Monday, October 12, 2015

Utley And The Slide Heard Round The World

On Saturday night, the Los Angeles Dodgers were trailing by a run to the New York Mets. On the verge of going down two games to none in the National League Division series, the Dodgers needed a rally. With Howie Kendrick at the plate, a ground ball was sent up the middle and a double play was almost certain. Until it wasn't.

While this is no doubt a Twins blog first and foremost, it's also important to reflect on the happenings around baseball as a whole. I shared my opinions on Bryce Harper, and now it's time to clear the air on the slide and it's fallout.

As Utley went into second base, his intentions were to break up a double play and get the tying run from third to count. Whether Kendrick was going to beat out the throw or not, Utley's goal was the same as many baserunners before him. The problem was, his execution landed in the grayest of areas.

Sliding into the bag extremely late (arguably even with the base), he went in legs up (and in terrible form to be honest) clipping Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada in the shins. The fallout was a broken right fibula for the Mets starter, but the issue was so much deeper than that. While a legal play by baseball's understood standards, Utley's decision teetered somewhere in between dirty and hard nosed, with interpretation being left to our own discretion.

A day after the event took place, Major League Baseball swiftly stepped in. Despite doing nothing for Pirates shortstop Jung Ho-Kang, the Commissioner's office had taken a different stance. With the elevated situation of playoff baseball, the decision should and will now come under more scrutiny.

It can be argued that Kang's injury was caused by a lack of attempting to get out of the way. However, like Utley's slide, Kang was targeted well out of the "normal" area for a slide. In both instances, a baserunner attempted (at all costs) to break up a play. With the rule as is however, the action left a defender in a position to be seriously injured.

Rather than looking into a suspension, baseball and Rob Manfred should be going down a different route. After deciding that an injury to Buster Posey needed to bring forth new ways to attack home plate, a similar situation has now presented itself. It would seem to reason that if you can't plow into a catcher who has full gear on, sliding full force into an unprotected fielder would be counterproductive as well.

Whether Utley's suspension holds or not (it shouldn't, and I would hope the right thing is done through the appeals process), this needs to be an area of concern in the offseason. Right now, baseball can't force the Dodgers without a key player in the playoffs because of a knee-jerk reaction. What they can do is make sure that slides have a purpose over the winter. Establish a true base path and area that a runner must get down, let the contact happen, but control the outcome to remain on the side of health and common sense.

Both the injuries to Kang and Tejada have been a by product of unfortunate events on the base paths, but it's something baseball can and must take a look at.

No comments:

Post a Comment