Chase Utley and the Pending Ruben Tejada Rule
As someone who covers the game of Major League Baseball intimately from a Fantasy perspective for a living, and who’s prominently coached youth baseball through to the 18-year old level, I’ve been asked by literally dozens of parents for my opinions on the Utley/Tejada play. Here’s where I stand on the issue. You don’t have to have played Major League, Minor League or even college baseball to recall that if you ever had a coach worth his salt at any competitive level, and you were in a contested game and reached first base with less than two outs, the unstated obvious goal was to reach second base, and ultimately third, and then home safely. However, the stated goal from your coach was, “if the ball is hit on the ground and fielded by an infielder, make sure you break up two.”
I have no problem with Chase Utley trying to prevent Ruben Tejada from turning the double play. The problem with the slide was that he didn’t start the slide until he arrived at the bag. Fellow St. John’s alum and former major league pitcher CJ Nitkowski, who graduated six years behind me and now does commentary for Fox Sports, authored an interesting piece in which 61 current and former major leaguers gave their opinion on Utley's slide: 79 percent said they thought it was legal, but 71 percent also thought it was dirty. So, what we have is a provision in the rules that’s flawed because it’s an oxymoron, and you don’t have to be smarter than a 5th grader to figure that out.
It’s amazing that in a civil society with baseball being around for so long, that player safety for such a frequent occurrence (this type of play is very common, although the results are often not as extreme) has not been legislated against. MLB attempted to do it recently in a half-assed way by allowing the “neighborhood” play to protect the fielder. But that says what the defender can do in an effort to protect himself, and says nothing about what the base runner can or cannot do. That’s like a situation in which you are driving on a road and another car comes barreling directly at you from oncoming traffic; you can change lanes without signaling to avoid the oncoming car to protect yourself and you won’t be ticketed, but if you drive your car into oncoming traffic and ram into someone else’s car, it’s not ok!
Unfortunately, as is with so many other things in life, there needs to be a tragedy before someone takes a stand and takes preventive measures so that similar events don’t happen again. Thankfully, this time it only resulted in a broken leg and the likely outcome of a MLB Playoff game. MLB put the Buster Posey Rule into effect only after he was hurt, they’ll now put a Ruben Tejada Rule in place.
In the end, the most upsetting thing about this is how barbaric and ignorant those who create the legislation of the game are. In youth baseball, the rule is that you need to slide or avoid contact at any base. It’s a rule that’s put in place for the safety and well-being of the players. Why such a common sense policy is implemented for youths and not adults is mind boggling. Back to the car analogy. Just think how silly it would be if the law stated that you only needed to wear a seatbelt in your car if you were under 18 years of age.
The results of this highly charged topic will be the following. A rule change will now be put in place going forward to protect all the infielders, not just the catcher. Ruben Tejada will become more famous for this than anything else he ever did on the playing field. And Chase Utley, who was one of the best players, not only at his position but in the game from 2005 through 2009, will have his hard-nosed style of play cemented in the minds of us all who will remember this event for good or bad when it comes time to debate his candidacy in the watered down version of the MLB Hall of Fame.
The appeal hearing for Chase Utley has been set for Monday, so the Dodgers’ infielder will be eligible to play the rest of the National League division series before any suspension could take effect. Sometimes logic and reason need to determine right and wrong. The Chase Utley suspension needs to be upheld as a matter of principle, but not because he attempted to prevent Ruben Tejada from turning a double play. “That was his job.” It’s what he was taught to do since youth baseball. What he wasn’t taught to do, was approach the base and defender in such a manner that injuring the defender was the most likely outcome.
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