Watching game 2 of the NLDS between the Mets and the Dodgers was fun. Entertaining baseball with excellent voices on the call in a competitive series will never go out of style. The only sad part of the game was in the bottom of the 7th inning. In part of a rally that would win the game, Chase Utley slid hard into second base, taking out Mets second baseman Ruben Tejada. When Tejada fell, he broke his fibula, ending his season and putting the Mets in an unfortunate position. The Dodgers would score 4 runs in the inning, take a lead, and the bullpen would preserve a 5-2 victory. Game 3 will be in New York on Monday, but that’s not the post game chatter right now. Currently, the sports media and commentator sphere is centered on whether or not Chase Utley’s slide was a dirty play. The overwhelmingly vocal majority of pieces and opinions I’ve seen have called for Utley to be suspended for a dirty play that amounted to trying to take Tejada out of the game entirely, as if this slide amounted to an NFL style tackle. Now that he has been suspended for games 3 and 4, and will appeal. The critical media have gotten their wish.
And I just sit here face palming at how vitriolic and unnecessary the reaction has been. What Chase Utley did has been normal practice for as long as I can remember being a baseball fan. Take out slides to mess up double plays are a normal part of baseball. Just ask Dustin Pedroia, Derek Jeter, or anyone who plays a middle infield position. It happens, and you just have to deal with it. Also, ask Jacoby Ellsbury about making that slide. The runner can get hurt making that play too. In 2012, Ellsbury slid in hard to 2nd to break up a double play. Tampa Bay shortstop Reid Brignac fell on top of Ellsbury, and the fall caused a shoulder injury that would keep Ellsbury out of the lineup until July. Or better yet, ask Chris Coughlan of the Cubs and Jung Ho Kang of the Pirates. In a late September game in Pittsburgh, Coughlan slid hard into second base to break up a double play. Kang came down hard and got hurt, a knee injury ended his season. Since Coughlan could touch the base with his hand, the slide was legal, just unfortunate that an injury resulted from it. What was the reaction? Pirates manager Clint Hurdle spoke publically about it, saying it wasn’t a dirty play and just a part of the game. Even Kang himself refused to call Coughlan’s slide dirty. Refreshing, because Kang had done a blatantly illegal slide on Danny Santana of the Teins earlier this season. Many other teams do this too. Injuries happen in this sport with unfortunate frequency. They happen on these sorts of slides with sad reccurance and the players know that. Let them play baseball.
Now to the play in question. First, Ruben Tejada was a fool for trying to throw to first to get the double play. It was not going to happen then! It was a poor throw from the bag at second with a speedy runner headed to first. The right thing to do would be to just hold the baseball, take the out at 2nd, and just face the next batter without trying to be a hero in an impossible play. He didn’t do that. He opened himself to being taken out by Utley. Not to say he deserved to get injured, I don’t wish that on anybody. But if you’re not aware of your situation and what’s the smart thing to do, you will put yourself in a bad situation, and open yourself up to potential injuries. That’s the rule of thumb with all sports, not just baseball. The athletes all know it, and all reasonable fans should know that.
Well was Utley’s slide necessary? If there was no chance for Tejada to turn the double play, shouldn’t Utley just flare out of the way of the throw to not get hit by the ball and not slide? Well, only if there is a reasonable way for him to know what’s happening on 1st base, which there is not. The runner going to second has to keep his head on the base and has to just run to beat the throw to the bag. If he can’t beat it to the bag, then he has to make it as hard as possible on the guy on 2nd base to complete the double play and keep the inning going a little bit longer. That’s fundamental base running that I heard when I played in little league. I never had any issue with it, nor did any other kid in little league when I played. If a group of little league kids get that, I think season major league ball players are smart enough to understand that detail.
Then there is the matter of the player in question. Chase Utley is a decorated baseball veteran, who was a key in the Philadelphia Phillies run of success from 2007-2011. They won 5 straight division titles, 2 consecutive NL Penants, and the World Series in 2008. In his time there, he was a respected player who worked hard, played hard, and earned every ounce of respect he’s earned to this day. I never heard anyone accuse him of being a dirty player, and I would never accuse him of such a distinction. He continued his level of effort and passion in LA this year when playing for the Dodgers. He wasn’t as successful, hitting only .202 in his time with the Dodgers, and playing out the string as an old veteran, but still made good hustle plays, and was a part of the Dodgers’s effort to edge out the defending champion Giants in the NL West.
Knowing all this, I ask people who wanted Utlet suspended: You want to suspend a successful major league player several games for doing something that is a regular occurrence just because the worst possible outcome happened? Not to say it’s a good thing Tejada got injured, again it’s never fun to watch someone be carted off the field with a broken fibula. But to act as though Utley is so clearly at fault for intentionally injuring someone is absurd. The color commentators of the game, Ron Darling and Cal Ripken, got it correct. “These plays are a part of the game.” Let them be grown men and play like such. The simple fact that people are trying to brand Utley’s play as dirty is, from my perspective, unreasonable. Late? Probably a bit late, yes. Illegal? Not at all.
I don’t know when we started complaining about plays like this, but I wish we hadn’t started. Again, it’s sad that Tejada is hurt, but injuries happen and the play in question is a relatively frequent occurrence. Quit the complaining and let’s get back to baseball! When did we start complaining about these plays, or whining as though the players are papers to be protected at all cost? I don’t get it. They’re grown men. Let them play like men.