If you like old-fashioned country hardball, then Chase Utley’s takeout slide of Ruben Tejada in last year’s NLDS was right up your alley. If you hate aggressive acts by ballplayers that result in injury, you were probably appalled by it. In any case, the slide was legal according to the rulebook, and MLB was in the wrong to suspend Utley. After a long winter without action, the league finally admitted the mistake and rescinded the suspension.
New league rules make Utley’s takedown illegal in 2016, but there was no explicit ban on the rolling-block slide he deployed against the Mets’ Tejada in the 2015 division series. Anyone who saw it knew it tested the boundaries of “hard-nosed” and veered into dirty waters, yet the rule had no wording that made it an illegal play on the diamond.
Tell that to Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre, the former Yankees manager who made the call on Utley’s suspension last October. The pressure clearly got to Torre in a hotly contested playoff series, and he wilted under it. Torre admitted to Ken Rosenthal that the injury was the deciding factor, not the severity of Utley’s slide. Had Tejada escaped without a broken leg, there would have been no suspension.
Instead, the baseball world spent the offseason considering Utley’s play suspension-worthy because of the edict Torre issued. It took until early March for MLB officials to hear the appeal and lift the suspension. Now that they have, Utley is left with the chinks in his armor and not much else.
Utley, who is returning to Los Angeles for 2016, has repeatedly expressed sorrow for Tejada’s injury, and did so again following the reversal of his suspension. Yet it was the rule that enabled players to get away with famously dirty slides in the past. In Torre’s situation, the correct move was to take the heat and convene a group to debate a rule change immediately after the season.
Moments like the NLDS incident are the stuff that rule changes are made of, and MLB clearly dropped the ball on that front. Everyone understands how a media spotlight can affect the outcome of any major ruling on the game. However, there is no apparent reason for waiting the entire winter to outlaw brutal slides and, eventually, reverse the bad call the league made on the Dodgers second baseman.
We’re not sure rescinding the suspension in November would affect Utley’s standing among New York Mets fans. Partisan battles always go that way. Yet the 13-year veteran built a reputation as a tough and clean ballplayer, and many players considered his slide perfectly in line with that. Torre told Ken Rosenthal he regretted the change in perception fans may have for Utley, whose agent said he was “demonized” following the incident.
Maybe that sounds worthy of an apology from MLB. And even though Torre had several chances to do so, he didn’t offer one.
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