allowed to assault each other without consequence. With slow motion instant replay from 15 different angles and after-the-fact umpire review, there is no way MLB should have allowed this to go unchecked. Every baseball analyst on the air (except for Cal Ripken Jr., the lone apologist for Utley’s aberrant behavior, and for whom my respect has diminished) called this for what it was. In a recent rule change to protect player safety from collisions, catchers are no longer allowed to physically block the plate and yet Utley’s “slide” is allowable?

And now what? The Mets players will most certainly feel they must protect themselves from such dirty attacks and will likely retaliate in some way to get even which could get even Utleyer (pun intended). Matt Harvey, Mets starter for Game 3, will feel pressured to protect his players, perhaps (regrettably) by hitting a batter with a fastball. Mets fans will be angry and who knows what one lone irrational fan might try to do to “even the score.” None of this is good for the sport.

Joe torre 2After the game, former player and manager Joe Torre, now an employee and spokesperson for MLB discussed the call with reporters. While he was not particularly articulate when discussing MLB rules and customs he did say he was concerned about the nature of the “slide” which he termed “late” and would continue to review it.

MLB needs to nip this in the bud by acting quickly and decisively. Some are clamoring for a change in the rules.  But clearly the rules do not allow for this type of dangerous behavior.  Ultimately they simply need to ensure that the rules are enforced.  But in the meantime, Utley should be suspended for the remainder of the post-season and heavily fined for unsportsmanlike conduct. They can’t heal Ruben Tejada’s broken leg or change the outcome of Game 2 for the Mets but MLB can and must take action to impose some sense of justice to salvage the remainder of the post-season and ultimately, the integrity of the game.

LATE CITY EDITION UPDATE: Joe Torre announced a 2 game suspension of Utley. Considering the severity of the injuries suffered by Tejada and the potential impact on the outcome of the series this is a well intentioned but insufficient response.

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. Opinion8ed received the following comment from Rich P:

    Thank you for this. Best take I’ve seen on that vicious play and travesty ruling by the umpires.

    Editor’s response: Thanks RIch, I’m fascinated by how layered this controversy is… and with MLB’s half-assed “fix” it just keeps getting more bizarre.


  2. Opinion8ed received the following comment from Howie B:

    Great to see breaking news in opinion8ed! I still don’t get how rule 798 applies though, but 605 is clear. )as is the neighborhood rule). I just have no idea how they screwed up so badly.

    Editor’s response: When re-reading Rule 709e it pertains to interference with batted ball or fielder making a play on the batted ball, and since 2nd baseman fielded the batted ball, it may not technically apply – but it certainly meets the spirit/intent of the rule. Ironically MLB used a 3rd rule (5.09) when announcing Utley’s suspension. It adds even more controversy because it relates to the batter being out which of course was not called. Thus, they have tacitly admitted that the outcome of the game was impacted. What a mess!! Here is the language of the rule MLB cited:

    Official Baseball Rule 5.09 is titled “Making an Out.” The first four words of section (a) “A batter is out when…”

    Section (a)(13) continues:

    (A batter is out when) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.

    There’s even an explanation following rule 5.09(a)(13) in the official MLB rulebook.

    The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.


  3. Opinion8ed received the following comment from Billy D:

    I don’t know what was worse, the unnecessary, illegal, bone-shattering assault on a vulnerable opponent, or the failure of the league and the umpires to take appropriate measures – runner declared automatically out for going out of the baseline, sliding into the shortstop and not second base (which, by the way he never came remotely close to touching) and an ejection of Utley from the game. The question of a suspension and incarceration could be taken up at a later time. Jeez, that stuff would get you suspended in the NFL.

    Editor’s response: Well said! Thanks Billy.


  4. Paul, what can a say? No one is a bigger Met fan than I. I was at the Polo Grounds in ’62 and I will be there tomorrow night, cheering my head off for my beloved Metsies. I have always hated Chase Utley, mainly because both he and Jimmy Rollins had a way of sticking it to the Mets more times than I can count. Still, I grudgingly admired him as well. He always played the game hard and, while it is difficult for me to say this, I think last night’s slide fell into that category, his suspension notwithstanding.

    Believe me when I say that the last thing I want to do is come to the defense of Met killer Chase Utley, but I think that what he did last night was exactly what I would expect of Daniel Murphy, David Wright or Yoenis Cespedes in the same situation. It is most unfortunate what happened to Tejada, but I don’t think it was intentional.

    What I would like to have seen would have been for the umpires to man up and rule Utley out for that slide. There was about as much chance for that to happen in LA as there is for me to become a Republican.

    That’s the way I see it. The best payback would be for the Mets to take the next two games and move on to the LCS. Lets Go Mets!!!

    Editor’s response: Thanks Jay, interesting response from as loyal a Mets fan as I know you are. We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one though. It seems simple to me…if the player actually slides into the bag and there’s incidental contact to break up a double play that’s fair game. But when the runner doesn’t even start the “slide” until he’s well past the bag, and he hits the opposing player on the fly before hitting the dirt, that’s not a slide, it’s a tackle. It was clearly intended solely to interfere with Tejada’s throw – he never even got to the bag. Play hard, yes…but there’s no place for that kind of malicious move in this sport. What’s lost in all of the discussions is the fact that Utley’s play broke existing MLB rules of conduct and the umpires should have gotten it right. If the umps in LA didn’t have the cojones to do so, the crew in NY should have. It’s the friggin post-season with so much riding on each play. BTW, I’d feel the same way if our guys were the aggressors. My hope is that Torre’s suspension (ven though I think it was too light), will cool things down so we can concentrate on baseball and not revenge. Harvey and Matz -Mets in 4!


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