On Sunday, it was reported that Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley won’t be suspended two games for his takeout slide that injured Mets infielder Ruben Tejada during Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS. The suspension was levied shortly thereafter, but Utley appealed, which allowed him to remain eligibility to play for the Dodgers in the playoffs. Had the suspension been upheld, Utley would have missed the first two games of the 2016 regular season.
Utley’s agent, Joel Wolfe, said, “It’s unfortunate that Chase got demonized by all of this. He has never intended to hurt another player. He’s taken great pride in always playing the game the right way and giving maximum effort every time he steps on the field. MLB determined this was a clean play within the rules, an acceptable play, and a hearing wasn’t necessary.” That quote comes from Bill Shaikin and Mike DiGiovanna of the Los Angeles Times.
Obviously, it’s no surprise that Utley’s agent has come out in defense of his client. It’s still worth parsing the language, though. It’s probably true that Utley never intended to hurt another player. But he has long played in a way that has garnered him heaps of praise from old-school baseball players and media members, which is a max-effort, very physical style of play. As a Phillie, Utley was known for running out every batted ball, no matter how insignificant. He plowed through many a catcher on a play at home. Utley might not have wanted any of those catchers to be injured, but his style of play put them a very high risk for suffering a serious injury, as we saw with Buster Posey when he was injured by Scott Cousins.
Two weeks ago, Major League Baseball announced a slide rule in reaction to the Utley-Tejada incident. This is long overdue and will certainly help protect infielders from unecessary injuries. Perhaps just as importantly, though, the attitudes in baseball and baseball coverage needs to change. Players shouldn’t be praised for playing like Utley or Pete Rose. Once the positive reinforcement stops, we won’t need to make reactionary rule changes to protect players.