After his hard slide into Ruben Tejada in the NLDS, the thought on everybody’s mind revolves around whether or not Chase Utley is dirty.
By Robby Sabo
Chase Utley is no stranger to controversy. His latest edition of his longstanding history with it has once again brought his name to the forefront of baseball etiquette.
He’s also reinserted himself into the sickening stomach of every New York Mets fan with his slide from hell that broke Ruben Tejada’s leg and turning Game 2 of the NLDS into a Los Angeles Dodgers game.
Naturally, Tejada’s teammates and media members in the know everywhere offered up opinions, especially considering Utley was ruled safe after further review:
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) October 11, 2015
— Adam Rubin (@AdamRubinESPN) October 11, 2015
If this were the NFL the Mets would get an apology from the league Monday. #mets
— Don La Greca (@DonLagreca) October 11, 2015
How is it possible that you can’t run over a catcher (in full gear) but you can do what Utley did to Tejada? #senseless.
— Michael Kay (@RealMichaelKay) October 11, 2015
Utley was out three times: 1) willful interference 2) neighborhood play 3) never touched bag, abandoned field #FireChrisGuccione
— Keith Olbermann (@KeithOlbermann) October 11, 2015
icymi, after lack of on-field justice, mlb needs to suspend utley for reckless “slide.” http://t.co/RrkM03Lr3v
— Jon Heyman (@JonHeymanCBS) October 11, 2015
Spoke today with one of the most fair-minded major leaguers I know. This is his perspective on the Utley slide…. http://t.co/VleQQbfDwY
— Ken Rosenthal (@Ken_Rosenthal) October 11, 2015
Utley, of course, begs to differ about the slide. He even went as far as to text Tejada an apology:
— Sports Illustrated (@SInow) October 11, 2015
That’s hardly the point, and to Mets fans, and Terry Collins, the only thing they care about right now is the fact their shortstop is done for the playoffs because an opponent slid very hard, and very late.
Re-watching Utley play from last night. Taking it frame-by-frame. So hard to find any way to justify. Late & dirty. pic.twitter.com/4baWLjFi1F
— Steve Gelbs (@SteveGelbs) October 11, 2015
Is Utley a dirty baseball player? This is the question on everybody’s mind?
First and foremost, if Utley had made that play while playing for the Mets, all of Floushing would be clapping as we speak. The guy represents the ultimate “love him if he’s on your team, hate him if he’s not” type of ballplayer.
He’s the Sean Avery of hockey; the Dennis Rodman of basketball; the Ndamukong Suh of football.
He plays with an edge that’ll tick off the average opponent and a grit that has the old-school player grinning from ear-to-ear. Of course, it’s also this fiery play that brings so much controversy to the table.
It’s an impossible question to answer, whether Utley is a dirty player or not. The reason is quite simple: Nobody knows what dirty is in today’s MLB.
With so much emphasis (in every sport) on player safety and lack of progressive aggression, people finding themselves up in arms about a hard play in 2015 is a common occurrence – while 50 years ago it would have been treated as a “hard baseball play” and an unlucky break for the Mets.
Take a look at some of the arguments made for the pro-Utley camp over the last 20 hours:
David Wright, you’re not sliding into the base cleanly. You’re shoulder’s in the fielder’s groin. pic.twitter.com/lifdHnsykP Dodgers Mets Utley
— DKDodgers (@DKDodgers) October 11, 2015
Murphy taking out Utley. Was not suspended pic.twitter.com/T4cr7pKE3E
— Peter Gammons (@pgammo) October 11, 2015
Clearly, both David Wright and Daniel Murphy veered off the base-path in effort to break up the double-play with Utley as the turn. However, Utley taking crooked path to second-base isn’t the issue, because as we know, it’s been done to death in baseball over the course of its illustrious history.
It’s the fact he started the slide so late and came in incredibly hard. This is what has so many voices speaking out.
Here’s a comparison between the issue at hand and an Utley slide from 2011:
The first thing that’s easy to notice is how upright Utley is against Tejada. When he slid against the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2011 NLDS, he was almost parallel to the ground, in a sliding form.
When he makes contact with Tejada, his body is almost parallel with Tejada’s body. This, by most accounts, means the slide was dirty.
But wouldn’t you want your teammate to do the same thing if it could mean the difference in a tight, one-run game in the postseason? Whether you like him or hate him, Utley sacrificed his own body in order to get it done. He legitimately took one for the team as his head bounced off of Tejada’s knee like one of Mike Tyson’s victims in a 1980s boxing ring.
Think about the Stanley Cup Playoffs for a moment. How often do you watch a regular season NHL game, and find it incredibly boring and ho-hum in comparison to the playoffs. It’s the playoffs when we see the intensity ratcheted up. Guys suddenly look to figure out the officials and practice what they can literally get away with.
A cross-check in the playoffs is different than in the regular season. It’s just that way in sports. Hard and heavy becomes a way of life in the postseason.
Here’s another example of Utley and his questionable sliding ways. One that happened only a month ago:
Video of Utley slide in a game a month ago pic.twitter.com/A0FhNRMbp0
— Mike Rosenberg (@RosenbergMerc) October 11, 2015
Instead of sitting upright – as in the case with Tejada on Saturday night – Utley completely sprawled himself out there in attempt to mess with Jedd Gyroko’s throw to first-base. It’s clear Utley is one of those rare breeds who’ll do his job to the fullest. He’ll do what the team needs him to do.
Unfortunately for us, the question of whether you think Utley is dirty or not, or whether you think his slide on Tejada was over-the-top or not, simply cannot be answered concretely. The game has changed in such an ultra Charmin-soft way that opinions will be split down the middle.
One person’s “gutsy player” will be another’s “dirty.”
The one thing that needed to happen on Saturday night, didn’t. The Mets should’ve retaliated right there on that field. Whether it was confronting Utley before he sprinted to the dugout, or plunking somebody after the score reached 5-2, New York simply didn’t act.
They remained in a state of shock and let their anger pour out via conversation after the game.
Now, Game 3 will bring a very special emphasis of revenge to the table. One that’ll surely have starter Matt Harvey up and ready to go for.
This is baseball. The only thing we can agree upon is that you love Utley. That is, only if he’s wearing the same color jersey you are.
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