In a ridiculous bit of kowtowing to public pressure, Major League Baseball has announced they are suspending Chase Utley from the next two games of the playoffs, potentially Games 3 and 4 of the National League Division Series, for a takeout slide in Game 2 that resulted in Mets second baseman Ruben Tejada breaking his leg.
Utley says he will appeal and is expected to be in the starting lineup as the series shifts to Citi Field in New York for Game 3 against Matt Harvey Monday.
Chase Utley: suspended for 2 games (can appeal) Utley: 6-18 (.333 BA) vs Game 3 starter Matt Harvey .403 career OBP in postseason— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 12, 2015
That slide by Utley broke Tejada's leg, forcing him out of the playoffs, and making him villain No. 1 throughout baseball. The play was seen by many as unnecessarily dirty and aggressive, and called for Utley to be suspended.
Utley maintained he was simply playing hard and within the rules, aggressively trying to break up a double play, which he did, allowing the Dodgers to tie the score. Los Angeles went on to win Game 2, 5-2, evening the series at a game a piece. His agents released a statement after the announcement.
"A two game suspension for a legal baseball play is outrageous and completely unacceptable," Joel Wolfe said in a statement. "Chase did what all players are taught to do in this situation-- break up the double play. We routinely see plays at second base similar to this one that have not resulted in suspensions. ... We will be appealing this suspension immediately."
Major League Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre, a former manager of the Dodgers, explained his reasoning for suspending Utley for two games.
"However, after thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley's action warrants discipline. While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Ruben Tejada, and was attempting to help his Club in a critical situation, I believe his slide was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a)(13), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.
"We have been in discussions with the Players Association throughout the year regarding potential rule changes to better protect middle infielders, and we intend to continue those discussions this offseason."
Here is what Rule 5.09 (a) (13) says.
Rule 5.09(a)(13) Comment (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.
At no time did Utley leave the baseline, and the umpires on the field did not deem that Utley left the baseline either. And in this case, I do not think it was an unsportsmanlike action by the runner. All Utley was trying to do was break up a double play, although it was with more aggression than normal.
The fact remains, what Utley did was a legal baseball play, and had it not resulted in Tejada getting injured, it would not have been given a second look by the higher-ups in baseball.
Part of Utley's defense will be that takeout slides, some more egregious than the one in Game 2 that injured Tejada, have been pervasive throughout baseball, with nary a suspension. Such as this one.
I wonder if Chase Utley will show this to MLB as an example of a similar slide not warranting a suspension. pic.twitter.com/pPukGqUN2k— Joe Giglio (@JoeGiglioSports) October 12, 2015
Should the rule be changed? Yes it should. Players should not be allowed to go after infielders to break up double plays. But that's not the world we lived in during Game 2, so why a suspension now? Because it happened in the playoffs and a guy was seriously hurt?
Utley is known throughout the game as one of the hardest players in baseball. He does not have a reputation as a guy who takes cheap shots or is looking to hurt anyone. And to be suspended for doing something that is allowed in the rules is a gross overreaction by the league and a blatant caving to public pressure.
It's easy to understand why the Mets organization and their fans would be upset. One of their top players was taken out by what could honestly be termed as a "dirty" slide. But Utley is not a dirty player, and this is a play that has occurred hundreds, if not thousands, of times in baseball history.
Yeah, Utley's slide was unprecedented. pic.twitter.com/NLb7r6uyzT— Pope Denali-Utley (@Phrozen_) October 11, 2015
If Major League Baseball wants to make sure something like this doesn't happen again, they should make takeout slides illegal, just like they've revamped the catcher blocking the plate rule. And, they probably will. But until that happens, suspending Utley for doing something that he was taught to do growing up and throughout his borderline Hall of Fame career is just flat-out wrong.
Utley is being penalized because a player unfortunately got hurt. Again, if Tejada doesn't break his leg, we're not talking about this.
Was Utley's play dirty? He certainly was not trying to be safe at second, and the fact he was awarded second base by the umpires during the game is ridiculous. But what we saw was not a vicious play by a reckless monster. He was trying to break up a double play, and did so in an over-aggressive manner in this case.
But this suspension is wrong, and if Utley doesn't win his appeal, there's something seriously wrong here.
Sure, suspending Utley probably feels good to people who think he made a dirty play. But doing something that "feels" good doesn't always make it the "right" thing to do.