The Utley Controversy


AP Photo/ Gregory Bull

The game of baseball is unlike any other sport in the sense that it is played in tiny pockets of time. The masters of the game have the most precise, accurate timing. Thus, the game of baseball is one of incredible speed. Players must master the methods of adjusting, reacting, and anticipating. Many regard these properties of the game as contributing most to the subtle beauty that is baseball. Baseball is clean. There is not much room for deviation in the patterns of the game, especially in the major leagues.

Currently in the heightened tensions of the MLB postseason, the New York Mets have established themselves as an extremely dominant force. They have recently defeated the Chicago Cubs and booked their ticket to the World Series. A few weeks earlier in the postseason, while the Mets were battling the Dodgers in the NL Divisional series, or the quarter-final series, a routine double play resulted in the Mets’ starting short-stop, Ruben Tejada, being driven off the field with a fractured tibia. Rarely in baseball do we ever see physical contact between players. So when a slide into second base results in a broken leg, we know that a play went beyond the usual conventional conduct of the sport.

In the divisional series of the 2015 MLB postseason, Chase Utley, 2nd baseman of the Los Angeles Dodgers, slid into 2nd base, colliding into the Mets’ Ruben Tejada. Utley, trying to break up the double play to keep himself and his teammate safe, darted from 1st base, trying to slide into safety on 2nd. In doing so, Utley clipped Tejada’s leg, causing a premature end to the season for the 25-year-old New York Met.

As the recording of the play shows, Utley clearly was not aiming to touch the bag but to cause Tejada to become off-balance and have to reset himself before touching second and then throwing to first. The controversy of this play does not lie in the intention of Utley’s slide. His intention was not to break a fellow athlete’s leg, but to work and do everything he could for his team. Since the game Utley has apologized to Tejada, stating, “In no way shape or form was I trying to hurt Ruben. I slid in hard like I have for 12 years. I feel terrible about the outcome.” We must also take into account Utley’s history of “hard” slides. In fact a very similar play ensued in 2010 when Utley was still on the Phillies and slid hard into Ruben Tejada, though this time causing him no injury. Aside from this play Utley has repeatedly slid in hard in an attempt to break up the rhythm of the opposing fielders. This time, with the injury sustained by Tejada, Utley faces a two-game suspension administered by the MLB. Utley was able to slide hard like this, as he said himself, for the past twelve years. Is the MLB finally planning to install more stringent rules against plays like these?

As an athlete, it is agreed upon that Utley has a right to be aggressive and gritty on the field. Yet, in trying to break up a play he broke another’s leg. Perhaps Utley’s bold approach to the game has no place in the clean, simple sport of baseball. Still, Utley’s story provokes major questions about the sports world and the media surrounding it. Is Tejada’s injury a result of excessive leniency from the MLB? Can we truly blame Utley for working for his team? How are we to analyze the rapid decisions that must be made within minute amounts of time in baseball?