By Mike Ferris
Baseball is on the verge of becoming an endangered sport because it lacks the excitement and contact that a lot of other sports have.
In recent years, baseball has taken collisions at home plate out of the game, while also limiting pitchers from brushing players back or throwing high and tight.
The reason cited for these changes: safety.
On Saturday, Chase Utley became the latest victim of the MLB’s attempt at becoming a safer game – yes, I called Utley the victim here.
In the bottom of the seventh inning Saturday, Utley hit a single to centerfield, which moved Enrique Hernandez to third. With one out and runners on the corners, the Dodgers were destined to score as long as Howie Kendrick didn’t hit into an inning-ending double play.
Kendrick hit a groundball up the middle that could have been two and Utley did what any player in that situation would’ve done. He slid into shortstop Ruben Tejada, taking him out and preventing the double play. This allowed the Dodgers to tie the game at two and ultimately sparking a four-run inning.
Unfortunately for Tejada, the slide broke his leg, ending his season.
MLB Chief Baseball Operator Joe Torre suspended Utley two games for his “illegal” slide.
Not only was Utley’s slide legal, but it was the play of the game.
Utley did nothing out of the ordinary. He slid in a manner that allowed him to still be within reach of the bag. His slide was a little late, but not so late that he would’ve completely missed the bag had he been sliding into it and not to the right of it.
In fact, if Mets fans want someone to blame for the injury, Daniel Murphy is your man. The Mets’ second baseman and Tejada are just as responsible as Utley.
In football, there is a term called a “buddy pass.” This is when the quarterback throws a pass that leaves a receiver defenseless and vulnerable to a big hit. Murphy’s feed on the double play was the equivalent of a buddy pass. His flip turned Tejada around forcing his back toward the runner.
While the feed was poor, Tejada made it worse by still attempting to turn and throw. A shortstop in this situation had to have known that the runner was going to try and take him out; it’s what ball players are taught to do from the time they’re kids.
The smarter play would’ve been to get out of the way and accept that, with the poor feed and Utley coming, a double play was out of the question and for that reason the Mets’ middle infield is just as much to blame as Utley.
As for this being the play of the game, the Dodgers went on to score four runs in that inning, and had that double play been turned, they score zero, probably lose Game 2, and fall two games down in the series, a comeback that is almost insurmountable.
ESPN analyst Tim Kurkjian said on a Baseball Tonight segment that Utley didn’t just have the “goal” of breaking up the double play, but a “responsibility” to do so.
Utley did everything he should have in that spot, and while the rule will probably be changed next year, it hasn’t changed yet, and the veteran was within the rules of breaking up double plays.
It wasn’t a dirty play; it was a hard-nosed play and the NBA equivalent of a hard foul. In the regular season a hard foul is frowned upon, just as this slide would be, but in the playoffs, intensity and emotion rise and hard-nosed plays become part of the game. Maybe the Mets would know that if they made the playoffs more than once every nine years.
It’s too bad that the play resulted in an injury, but the bad feed from Murphy, the broken leg and unrealistic optimism of Tejada, mixed with Utley’s responsibility, made the perfect storm and made Utley look like the bad guy for making the right play.
Utley was right in appealing his suspension and the MLB ought to overturn it.