Craig Calcaterra

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #17: Chase Utley takes out Ruben Tejada with a questionable slide

23 Comments

We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

As I mentioned in the last entry, baseball tends toward incremental change. Sometimes, however, there’s a single incident which serves as a watershed moment for the game, after which people simply think about long-accepted practices differently and which leads to change. We saw this a few years ago after Buster Posey‘s leg was broken in a collision at home plate, leading to new rules outlawing collisions with catchers. We likely saw another such moment when Chase Utley slid into Ruben Tejada during Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS.

With Enrique Hernandez on third base and Chase Utley on first and one out, Howie Kendrick hit a ground ball up the middle. Daniel Murphy, ranging to his right, corralled the ball and flipped to Tejada, who had to whip around to fire to first. Utley slid late and hard and took out Tejada, who couldn’t make a throw. The Dodgers scored the tying run on the play. Tejada left the game with a broken leg, his season over. Utley’s slide was clearly dirty. He didn’t start his slide until he was parallel to the second base bag, and he never touched the base. His intent was clear: take out Tejada, never mind about reaching the bag.

In the wake of that play, momentum has built toward a rule change that will almost certainly be referred to as “The Chase Utley Rule” when it is eventually adopted. It will likely be  aimed at eliminating the sorts of hard slides into second base, the likes of which Chase Utley demonstrated. In reality, however, baseball already has a rule which could serve that purpose if it were ever enforced. It’s Rule 6.05(m), which already  says a baserunner is out when, in the umpire’s judgment, he 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. As the comments to the rule make clear, it is intended to outlaw “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.”

Why the league thinks it needs a new rule rather than simply enforcing an old one is unclear. Perhaps it’s because they don’t want to allow umpires to exercise any judgment and, rather, would prefer to make some objective standard for such plays, even if the judging of a runner’s intent is essential. Perhaps they just like the idea of a “Chase Utley Rule” and don’t want to use an old one for that.

Either way: the legal takeout slide is an endangered species in Major League Baseball, thanks to Mr. Utley. And may soon be extinct.

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #18: Baseball recommends extended protective netting

6 Comments

We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

Back in June, Red Sox starter Wade Miley threw a pitch to Athletics third baseman Brett Lawrie. The pitch broke Lawrie’s bat and a shard flew into the stands, striking fan Tonya Carpenter in the face as she sat in the third base boxes. The fan bled profusely and shrieked in pain as she was taken off on a stretcher. She recovered, but not before a spending a week in the hospital and a stint in a rehabilitation center. And frankly, she was lucky. She could’ve been killed.

In the wake of that incident — and in the wake of multiple fans injured by foul balls and a high-profile lawsuit being filed — Major League Baseball announced in December that it would look into the matter of fan safety. Including the possibility of extending protective netting further down the baselines than it currently goes.

In December, Major League Baseball issued some recommendations — not requirements, mere recommendations — to this end. They were limited as well, “encouraging” clubs to shield the seats between the near ends of both dugouts (i.e., the ends of the dugouts located closest to home plate) and within 70 feet of home plate with protective netting or other safety materials of their choice. It should be noted that many teams already do this. And that netting fitting that recommendation would not have helped Ms. Carpenter, who was sitting further down the line. It’s hard to see these proposals as anything other than measures aimed at shielding baseball from liability over batted ball or bat-shard injuries than at directly shielding fans from injuries.

Still, baseball’s attention has been turned to the matter, even if its actions seem like half-measures. Eventually, one must assume given baseball’s penchant for incremental, rather than wholesale changes, further steps will be taken.

The Top 25 Baseball Stories of 2015 — #19: The Cardinals hack the Astros database

7 Comments

We’re a few short days away from 2016 so it’s a good time to look back at the top 25 baseball stories of 2015. Some of them took place on the field, some of them off the field and some of them were creatures of social media, fan chatter and the like. No matter where the story broke, however, these were the stories baseball fans were talking about most this past year.

In June two of my favorite forms of entertainment — baseball and espionage thrillers — converged as it was revealed that employees of the St. Louis Cardinals hacked into the scouting and analytics database of the Houston Astros.

The fact that someone hacked into the Astros’ “Ground Control” database, which is the club’s internal communication and evaluation system, had been known since 2014. No one suspected that the hackers were employed by another major league team until it was reported that the FBI was investigating, however. That’s when it was revealed that the focus of the investigation was the Cardinals organization.

The alleged impetus for the hack was both (a) concern that former Cards executive Jeff Luhnow took proprietary information with him when he left for Houston to become the Astros’ GM; and (b) lingering resentment over Lunhow’s tenure with the Cardinals, where he was reported to have been a polarizing figure. It was not a sophisticated hack, apparently, and there has been no indication that the Cards’ top brass directed it or were aware of it. So far the top head to roll has been Cardinals scouting director Chris Correa who was fired after an “imposed leave of absence” and who was reported to have admitted to breaking into the system.

It’s been over six months since the news broke, but the investigation is still ongoing. Law enforcement has not said anything, as they are likely considering whether to charge anyone with a crime (and make no mistake: it is a crime to hack into a baseball team’s database). Major League Baseball has kept mum about it as well. For now, we wait.

And when the waiting is over, what then? Perhaps an arrest or an indictment from the feds. Perhaps some penalties leveled upon the Cardinals by major league baseball, possibly in the form of financial or draft pick compensation. Perhaps more firings.

In the meantime: a lot of seminars about password and network security in major league front offices.