Over the weekend, with men on first and third in a tight Dodgers/Mets game, Chase Utley went in hard and late at second base in attempt to break up a double play. The result was a force out (initially), a run scored, and broken femur for shortstop Ruben Tejada. Then, adding insult to literal injury, the Dodgers challenged the play, claiming Tejada never touched the bag. And they were correct; he hadn't. But then, neither had Utley. Somehow, that didn't matter, and the out call was overturned. I still don't understand that part of it. Replay this year has been a travesty, and the only hope is that calls like this on the big stage lead to more sensible interpretations down the road.
But replay isn't what I want to talk about it. What I want to talk about is the hard slide. Maybe this hits closer to home for Rays fans because we all remember what happened to the much-beloved Akinori Iwamura in 2009.
Taking out the pivot man has been a tough baseball play for as long as I can remember. And you can make the argument that that's all that Chris Coghlan did to Aki. Yes, the slide was late, but it was at least a slide, and it was in the vicinity of the bag. The risk to Iwamura was compounded at least in part by the fact that he was in front of the bag instead of behind it.
The same excuses can't be made for the Utley play. It seems particularly reckless not just because it was late, but because it wasn't actually a slide. It was a body block.
So the two game suspension handed down by MLB seems entirely justified. But given that this was the pivotal point in a playoff game, one wishes the umpire on the field would have called it differently:
5.09(a)(13) 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.
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.
Umpiring is a hard job, and I don't want to pile on this particular umpire. I'd guess that 95 percent of them would have made the same call in this situation. What needs to change isn't the rules; it's the tough-guy culture. It was good to hear that according to Joe Torre, even before this play MLB was already doing something to address it from the players' side.
What we're doing in the [Arizona] Fall League, and I don't know if I'm supposed to say this, but in the Fall League, we're having the players work on sliding directly into the bag, just to see how that works and stuff.
But that's not enough. It needs to extend to umpiring as well. No new rules are needed; as you can see, the rules are already on the books. They just need to be enforced. Here's hoping that the Utley suspension is a sign that the times are changing.