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.