Players sound off on Utley slide
What happened in Los Angeles on Saturday night during the Dodgers’ 5-2 win vs. the Mets in Game 2 of the NLDS sent shockwaves through the baseball world. In the bottom of the seventh with the Dodgers trailing the Mets 1-0, Chase Utley attempted to break up a double play with a hard slide into second base. With the potential tying run at third base, Utley took out Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. Utley did break up the double play, but Tejada suffered a fractured fibula and will now miss the rest of the postseason.
As always with these types of incidents, a fury broke out on social media regarding whether or not it was a dirty play. I decided to ask some players about it. By the time I wrote this, I heard back from over 60 current and former players on the subject, some who can claim Utley as a teammate at some point or another. They answered four questions in a survey and I gave them the opportunity to share their thoughts in their own words. Some took that opportunity below. But first, the questions:
There were 61 responses to this question with 79 percent of players saying the play was legal with the majority of those saying it was dirty. Sevent-one percent of those who answered said the play was dirty regardless of whether it was legal or not. Four players who took this survey did not answer this question and four more did not see a clear distinction on the play.
The overwhelming opinion on this matter was no, with 55 of the 65 players believing that there should be no discipline handed down from MLB for Utley.
Retaliation, the unwritten rules, should it happen? Fans generally hate this concept but 64 percent of current and former major leaguers polled said that some form of retaliation should happen. Some players get into more details regarding retaliation in the comments below.
And finally, what should Major League Baseball do about this? Should there be a change in the rules? This was probably the most interesting part of the survey to me. I thought we would see an overwhelming vote for a change in the rule but while 53 percent of participants said change the rule, 47 percent said the rule is fine as it currently stands.
This was and will continue to be a very heated topic within the game. Players have opinions, as do team executives, coaches, fans and the league office. Not everyone agrees and that’s OK. Respectful, open-minded discourse will lead us to a place that will lead to a conclusion.
Below are the comments from players, all of them, in their own words, about what they saw and how they feel about the Utley slide.
"I thought it was a legal slide but a little late. I also think that if he didn’t try and do a 360 this wouldn’t of happen. Is Utley supposed to try and stop just cause player does 360? Then he is talked about on all shows as he didn’t do "his job" and break up double play. If he doesn’t do a 360 and tries to make the turn and Utley still breaks his leg with clean hard slide is this discussion still happening? He chose to turn his back on a player that is known for hard slides. That’s his fault. You always know your runner!"
"It was dirty because there was no way they were turning the play. If it was a bullet and he was stealing it’s a different circumstance."
"Tejada put himself in a vulnerable situation. Has to know the runner, and timing of the situation. Get the out and clear the area. If a middle infielder lingers around the bag on a potential DP they are gonna get dumped. Also remember this isn’t a last second decision by the runner. Runner makes up his mind to break it up half way to 2nd."
"Part of the game. Late slide, legal within the rules but classified a bit dirty. Should have slid earlier. Tejada should’ve taken 1 out and gotten off the train tracks."
"Let baseball players handle this on the field, Utley needs to go down, that’s not being a gamer in the playoffs. I played with Utley he’s a great guy he only wanted to stop the double play but now that the shortstop is out he must pay. Utley knows this, when he gets drilled he’ll walk to first."
"Add a rule but I don’t like adding "safety" rules. It needs to be more directly "whole body" into the bag. You can go past the bag but it’s only by momentum."
"Chase is a throwback hard-nosed player that has always done what it takes to win. He was clearly not trying to hurt Ruben, he was trying to make dang sure he wouldn’t get a throw off. Heck I’ll bet Chase has a potential concussion after taking the knee to the head. However if MLB puts strict rules in place to prevent things like this from happening, players won’t do this. Right now as the rules stand Chase did nothing wrong. Clearly the rule change for catchers has protected them, same thing needs to happen up the middle and I don’t believe it will change our game at all."
"I blame the umpires for not CALLING SLIDING out of the base line. Chase plays hard, but, the SLIDE was ILLEGAL. And he clearly hit the FIELDER before HE SLID into 2B."
