Keep in mind that the following is being written by an avid Met fan, who vividly remembers shouting at the T.V. like a mad man when Endy Chavez made one of the greatest catches of all time in 2006, even more vividly remembers sitting in the seats of Shea on September 30th 2007 as the Mets finished their painful collapse and let the Phillies steal the division, and who more than anything just really hates Chase Utley. Some part of me must have been having acid flashbacks to 07′, because when I saw the graying, 36 year-old, washed-up, bench player step up to the plate I was terrified. I felt certain that something bad was about to happen, and something certainly did. After he laced a single into right field to move Kike Hernandez to third, Howie Kendrick came to bat. Kendrick hit a soft line drive up the middle that caught the tip of Bartolo Colon’s glove and was fielded by Daniel Murphy. Because he was ranging to his right, Murphy’s throw to second was a bit behind Ruben Tejada. Tejada spun to catch it, exposing his back. Meanwhile Chase Utley came in with a takeout slide to break up the double play and, to put it eloquently, absolutely wrecked Tejada. The tying run scorde on the play, and Chase eventually came around to score the lead run for the Dodgers. Utley was later hit with a two-game suspension.
Utley did nothing wrong. It’s a shame that Ruben was injured on the play, and it’s a shame that the Mets lost the game because of the play. But that does not make what Chase Utley did anything more than a routine takeout slide. It’s a veteran move and it was late in a playoff game trailing by one. I can’t say that every other player would’ve done it, but I absolutely can say that had he not, I would’ve been yelling joyfully at the T.V. “Why didn’t he go in with a takeout slide, he’s gonna hear it from Mattingly!” He made an attempt for the base (although neither he nor Tejada could reach it, but we’ll get to that later), and even though it may have been a bit half-hearted the ump decided not to call base-runner interference. This begs the question: what is he being suspended for? Takeout slides are legal or illegal by the umpire’s discretion, usually because he has deemed that the runner was or was not making a legitimate play for the base. Meaning, by definition of the rules, he did nothing wrong. Utley was well within his rights according to the league rules, which leads me heavily towards believing that he is being punished more for Ruben Tejada’s injury than for his own actions. More than anything, all of this just means that several rule changes are in order. If the MLB wants to protect its players, then instead of punishing a player for a play that the umpire deemed legal (and which every umpire in baseball ALWAYS deems legal) because of the backlash they received from every casual baseball fan who happens to have a couch, t.v., and twitter, they should either make such plays illegal when the fielder’s back is turned or simply become stricter on these plays. Start calling it an intentional interference, and people will probably stop doing it. This is without even getting into the ridiculous idiosyncrasies of appeal plays, which is the only instant where we decide that what happens on the field is for some reason outside of the umpire’s jurisdiction. The video review clearly showed that Utley did not touch second base and abandoned the base path, but because of the nuances of appeal plays (if your interested it is very tedious but google-able information) the umpires hands’ were tied and in a fashion very reminiscent of the Dez Bryant nonsense from last year’s NFL Playoffs. Furthermore, the rule cited when punishing Utley [Rule 5,09 (a)(13)] says that if the umpire judges his actions as illegal for intentionally interfering with a fielder then the batter is called out. This clearly did not happen. So if Chase Utley did something wrong, then the appropriate course of action should have been to punish him on the field, not off of it, and to at least make sure that it does not happen in the future (which so far the league has taken no real steps towards). I’m sure the Mets would preferred that, I’m sure Ruben Tejada would prefer that, and I’m quite certain I would.