Chase Utley And The Illegal Slide

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In Game 2 of the NLDS between the New York Mets and the Los Angeles Dodgers, a double play was broken up that resulted in a broken leg for Ruben Tejada. The base runner in question was called safe after an appeal, but should the umpire have called both runners out? Damian Dydyn looks at Chase Utley and the illegal slide.

Sliding in spikes up is clearly a dirty play and against the rules. No one will argue otherwise. Unfortunately, once we get past that rather egregious and obvious example, things get a little murky with fans, the media and especially the umpires. Where is the line that separates a good, hard, clean slide and a dirty one? Where should it be? The rule, as written is actually pretty clear.

2.00 (a) Offensive interference is an act by the team at bat which interferes with, obstructs, impedes, hinders or confuses any fielder attempting to make a play.

5.09 Making an out –

(a)(13) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play;

6.05 A batter is out when—

(m) A preceding runner shall, in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play;

Rule 5.09 (a)(13) 6.05(m) Comment: 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.

If a runner intends to interfere with the fielder in any way while they are attempting to turn a double play, the runner is in violation of the rules. Period. Full stop. End of line. That should be the end of the discussion. Of course, it isn’t. Umpires almost never make this call no matter how obvious it is that a runner had no intention of reaching second base as quickly as possible and was fully invested in disrupting the fielder. Our own Brandon Magee has even written about it before. Here is a slide by Edwin Encarnacion where he alters his running path to adjust for the fact that Xander Bogaerts was drifting out toward center field, which should have prevented him from making contact:

There is absolutely no effort made by Encarnacion to touch or even stay within reach of the bag. Encarnacion was called out, but the runner at first was not. John Farrell argued briefly, though he didn’t press the issue.

Last night, Chase Utley did something more objectionable, even though he was not as far away from second base. Some would argue that because he could reach the bag, what he did was a clean, hard play. Those people would be wrong.

While Utley did make an effort to find and touch the bag, he did so as an afterthought after accomplishing his real goal; colliding with Ruben Tejada and breaking up the double play.

Utley’s “slide” doesn’t start until he’s already at the point where he would be reaching the bag, if he was even aiming for it in the first place. You can clearly see him step to his right at the last second to realign his path and bring him back on course for the collision. He willfully and purposefully initiated contact. Here’s a look at the moment his knees finally touched the ground:

He is fully upright, maximizing the amount of surface area between the two that would come into contact. He has no intention of beating Tejada to the bag and is focused solely on disrupting the play; a clear violation of rules 5.09 (a)(13) and 6.05 (m).

This happens quite frequently and it’s rarely called. In fact, I cannot recall the last time an umpire enforced this rule. Sometimes it is sliding late:

Sometimes it is moving away from the base:

And sometimes it is just a flat out tackle:

These slides are rarely done with the intention of causing an injury, but they are always illegal. The rule states that the runner’s intention is the determining factor so any time they deviate from the most direct path to the bag with the goal of disrupting the play they are in violation, and umpires should be reacting accordingly.

After steps were taken to ensure pace of play rules were ignored less often, this might be the least enforced rule in the game and that needs to change. Major League Baseball took steps to avoid injuries to catchers at home plate and now it’s time to protect players in the infield.

There is absolutely no reason that Ruben Tejada should be sitting in a cast for game three instead of lacing up his cleats and taking the field. Chase Utley may be sincere in expressing remorse over the injury but he is still wrong and he was still in violation of the rules.

It is time for a change and perhaps the commissioner’s office agrees. They have levied a two game suspension and deemed the slide to be illegal, citing 5.09 (a)(13). We can only hope that this will lead to less situations where a fielder and a runner collide, risking injury to one or both players.


Follow Damian on Twitter @ddydyn.

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Damian grew up smack dab in the middle of Connecticut and was indoctrinated into the culture of Red Sox fandom from the moment he was old enough to start swinging a bat. A number of trips to Fenway park and meeting Ellis Burks at his dad's bar cemented what would become a life long obsession that would pay off in spades in both the recent run of post season success and the extra bit of connection he would have with his father throughout the years. After a brief three year stint living in the Bronx with his wife where he enjoyed leisurely strolls through the neighborhood with a Red Sox t-shirt on to provoke the natives, he settled in Roanoke, Virginia where he can fall out of bed and land at a Salem Red Sox game. Damian is a co-host for SoSHCast (the Sons of Sam Horn podcast) along with Justin Gorman.

