THE SLIDE THAT CHANGED BASEBALL

The case of Tejada v. Utley

Last October, during Game 2 of the National League Division Series, Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley slid into second base, hoping to break up a double play. He did more than that, he changed the game of baseball.

The slide, which umpires said was legal, is not — anymore. Last month, MLB instituted Rule 6.01(j).

It reads:

“… slides on potential double plays will require runners to make a bonafide 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.”

If, in fact, the new rule was inspired by Utley, as many believe it is, he should have received a hefty fine or extended suspension for breaking Mets shortstop Ruben Tejeda’s left leg. Right? The facts are this:

  • MLB believed Utley’s slide were egregious enough to issue a suspension
  • The slide, considered a legal play by umpires, resulted in one player breaking his leg
  • The league later determined the slide dangerous enough to change the rules of the game

Instead, Utley received a two-game suspension (which he appealed) and was subsequently allowed to play until the league heard the case.

The NLDS came and went without a decision. So did the National League Championship Series, World Series, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year and Winter. Finally, four months later, after considerable deliberation between Major League Baseball and the MLB Players Association, MLB announced it would expunge Utley’s record.

Who cares, really?

Tejada doesn’t, and he suffered the most. What value does a two-game suspension to 37-year old part-time infielder have now? Zero. The modest suspension would have no impact on Utley or the Dodgers.

The outcome is fair and just, but not quite over — yet. There is unfinished business between Utley and the Mets, and I have a sneaky suspicion, the case of Tejada v. Utley will be resume on the field when the Dodgers are scheduled to visit Citi Field May 27-29.

Expect payback in the form of a 95+ fastball to the small of Utley’s back.

Case dismissed.

Full disclosure: I am a New York Mets fan. Personally, I don’t like what Utley did. Despite the umpires ruling that the play was legal, I disagree. Utley slid late and he was out of the baseline.

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