Was dropping Utley’s suspension the right choice?

Los Angeles Dodgers’ second baseman Chase Utley was suspended two games after he made an aggressive slide “into” second base during the National League Division Series against the New York Mets last year. The result of the slide, which was nowhere near the base, was a broken left leg to Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada.

The umpires initially said the play was legal, however Major League Baseball handed down the suspension the following day. Utley appealed the suspension and ultimately did not miss any postseason games. He was, until Sunday, supposed to be suspended the first two games of the 2016 regular season but the suspension was dropped in light of a new rule that was agreed upon between MLB and the Major League Baseball Players’ Association over the offseason.

Everyone (except perhaps Utley) seem to agree that his slide was very obviously dirty, however, there are two main reasons that MLB dropped the suspension. 

First, while the slide was not playing fair or good baseball, it did not specifically violate a rule. The rule to stop those kinds of slides was agreed upon last month. It states,

“slides on potential double plays will require runners to make a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base. Runners may still initiate contact with the fielder as a consequence of an otherwise permissible slide. A runner will be specifically prohibited from changing his pathway to the base or utilizing a ‘roll block’ for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder.”

Secondly, MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre said that the suspension pretty much lost it’s impact once it became clear that Utley, who became a free agent at the end of the 2015 postseason, wouldn’t miss any postseason playing time.

The way I see it, Utley severley injured another player purposefully. That alone should be grounds for suspension. The new rule may not have been in place, yet he made the slide with malice which is unsportsmanlike conduct. Personally, I feel that he should be punished in someway. He should have been suspended for more than two games but that argument has been decided upon. No one is going to listen to me – I just find Utley’s behavior deplorable. 

Chase Utley & Ruben Tejada. Getty Images.

What does make sense is Torre’s comment. The suspension did lose any impact it would have had when Utley did not miss any postseason playing time. Even though he re-signed with the Dodgers over the offseason, at the time it would have ended up punishing whatever other team he signed with. Not only would it not impact the offseason for the Dodgers or Utley, it potentially could have impacted whatever team Utley may have signed with. That’s not exactly fair, not to mention the fact that two games in April wouldn’t have a big impact on the season for any team or for Utley personally.

As for the rule – I like it much more than the collision rule at home plate. That rule pretty much takes all the fun out of close plays at the plate. It seems that players are much more concerned with where they are placed on the base path than actually scoring a run. That part pretty much sucks, sorry, just saying.

However, the addition of the new rule along with the inclusion of “neighborhood plays” into replay makes more sense than trying to stop collisions at home plate as well as the batter’s box rule that intends to increase the “pace of play.” This most recent rule actually does protect players and does more good than speed up the game by maybe a minute or two total. The game doesn’t need to be sped up – part of the beauty of baseball is that there are no clocks.

I mean, what difference does shaving 10 minutes off of a game do for the casual baseball fan? Nothing, likely because they probably already left during the seventh inning. Fans that stay for the whole game are fans that don’t care about 10 or 15 minutes. That is an issue for another day though. 

This rule makes more sense because it does protect players from dirty plays like the slide Utley made that broke Tejada’s leg.  In the end the non-suspension of Utley doesn’t make a difference. Even Tejada had this to say on Sunday, 

“I don’t care, really; I care about me. I’m healthy here. I’m happy here. So I don’t care about what’s going to happen there.”

So in the end there were no hard feelings. Still, I think that players who purposefully attempt to injure their opponents need to be punished in some way. Hopefully the new rule will help that happen.


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