Not an Enjoyable Spectacle

It’s October again, and time for something that has become a tradition in our family–my weeklong bachelorhood. I can’t say I enjoy it–because I love my wife–but knowing she and our daughters are off having fun alleviates any devastation here on the home front. They send me pictures. It’s quiet. And I get to watch more sports on our one television than I’d otherwise have a right to.

Even if it sickens me.

I don’t know if I can watch the remainder of the NLDS between the Los Angeles Dodgers and the New York Mets. I grew up a San Francisco Giants fan, so from my perspective the Dodgers are a soulless roster of high-paid prima donnas. Not a team at all, but a collection of very self-interested individuals.

Chase Utley’s slide into Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada–not into second base, he clearly was unconcerned with that–in the seventh inning of Game 2 verged on the criminal. It broke Tejada’s right leg and, if there were any justice at all in the world, should have knocked half of Utley’s teeth out. So unconcerned was Utley with second base that he never bothered to touch it, and left the field immediately after being called out. He was solely trying to break-up a double play, and in the heat of that moment not only was not in the base path but slid after the bag and purposefully into Tejada.

The Dodgers are lucky I was not umpiring the game–I’d have called a double play and ejected Utley. The proper thing for him to have done is to have slid either over or to the side of second base, disrupting Tejada’s attempt to relay the ball to first. Here’s the rule:

MLB RULE 6.01

“If, in the judgment of the umpire, a base runner willfully and deliberately interferes with a batted ball or a fielder in the act of fielding a batted ball with the obvious intent to break up a double play, the ball is dead. The umpire shall call the runner out for interference and also call out the batter-runner because of the action of his teammate. In no event may bases be run or runs scored because of such action by a runner.”

Yet Utley was both out of the base path and beyond the bag when he assaulted Tejada. Yes–assaulted. I don’t think it was Utley’s intention to actually hurt Tejada–although he did go out of his way to plow into him; Tejada had become inhuman, certainly not a fellow player, rather something Utley had to destroy. But neither do I think he should have been awarded second base after replays showed that Tejada had just barely missed toeing it.

What was missed was the call.

Why–having left the field, on his own, without ever touching second base–could Utley not have been called out on appeal, as a home run hitter who, in his trot, missed second bas might be?

I was fairly certain of the reception he would have met when the series moved to Citi Field in New York. Quite properly, the fans there would have left Utley in no doubt as to where he stood with them. That is until Sunday night, less than 24 hours after the incident, when MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre issued Utley a suspension for the two Citi Field games. But if the teams split those, the series would then conclude in Los Angeles.

The questions now are: Why call a suspension after the fact if the on-field play was deemed hunky-dory? And Will Utley be eligible in LA?

Even in college football, what Utley did would be called targeting–the leveling of a defenseless player–and would have resulted in his removal from the game. In fact, Major League Baseball instituted new measures–2014’s Rule 7.13–that prohibit a base runner from separating the player covering the plate and the ball. A runner, in other words, can no longer level the catcher or any other player covering the plate in the time-honored attempt to dislodge the ball when a tag is applied. The runner’s focus is to be limited to the base.

It’s time to apply Rule 7.13 to the pivot man at second base. I have played catcher and–although I likely was the worst in baseball history–can attest to the invulnerability one feels behind the mask, padding and shin guards. Not once did I feel skittish applying a tag to someone charging me from third base.

The pivot man on a double play, of course, has no such armor. And it’s not an enjoyable spectacle to see him destroyed.

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