By The Section925 Staff
In Game 3 of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets, Chase Utley broke up a double play attempt that led to a run for the Dodgers. The collision at second base ended up breaking the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.
That evening, the Section925 text-line was abuzz with discussion regarding whether Utley's slide was dirty or just good playoff baseball. Here at Section925, we like to settle disputes by engaging in a friendly game of "Give Me Five Good Reasons" (#GM5GR). The rules are simple, give five concise arguments to weigh in on a controversial issue. Connor will kick things off and Josh will respond. Let us know where you stand in the comments section...
Connor - The Slide was a Dirty Cheap Shot:
Reason #1: Just ask the players
Was it fair that Chase Utley was handed a two game suspension (pending appeal) for his hit on Ruben Tejada? Well let's ask some respected ball players from around the game. How about Pedro Martinez. As cutthroat of a competitor you would ever meet. A guy that was known for his penchant for buzzing the tower. A guy who was never afraid to do anything to win said this: "If you tell Utley to teach kids to slide, would you teach them to slide like this? It bothered me to see Utley's slide and the way he went after Tejada."
Or how about Mark Mulder: "Utley plays hard and I would want him on my team, but I never said it wasn't a late/dirty slide."
Or how about former second baseman and current Baseball Tonight analyst Joey Cora. A guy who understands exactly what is dirty and what is not dirty when it comes to breaking up a double play: "When your back leg lands past the bag, it's dirty."
Or how about Jose Molina. A grider if there ever was one. The trusted backstop for the St. Louis Cardinals. As tough and experienced as they come in modern baseball had this to say: "Dirty play by Utley."
Reason #2: Benches Clear For Much Less
Check out this slide by Brett Lawrie against the Royals earlier this year. Granted, this was a much cleaner slide than Chase Utley's, one in which Lawrie actually slid. Even so, benches still cleared. As a general rule, benches only clear when a player crosses the line and does something dirty. Not when a player makes a "good-solid-hard-nosed-aggressive-play."
Reason # 3: Utley Could Have Broken Up the Play Without Breaking Tejada's Leg
For all intents and purposes, Ruben Tejada was defenseless. He was spun around and wasn't ready to be hit by Utley. Sure, that is Tejada's fault in part, but Utley could have just as effectively wiped out Tejada with a more traditional slide. Take this slide by Will Clark as a perfect example. Yes, it induced a brawl because of whatever he said after the play, but I have respect for Clark going in low on this play. Could he have barreled in 3 feet higher and potentially broken the second baseman's leg? Sure. But that was unnecessary. A strong and low slide straight over the bag was more than enough to break up the double play.
Reason # 4: Utley's Reaction Says it All
Notice in this video clip how Chase Utley reacts to breaking Ruben Tejada's leg. Does he step on the bag because he believed he was safe? No. Does he lend a hand to Tejada after the play was over? No. Instead, he simply flees the scene of the crime as fast as possible. Textbook form for an L.A. hit-and-run.
Reason # 5: Chase Utley Never Touched The Base
Chase Utley never touched second base. After getting up from breaking Ruben Tejada's fibula, he didn't even bother stepping on second base, because he knew he was out. If the MLB rule book states that you can take out a runner at second, fine, I get it. But you should also be required to touch the base you are running to to be called safe. Did Tejada touch second? No. But the "neighborhood rule" excuses this as Tony La Russa so eloquently points out.
In sum, Chase Utley's actions were inexcusable. The phrase "Bush League" comes to mind. Beat L.A.
Josh - The Slide was a Hard-nosed Legal Play:
Reason #1: The slide was legal and is a part of the game
Joe Torre pointed to MLB Rule 5.09 for the reason Tejada was suspended. It states, “A better 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.” This rule is meant to prevent plays like Albert Belle killing Fernando Vina, not a runner breaking up a double play, which is a routine part of the game.
Just look at how the rule is meant to be enforced, the comment to the rule provides, “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.”
Players are taught from an early age to deliberately break up double plays by sliding hard into the pivot man turning a double play. Breaking up a double play by taking out the player turning the double play is a warranted and sportsmanlike play and has been enforced as such for years. Utley’s was no different. He stayed in the base path and in the umpires judgment it was not illegal.
Reason #2: If you don’t want players making that type of slide, legislate those types of plays out of the game
If Tejada isn't hurt, we don't have this conversation. In fact, even when players get hurt we don't have this conversation. Just in this season, Brett Lawrie and Chris Coghlan have slide into second in an attempt to break up a double play and have injured players (for play off teams) and it was a blip on the radar. Don’t hate the player, hate the game.
I get that health and safety of players is an important issue. When Buster Posey got nailed at home plate it wasn’t a dirty play, it was a legal hard-nosed play that is not safe. Just as David Halberstram and Bill Walton said, those are the breaks of the game. Just like the Buster Posey rule or targeting in the NFL, if the league wants to make the game safer they can change the rules or they way they are enforced.
Reason #3: Why Did Tejada Reverse Pivot?
Everyone knows that Chase Utley plays the game hard and is no stranger to breaking up a double play. Just ask Ryan Theriot. Nearly every aspect of baseball is situational. You can’t tell me that Ruben Tejada, sitting at double play depth, didn’t know that Chase Utley, with a 90-foot head of steam, wasn’t going to come in to second hard if there was a double play scenario. Even with the poor toss from Dan Murphy, Tejada should have side stepped to avoid contact. When he decided to reverse pivot he planted his leg in a spot that there would inevitably be contact.
Reason #4: You can’t tell players not to slide hard
There is no way Utley can slide to intentionally injure or avoid injuring a player when breaking up a double play. If he plays hard the chances are greater that a player could be injured but that is the risk of playing the game. He is not a ninja or a trained assassin. Could the slide have been more eloquent? Yes. Would this slide happen in the regular season? Probably not. But this is the playoffs and these guys are paid to win. You don’t stay in professional sports until you are 37 unless you add value to your team. Utley’s value as a veteran is that he is a hard-nosed player with veteran leadership. You tell him he can’t play like that and you are telling him to give up his job.
Reason #5: Just ask the players
This argument has to be a wash, right? There was a smattering of views across the league. Even Cal Ripken on the broadcast thought the play was clean. The Flyin’ Hawaiian Shane Victorino, a longtime Utley teammate said, “Always called him one of my toughest teammates...Utley showing why I always called him a winner!!!” Let’s not rely on the players/former player’s opinion decide whether the play was clean or dirty.
Look, I don’t like the Dodgers just as much as any season ticket holder in The Section but you can’t tell me that a hard slide into second base to break up a double play in a playoff series where a player happens to get hurt is a dirty play. Go hard or go home.