"I’m a former shortstop and am well aware of how to safely but effectively ‘takeout’ a middle infielder. Utley showed zero effort at all to reach the base and waited until the 91st foot to ‘slide.’ Obviously considered legal within the rules but am pretty sure it’s umpire’s decision whether it was or wasn’t clean. Once again, I’m all for disrupting the middle infielder, just feel like this situation and many others could be prevented with proper punishment and umpires having a clue on what’s dirty and not. Brett Lawrie earlier in the year against the Royals, would’ve actually been safe at second base, if he slid into the bag instead of treating Alcides Escobar’s leg as the bag. What followed in the next few games were players getting their teammates backs and enforcing ‘unwritten’ rules on how to retaliate. Creating unsafe situations for both teams, all because of a slide that is within the ‘rules.’ Kang from Pittsburgh also stands out as a slide that is within the ‘rules’ and is deemed clean, although, like Utley’s, showed no effort to legitimately reach the bag at all. Obviously when injuries happen it stands out so much more. (i.e. Posey), but these kinds of slides happen every year all year and nothing is said until something happens. The NBA reviews fouls to see if they were flagrant, and with video review being so relevant in all of the major sports, why not review to judge intent and cleanliness of plays at bags. Keeping baseball the game it is, while focusing more on player safety and weeding out the ‘dirty’ slides that put so many of the games most exciting players at risk of missing time."
"That is what was tough through the minor league system. Hard slide into 2B to prevent the DP at any cause. Is a dirty play and runner should be out for missing the bag."
"Game is too soft as it is. There are no layups in playoff basketball because guys dial it up. It was very unfortunate though."
"He did slide late but I think anyone in that situation is going to slide late to break up a double play, especially in the playoffs, especially in a must-win game. I think if he does slide earlier he could have still hurt Tejada with the position he was in. I think when a guy gets hurt on a play like that a team wants to retaliate, but the suspensions and ejections in the game now make it tough to do."
"I do believe the slide was late and dirty but it is part of the game. He was trying to break up the DP so they could tie the game/series up. Trying to spark his team. This has been part of the game for a hundred years."
"Chase is a great teammate and person. He plays the game with an edge. What he did was dirty but within the rules and helped the Dodgers win a critical game. I believe he’ll do the same slide again in the series if needed, just hope that nobody gets hurt."
"There’s a difference between playing hard and playing reckless. Watching Chase during the entire flying body block, he was out of control."
"Did Utley even touch the base? How is he safe if he didn’t?"
"Watching this play scared me for reasons different than one might expect. With the season on the line, and a 2-1 score the tying run was on third base. If I were Chase, I would have gone through my mental checklist. Half way on a fly ball, but tag if I thought I could divert the OFer’s attention away from the man on 3rd. Don’t let my self get tagged by the second baseman on a grounder hit to him. Make sure to freeze on a line drive and not get doubled off. And most importantly on a ground ball make sure to do EVERYTHING in my power to break up the double play. I don’t know how late I would have slid, or exactly how I would have reacted once I reached the base, but I would have been willing to sacrifice MYSELF physically to make sure to prevent that double play. I believe Chase was thinking the same way. He was not intending to hurt Tejada, he was willing to hurt himself. I place no blame on Chase for his actions and all the blame on the rules surrounding the play. The umpires have never used their discretion to accurately enforce the rule, allowing slides like this to happen. Chase wasn’t thinking about Tejada, or his own safety, he was thinking about his team. Watching the play scares because I believe I would have done the same thing and perhaps caused the same injury to Tejada, or one to myself."
"Yes retaliate to clear the air. Worst-case scenario on the play Tejada didn’t know the speed of either runner. Utley and Kendrick are decent runners. The moment the play is identified as ‘not routine’ should signal to the receiving infielder that this is a one out play."
"The game has been played that way forever. It’s like a line drive back to the pitcher. It’s part of the game. Everything isn’t safe."
"Listen to the casual fan I get that this play may seem ‘dirty’ but the rule states you must be within the reach of the base and he certainly was. Do I ever want to see a player injured, never, but should we take away the will to win and the competition factor within the rules? No, while it’s unfortunate an injury occurred Chase Utley has been on the other side of this for two decades. It’s part of the game. Now do I also think the rule could be adjusted going forward? Sure, let’s keep Ruben Tejada safe just like we want Tulo or The Captain to be safe. Sliding directly into the base would be fine by me starting next year."
"Much like the plays at home plate, there needs to be a clearer interpretation of the rule. All umpires need to understand it & call it appropriately. When a player clearly intends on making contact with the middle infielder & makes no attempt to touch the base, runner should be called out."
"The rules need to be crystal clear with no room for misinterpretation."
"IMO he wasn’t trying to injury SS. If SS just gets 1 out it’s not as bad. I played the middle and coach it now and biggest thing I tell guys is protect yourself at all times. Didi slide vs. Altuve in WC game was same slide for me."
"As a former player I understand the intensity of the playoffs or any game played. My problem with the play was Utley started his slide on the back of 2nd base instead of sliding through the base. That was a recipe for injury for both players."
