Vicious. Malicious. Dirty. These are just handful of the accusatory adjectives used by the media, current and former players, to describe the slide of Los Angeles Dodgers infielder Chase Utley into second base on Saturday night.
Not only did the umpires not determine Utley’s slide to be egregious at the time, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly successfully challenged the out call. However, Utley was suspended for two games by Major League Baseball on Sunday evening.
It was Game 2, bottom of the seventh, two on, one out, and the Dodgers were trailing, 2-1. Utley had just looped a singled into right field, advanced Kiké Hernandez to third base. Howie Kendrick hit a hard grounder up the middle directly at second baseman Daniel Murphy, who was positioned right behind the bag as part of a shift.
Murphy’s feed to shortstop Ruben Tejada was at an awkward angle for a natural attempt at a double play, which forced Tejada to turn his back on the runner. Utley, being the fierce competitor that he is, did what anyone in his situation would have done — attempt to break up the double play.
Had he given up and the Mets complete the double play, the inning ends. And whether the Dodgers rally in the eighth or ninth is unknown.
Did the 36-year-old veteran execute his slide perfectly? Probably not. Are we to presume on the malevolence of his intentions? Absolutely not. Only Utley knows his intentions and regardless, this slide turned out to be the fulcrum of the Dodgers’ comeback.
Let’s get a few things straight. My intention is not to downplay Tejada’s broken fibula. Correspondingly, Utley’s objective was not to spitefully injure the shortstop, and it is shameful to inflict such accusations on him.
According to the 2015 Official Baseball Rules, section 8.03 states that an umpire’s position has one overarching priority to, “take full charge of, and be responsible for, the proper conduct of the game.” Straying an arm’s-length away from the bag, in either direction, to prevent an infielder from completing a relay throw is perfectly permissible.
Baseball is a game replete with rules and those rules should not be tampered with. It is also a game that requires strategy, finesse, and the zeal to win.
Injuries are ubiquitous to every sport. It is the nature of the beast. Tejada’s injury warrants our sympathy and condolences, but this should not be at the expense of suspending a player for playing the game of baseball to the best of his abilities. Let the boys play.