Chase Utley‘s two-game suspension for sliding into and breaking Ruben Tejada‘s leg — which, the other day, became Chase Utley’s rescinded suspension — is one of those argue-around-in-circles kind of things.
Pro-Tejada people can show in the video of the slide about how it was late and how Utley seemed hellbent on bowling Tejada over. They can then point to the rule that was in place at the time of the slide, 6.05(m), which says that a runner is out when he “in the umpire’s judgment, intentionally interferes with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.” Utley was clearly doing that.
On the other hand precedent matters in the application of rules and the pro-Utley people can point to baseball tradition and tons of other slides which were as bad or worse which never raised eyebrows. How on Earth do you pick that play, of the scores of similar plays all season, to suspend someone? It was arbitrary, and done only because a guy got hurt and because it made national news due to it occurring in a playoff game.
There are legitimate arguments on both sides. If you’re being intellectually honest you have to admit that these arguments are not mutually-exclusive. The slide did violate Rule 6.05(m) but Rule 6.05(m) was enforced as frequently as laws still on the books about where you can and can’t tie up your horses in town, rendering punishment of Utley arbitrary and capricious.
Yesterday Major League Baseball essentially admitted that overturning Utley’s suspension wasn’t because anyone’s mind changed about whether Utley was intentionally interfering with Tejada but, rather, because it never bothered to enforce that rule in the first place. From the OC Register, which interviewed Utley about the suspension being overturned:
“I talked to Joe Torre at length on the phone and he expressed to me that what happened in the playoffs, after looking at other slides over the course of the years, it was not much different from those and there were no penalties there,” Utley said. “So with that said, they rescinded the suspension.
“I’ve been playing this game for awhile now. And being a middle infielder, I’ve come across a ton of slides that were similar and I understand that it’s part of the game.”
MLB has not issued an official statement on Torre’s decision but the Chief Baseball Officer acknowledged in interviews that he felt it would have been difficult to uphold the suspension in an appeal hearing where Utley’s representatives could have produced video of a vast number of similar incidents in which no discipline was assigned.
Clean or dirty didn’t matter. It was all about what MLB could make stick due to precedent or the lack thereof. MLB had not disciplined anyone for slides not because no one, Utley included, violated the pre-existing rule, but because they simply didn’t give a crap. Safety of infielders was not a priority for them. Now that one got his leg broken in a nationally televised playoff game, however, it is a priority for Joe Torre.
They shouldn’t call it the “Chase Utley Rule.” They should call it the “Joe Torre Rule.” Or we can just note that most rules innovations of the past several years are a function of “The Joe Torre Philosophy.” Said philosophy: “we ignore what happens on the field until they become a public relations problem, then we overreact.”