3 COMMENTS

  1. You make an excellent case that the play was business as usual for players who play hard. Then you draw the strange conclusion that in this case there should be a suspension. The suspension should not be based on the injury, no matter how unfortunate but on the player’s play who caused the injury. In this case it was, based on history, a good clean play. You don’t get to the playoffs then suddenly change accepted policy, that smells of favoritism to me.

  2. The case I’m making is two-fold. And the conclusion I drew can’t be that strange as the league came down on the same side as me. There are two different questions at play here. The first is the slide legal? Based on the rules quoted in the article, objectively, no, the slide was not legal. There’s really not much wiggle room for disagreeing there. If Utley initiated contact intentionally to disrupt the play, regardless of how hard or in what manner that contact occurred, the slide was not legal.

    The second question is was the slide dirty? And, well, I clearly disagree with you there which is the reason I was calling for a suspension. The penalty for performing an illegal slide in that situation is usually to be called out and for the runner going to first to be called out. Had he just gone a little wide or come a little through the bag but been low enough that he didn’t hurt Tejada, that would have been sufficient… had the umpires called it that way. They obviously didn’t, and that’s the main thrust of this piece. MLB needs to take steps to get the umpires to start calling that play as the rule book is written. That they are going to experiment with making runners slide directly into the bag in the Arizona Fall League suggests that this change is not far off. There were even comments about revisiting the rules in the off season to try and prevent more situations like this from occurring.

    So, why do I think the slide was not a good, clean, hard play? Well, take another look at that still image of when Utley’s knee first hit the ground to begin his “slide.” He was already at the point where he would be touching the bag, had he been aiming for it in the first place. Which he wasn’t. He was aiming for Tejada. Regardless of what he was aiming for, that is insanely late to begin getting down for a slide, which resulted in him never actually doing anything you could reasonably define as a sliding. Instead, he ended up kneeling upright at the moment of impact. His head was so high that even with Tejada trying to jump over him, Utley took some knee and some thigh to the face.

    He aimed for Tejada, stayed as high as he could and waited as long as he could to begin what could only generously be called a slide and essentially tackled Tejada. It’s one of the most egregious dirty slides I’ve ever seen. The injury is a result of that, but it’s not a driving force in my desire to see a suspension. I wanted to see a suspension because I thought it was a dirty slide. The only way I can see someone making the argument that it was clean is if that person was of the mind that the only way to be dirty is to go spikes up, and if that’s your position, I doubt we’re going to find much common ground on this.

    The last thing I’ll mention is that I’m a Red Sox fan. Not only that, but I’m a Red Sox fan whose first sports memory is game 6 of the 1986 World Series, so I hold no love for the Mets. I can assure you there is no favoritism at play here.

    I do thank you for taking the time to read the article and comment on it, Steve. We appreciate that you chose to spend some of your time on our site. Be well.

  3. There’s another consideration here which I don’t see people mentioning. In all of these cases, the player who is sliding into the fielder is already out. In most cases a player knows when the throw is going to beat him, so he is deliberately planning a collision for when he is no longer a legal player on the field. At that point he should have no more right to disrupt a play than someone in the dugout running out and tackling a fielder trying to catch a pop foul. So that’s another reason why any slide on a force play which is aimed at the fielder or clearly overslides the base toward the fielder should be considered illegal.

    This reminds me of a play where Reggie Jackson did something which I considered brilliant, but which I also recognized should be illegal. Jackson was on first with a runner on third and one out. The next batter hit a low line drive between the shortstop and second base. The shortstop dropped it, picked it up, and continued only about three more steps to the base. Easy double play, preventing the run. Jackson had to wait to see if the ball was caught. So he just froze in the baseline. Then he actually moved a couple of steps back toward first. As the throw came to first, he was right in the way. The throw was going behind him and he _ever-so-slightly_ leaned about an inch and the throw hit him in the thigh.

    As I mentioned before, since he was already out, he was not a legal baserunner, so he had NO right to interfere with a play at all, accidentally or otherwise.

    Hey, I just found a video of it!
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tvWKWvrVfrI

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