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Chase Utley of the Los Angeles Dodgers has received a two-game suspension for a slide at second base in Game 2 of the National League Divisional Series that left New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada with a broken leg.
The play is being called “hard-nosed baseball” by some and “dirty” by others. But while it will have the effect of keeping Tejada out for the duration of the playoffs and Utley out for two games (Utley is appealing the suspension and will play in Game 3), the play could have a longer-lasting impact on the game, as some feel it is time to change one of the most fundamental plays in the sport.
The incident came in the seventh inning of the Dodgers’ Game 2 win over the Mets, when Utley slid hard into second base trying to break up a double play.
While Utley was still within reach of the bag – the low-hanging criteria for slides into second base – he didn’t even start to slide until he was actually passing the bag.
Now many, including Buster Olney of ESPN, are calling for a change. Here are Olney’s comments in a column titled “Enough is enough: the takeout slides must end“:
Fellas, it’s over. Get used to the idea that change is coming … The [Jung Ho] Kang injury [on a similar play in September] was probably a tipping point in the conversation, and the events of Game 2 of the Mets-Dodgers National League Division Series on Saturday night almost certainly pushed the situation across the goal line, when L.A.’s Chase Utley essentially ended shortstop Ruben Tejada’s season … This is for the sake of player safety, yes, but also for the sake of money, just as was the case with the catcher-collision rules. For players to repeatedly be put at physical risk on the sort of play that isn’t close to being integral to the sport — the way that throwing a pitch and swinging a bat are — will no longer be deemed acceptable when general managers gather in the offseason to mull changes … In just a few weeks, the cultural acceptance of a slide in which a player like Utley targets the body of a defender, rather than the base, will end.
The play is as fundamental to baseball as sacrifice bunts and Cracker Jack. And yet, if we stop to think about it, it is strangely out of place.
For some reason we have come to accept that it is OK for a runner in a noncontact sport to go out of his way to make aggressive, physical contact with a fielder who is trying to make a throw while he is at his most vulnerable.
This would never be accepted at first base or third base. For some reason we allow this only at second base. In fact, Alex Rodriguez was once universally skewered for slapping at a glove with his hand at first base in the 2004 playoffs, a play that has the same motive but is not nearly as dangerous.
Again, everybody ripped A-Rod, and yet some are actually defending the slide by Utley as “a baseball play,” as “playing hard” and being “within the rules.” Only in the minds of some baseball purists does that make any sense.
After writing about the Kang injury, Olney received such messages from players as “taking out someone is part of the game” and “teach the infielders to get out of the way and protect themselves better – that’s a skill that should be valued.”
The only other play that comes even remotely close to the attempt to break up a double play is the collision at home plate, a play that has now been outlawed.
That was a play in which the catcher was wearing protective equipment and was often able to brace himself for the contact, two options that are not afforded the fielder at second base who often has his back to the runner and is looking elsewhere.
And yet, when Utley’s agent was asked to comment for ESPN, he simply defended the play by saying, “Chase did what all players are taught to do in this situation – break up the double play.”
Sadly, that is true, but it also doesn’t need to be so.
Unfortunately, it takes plays like the injury to Buster Posey on a collision at the plate to enact a much-needed change. It seems the Chase Utley slide could be the catalyst for another long-overdue rule change.