"Sliding in hard to second is part of the game. Sliding past the bag late and high the way he did is unacceptable and the play should have ended as a double play and possible ejection."
"It’s the playoffs, so I love the mentality of Chase but Tejada wasn’t turning two on that play. The slide was late and high. Middle infielders for LAD better watch their lips."
"I don’t think Chase would have gone in as hard if the Mets shortstop was a superstar/friend playing second base."
"If Chase had it to do all over again, he probably would have slid a hair earlier as he was really late, not only putting the other player in danger but himself as well, sliding so late. Playoff baseball should be played as such – lay that guy out to make sure of scoring the run – I think the error was in fundamental execution of the timing of the take out slide, not the intent or the slide itself."
"This is not the first time this has happen with Utley. Whether it was vs. the Mets last time or not. I agree with playing the game hard, but to slide when you’re right on top of the bag is uncalled for."
"The first goal of a runner should to attempt to be safe when running to a base. He shouldn’t attempt to break up a DP unless he is clearly going to be out. But when a runner makes 0 effort to touch a base he’s sliding at, it’s clear his intentions had nothing to do with getting to 2nd, even though he may have been safe if he’d slid straight into the bag. I understand playing the game hard. But playing smart should be just as important."
"This is baseball, both teams are playing to win the game, his motive was to prevent a double play so his team could stay alive and score that inning. There is so much at stake, so you play hard. Baseball players have grown so sensitive. NY, go ahead and retaliate or not, just do what it takes for your team to win the game."
"As a base runner you are taught to take out the 2B or SS. It was instinctive for Utley to try and take out Tejada. Was he playing hard? Yes. Did he purposely want to harm him? No. But that being said, they should change the rule to protect the infielders."
"Chase did what he was supposed to do in that situation. Your job is to break up the double play. It was just unfortunate that Tejada was injured. Nobody is directly trying to hurt someone in that situation. MLB needs to change the rule so that guys don’t get hurt in that situation. Never want someone’s career to be put on the line over a double play."
"He slid very late. Hard-nosed play but what bothered me was it was more of a body roll than a slide and a really late. It’s a big play in a big situation. If he led with legs not body roll I have no problem with it."
"If new rule, no starting slides after the base. Utley intended to break up a DP. He knows it can be, but not necessarily will be dangerous. When I’ve seen a runner do that, it was for the purpose of getting the 2B or SS to not even attempt a throw. To give up on attempt. Not that it’s his fault, but Tejada should have known runner was there and just made sure he didn’t get clipped."
"What makes it a dirty slide to me , is that it was very late."
"Breaking up a DP is like pitching inside…there’s an etiquette to it. When it’s done, it needs to be done right. I thought Utley’s slide was late!"
"Late slide with the intent. He has always had a pass on how he plays and he is very aggressive almost to a fault. He drops his knee on base stealers that head first slide and in the sliding instance in my opinion, it was late and too high."
"It was a legal slide, (his hand touched the base) he didn’t go in high to hurt the position player trying to turn 2. If MLB wants to change rules that is fine but there should be no discipline action toward Utley."
"Rule change is so needed. Playoff’s tend to lend themselves to extraordinarily different play in regard to sliding at second to break up DP’s."
"On retaliation: only retaliate if game situation allows it. You can’t put yourself in trouble in a 5 game series."
"The issue isn’t that it was hard slide but how late it was, Tejada also knows Utley has a rep of hard slides into 2nd and needs to get out of the way. Thing is with Utley playing 2nd they will have a chance to get after him, hitting him with a pitch isn’t going to work as he gets drilled a bunch anyway."
"Only problem I saw was how late he started to slide. Hard nosed play trying to prevent the double play. Unfortunately Tejeda was not in a good position."
"I think the rule should be changed to an extent. You must slide (have to define what a slide is), but you shouldn’t have to slide directly into the base. You should still be able to take an infielder out. Technique is important and Tejada was fine if Utley actually slid. Also, you can’t suspend somebody for doing something legal."
"He’s clearly trying to play aggressively so let’s not take that away with suspensions. Just call both runners out and have the runners return to the previous bases that were not involved."
"2nd baseman had no play at first. He should have taken throw and gotten out of there. That’s the way you are taught to go into second, low and hard. Would have earned him a ‘DP Buster’ t-shirt back in the day in Mets minor league organization."
"As an ex-player we all know how to slide. Chase didn’t forget where the base was by making his slide late. He obviously was trying to help his team win, but did so taking it to the extreme with his slide. Chase has been turning double plays for over a decade, he knows what kind of slide that was."
"That’s baseball. As a former 2B/SS…. I have received and given out slides like this."