Major League Baseball simply got it wrong.
On Sunday night, MLB suspended the Los Angeles Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley for Games 3 and 4 of the National League Division Series for his takeout side against New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada.
Tejada was lost for the postseason with a broken leg.
Utley was scheduled to have an appeal today in New York, trying to at least get his suspension reduced so he can help his team advance in this best-of-five series. Sadly, MLB is reacting to the play after the fact. A play, no doubt hard-nosed baseball, but not as dirty as many have painted it.
Utley did what most would want their base-runner to do late in a one-run game with the tying run on third base: break up the double play to get the run in.
Did Utley go in hard? Did he slide late? Yes and yes.
But did Utley intentionally try to hurt Tejada? Of course not.
This was a baseball play that went awry. Even after reviewing the play, umpires at Dodger Stadium awarded Utley second base because Tejada never touched the base after getting the toss from second baseman Daniel Murphy.
In handing down the punishment, MLB cited Rule 5.09(a)(13), which declares a runner out if he “intentionally interfere(s) with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball.”
But it’s a judgment call for the umpire at second base, and at no time did the umpire or umpires look at the play and think Utley should have been called out for a takeout slide. They could have ruled that immediately but they didn’t.
The Mets lost the game and they made a big stink after the game, planting the seed publicly that they would pay Utley back for hurting their starting shortstop.
As a result, you had the feeling that the only reason MLB was doing this – giving Utley, a reserve player, such a harsh suspension for playing hard-nosed baseball in a tight game – was to defuse the Mets’ anger and make NYC visitor-friendly for the next two games. But despite MLB’s supposed desire not to have the series get ugly tonight at Citi Field, Karl Ravech tweeted today that the League decided not to hear Utley’s appeal, meaning that he will be available for tonight’s game.
Utley appeal will not be heard today. He is eligible to play tonight
karl ravech (@karlravechespn) October 12, 2015
This will no doubt come as a shock to the Mets and their fans who had expected the suspension to be upheld. According to reports, Utley was planning to show MLB others examples on video of hard slides by other players that went unpunished, but now that action seems likely to be postponed.
If takeout slides were wrong or illegal, many would have been suspended along the way and Utley would have no leg to stand on.
But it’s not the case.
In fact, you would been hard-pressed to remember the last time a player was suspended for such an action.
“A two-game suspension for a legal baseball play is outrageous and completely unacceptable,” Utley’s agent, Joel Wolfe, said in a statement. “Chase did what all players are taught to do in this situation – break up a double play. We routinely see plays at second base similar to this one that have not resulted in suspension.”
Utley’s agent is right on the money.
If Tejada had gotten up after the slide and was OK, there wouldn’t have been a suspension.
MLB let the video and reaction by many, including frustrated Mets fans, alter what it normally does in these situations, and it’s wrong.
It can’t be a “no harm, no foul” policy. You can’t put the hammer down just because there was an injury as a result.
Joe Torre, MBL’s discipline chief, disagreed.
“After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley’s actions warrants discipline,” said Torre, the former Mets’ manager, in a statement. “While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Ruben Tejada and was attempting to help his club in a critical situation, I believe his slide was in violation of Official Rule 5.09(a)(13).”
Before the suspension was announced, Dodgers manager Don Mattingly said there was a good chance he would have started Utley, who is 6-for-18 with a homer against Mets’ starter Matt Harvey. Now it appears that Utley is available for tonight’s game.
Rightly, the Dodgers stand behind Utley.
“If it would have been their guy, they would be saying , ‘David Wright, hey, he’s a gamer. He went after him. That’s the way you gotta play,” Mattingly said to the Los Angeles Times. “But it’s our guy. It’s different.”
MLB was wrong, dead wrong.