The media furor over Chase Utley’s hard but unexceptional slide into second base Saturday night, and Major League Baseball’s gross over-reaction to it, demonstrates once again how completely the liberal world-view has penetrated the once red-blooded realm of competitive sports. The only thing that separates this slide from most of the thousands of others over the last century in baseball is that Ruben Tejada’s right leg was broken in the collision. Because it was, the media and MLB went straight for the victim card, leaving their sense of proportion in the infield clay of Dodger Stadium.
All baseball fans regret Tejada’s injury and hope he returns, at 100 percent, with the New York Mets next year. But Utley did nothing wrong. His play under the circumstances was to try to break up a potential double play in the time-honored way this is done in the bigs (as well as in college ball and the bushes). He would have been derelict if he had not done this. And his hard slide was within the base lines and ended up an easy reach for Utley to touch second base. There was harm, but no foul. That is until Major League Baseball’s downright peculiar interpretation of events and the two-day suspension of Utley handed down Sunday. Utley immediately appealed the suspension. The appeal will be heard today.
The suspension may have been in reaction to the media fertilizer storm that followed the game. Utley has been treated in print and by sports talking heads like a serial killer, and hardly any mention has been made of Tejada’s considerable responsibility for what happened. In fact, if I had to parcel out responsibility for the collision I would give Tejada at least 85 percent of it. It’s hard to fathom how a middle-infielder can make it all the way to the Major Leagues without knowing that you never — NEVER — turn your back on a 200-pound man barreling down on you, intent on breaking up a double play. It just isn’t done. Tejada did it. And paid a heavy price.
Under the circumstances, Utley’s play was to try to break up the DP, and he did this within the rules of engagement as they exist (if you don’t think so, watch the play again after reading baseball’s Rule 5.09(a) 13). Tejada’s play was to record the out at second and get out of the way in order the live to play another day. An off-line feed from Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy made the prospects of a DP on this play remote. Tejada’s eccentric acrobatics in a hopeless effort ended his season and landed him in the hospital. Yogi Berra said baseball is 90 percent mental. This is the other 10 percent. No reason Chase Utley, a 13-year veteran with a fine career, should pay the price for Tejada’s brain infarct. The hard slide from Utley was to be expected, and was no different from countless slides that have knocked second-baseman Utley on his bum over the years.
After the game, the expected things were said. Mets manager Terry Collins said his players were “angry,” but stopped short of condemning Utley. Utley said he was sorry Tejada was hurt but that he had no intention of injuring him. He was just trying to make it difficult for Tejada to complete his throw to first. It would take a pathological partisan or a tin-foil-hat conspiracy theorist not to believe him. Dodger first baseman Adrian Gonzalez said every player on both teams would have done the same thing under the circumstances. Just so. Dodger manager Don Mattingly said if Mets Captain David Wright had barreled into Dodgers shortstop Corey Seager in the same way and Seager wasn’t injured he would have been praised as a gamer by New York sports media types.
While Gonzalez and Mattingly may be suspect as partisans, no less of an authority on shortstop play than Cal Ripken Jr. said after the collision that Utley’s slide was a solid baseball play.
What may have passed with some grumbling and some boos last night from the fuggedaboutits in Citi-Field was aggravated by shrill and one-sided media coverage of the event, and then the grossly unfair decision by MLB to discipline Utley for what he and countless other major leaguers have been doing for their entire careers.
Joe Torre, MLB’s chief baseball officer, when issuing the two-day suspension Sunday, conceded that the interference call is one for the umpires on the field, but then second-guessed his men in blue. “After thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley’s action warrants discipline,” Torre said in a written 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 Baseball Rule 5.09 (a) (13), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.”
Rolling block? That’s a pretty imaginative description of what happened. And the film that I and countless other fans saw hundreds of time shows Utley’s slide was less than half an arm’s-length away from second base. Joe Torre has a long and storied career in baseball, and a well-deserved reputation for intelligence and fairness. But I have to give him an E on this one.
Torre and the other folks in baseball’s Manhattan HQ may wish there were a kinder, gentler rule to protect infielders from base runners, but there isn’t. “We have been in discussions with the Players Association throughout the year regarding potential changes to better protect middle infielders, and we intend to continue those discussions this offseason,” Torre said. Swell. But you can’t suspend a guy on the basis of a rule you think you’re going to adopt.
In the sorry-coverage department, as is often the case, the New York Times led the league in hyperbole. In a story under the headline “Unsafe at Second,” Times writer Tyler Kepner opined Monday that “The legitimacy of the Mets’ loss in game two of their National League Division Series will forever be in doubt.” Perhaps in the five boroughs, or among NYT subscribers. But not in those parts of America where folks understand the Grand Old Game.
If this sorry business is ever made into a movie, Rachel Maddow can be the screenwriter. Nancy Pelosi can direct. In the meantime, let’s hope players on both teams can keep their minds on baseball. As they did in the Mets’ 13 to 7 laugher Monday night, which had hints of a slow-pitch softball game between the cops and the fire fighters with open beer during the game.
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