You cannot create change without setting a precedent. Kudos to Joe Torre for taking a stand.— David Schoenfield (@dschoenfield) October 12, 2015
Some agreed with that. Others didn't. Prescott Leyba responded, "C'mon, David. This is bull. They suspended him because people are mad." Somebody named Tractor Drivingchamp called me something I won't print here. Joe Sheehan, one of my absolute favorite baseball writers, disagreed, asking, "You want to pick a playoff series for precedent-setting?"
Absolutely. As Jeff Girgenti wrote back, "Doing it now does bang home the point."
Was Utley's slide any different from others we've seen that didn't result in a suspension? No. Chris Coghlan didn't get suspended for this slide in September that wrecked Jung Ho Kang's knee, but Coghlan's slide at least started well before he was parallel to the bag. There have been several other slides similar to Utley's just this postseason. But those, fortunately, didn't result in the opponent's starting shortstop breaking his leg.
Joe Torre, MLB's chief baseball operator and the guy who rules on these things, said he understood the difficulty the umpires had in making a judgment call. "However, after thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley's action warrants discipline," he said in a statement. "While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Mr. 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."
That comment to that rule reads:
The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play.
Later, during an interview during the Blue Jays-Rangers game, Torre said he was bothered by the fact that Utley -- who can appeal the suspension -- hit the player and the ground at the same time. "We need rules that will keep these players on the field," he said. In his statement, Torre didn't specifically mention that Tejada's injury impacted his decision but he did allude to it, so it's difficult to determine how that factored into the two-game suspension. In the NHL, for example, I believe the length of a player's suspension for an illegal hit can vary depending on whether the opponent was injured.
Is it unfair to punish Utley and the Dodgers since this is rarely enforced? I would argue that all players understand that there is a line somewhere in what is a legal slide or an illegal slide, so every time they venture that far away from the base and start their slide right as they reach the infielder and jump into his legs, they are risking an illegal slide. I'm guessing most agree that this slide probably crosses the line.
Fox Sports commentator and former pitcher CJ Nitkowski wrote a story in which he asked more than 60 current and former major leaguers their opinion on Utley's slide: 79 percent said they thought it was legal, but 71 percent also thought it was dirty.
I read that as a contradiction. And that is the power of Torre invoking this suspension in the middle of the postseason: If 79 percent of players believe this was a legal slide, in which Utley clearly and deliberately left the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, then we need to change the way the play is ruled.
You know, I happened to be watching a replay of Game 6 of the 1978 World Series on Sunday morning. Hey, it was on and I was flipping through the channels. Anyway, at one point Steve Garvey slid out of the baseline in an attempt to break up a double play. However, unlike Utley, he began his slide well before reaching the fielder. It was a hard slide but it was clean; Garvey's momentum didn't take him 6 feet past the bag. The old-timers like to say that Utley's play is the way the game has always been played. Really? I'm not sure. Not every baserunner way back was as vicious as Hal McRae.
So yes, suspending Utley now, when everyone is paying attention, is absolutely the right time to say enough is enough.