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 umpires 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.