“It’s a legal slide. It’s within the rules. But somebody is going to get hurt.”
Wright’s words turned prophetic in the seventh inning of last night’s NLDS Game 2 between Utley’s new team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, and the Mets. I’m sure you’ve seen the play by now, but here it is again just in case.
Utley clearly had no intention of reaching second base. He did not reach for it or touch it. Utley came in parallel to second base after the ball had already been caught and Tejada had begun pivoting for first. There was one thing on Utley’s mind as he barreled in on second base — upending Tejada and making sure Enrique Hernandez could cross home plate with the tying run.
This is a dirty play, and there is no way to defend it. Utley came in on second base like a strong safety on an exposed wide receiver running a dig route. Utley did not even make an attempt to reach a hand back for the bag. His legs were directed in the opposite direction of the base, straight at Tejada, who was a few feet away from the bag by the time of impact. When he flew past the bag, he did not even try and go back to touch it. Why? Because he knew he was already out, or should have been out.
Yes, Utley was playing hard. Of course it was the same type of play Pete Rose made commonplace at the height of his “Charlie Hustle” existence. That does not mean there is a place for it in today’s game. Intent to injure? Probably not. Utley is not the type of player to slide with malicious intent. Outside the spirit of the game? One-hundred-percent. A runner has a right to come in hard on a second baseman, but not in a way that endangers the fielder. The slide was so late, and so aggressive, that Tejada is lucky to have suffered only a broken fibula. He could have walked away with a severe head or neck injury or a shredded knee.
The real problem with the play is the umpiring crew’s handling of it. This play is only slightly “legal.” A runner who makes no attempt at the base while breaking up a double play is supposed to be called out. It’s a judgement call, but not one that is typically made.
A double play should’ve been called as a result of Chase Utley’s “slide.” pic.twitter.com/7nw2UCFLL0
— Jared Diamond (@jareddiamond) October 11, 2015
The umpires did not see Utley’s slide as interference. They never see a slide like that as interference. That’s exactly what it was, however. There’s also another issue with the series of events that unfolded in the seventh inning yesterday — the neighborhood play is not supposed to be reviewable.
The “neighborhood play” does not seem reviewable. pic.twitter.com/zUf5m811rf
— Josh Sadlock (@JoshSadlock) October 11, 2015
This is another area where the league has allowed a grey area to enter its rulebook. The neighborhood play has been reviewed multiple times in different games this season. Tejada’s foot did not touch second base as he spun to throw to first last night, but Utley was clearly out, as the rule states. Tejada, one would hope, was about to make an attempt to avoid a collision with a fast-moving baserunner, but he never got the chance. The neighborhood play is supposed to keep middle infielders safe, but even it is up for review in some cases.
There is a problem with Chase Utley’s slide last night, but it’s not all on him. Major League Baseball’s rulebook does not clearly enforce the rules governing takeout slides and the force play at second base. To me, that is the bigger issue than the slide itselt. The league has made an effort to totally eliminate home plate collisions. Second base needs to be addressed next. The rules that govern the double play are nebulous and weak. Second basemen and shortstops wear no protective gear, yet they are subjected to more contact and aggressive baserunning than the catcher who is fully padded? I’m not sure how that makes sense to anyone governing the game of baseball. Every single professional sports league in America except Major League Baseball has a clearly stated definition and rule regarding excessive and unnecessary contact. Baseball has none of that. Its umpires are left to determine the intention of an act in a split second.
Chase Utley is only part of the problem in this situation. The rulebook must take some of the blame as well. The responsibility now falls upon the league to step up and take action.