2015 NLCS. Game Two. Dodgers vs Mets. Chase Utley slides into second base hard – trying to break up a possible double play. Mets’ shortstop Ruben Tejada misses the bag with his foot, and spins like a ballerina trying to make an almost impossible throw to beat the runner at first base. Tejada turned his back to the runner, there was a collision, and both players crumpled to the ground. The result was all the Dodgers were safe, and Tejada ended up with a broken leg.
The umpiring crew saw nothing illegal on the play, but under the heat of the playoff spotlights and blaring opinions from both coasts and all parts in-between, baseball’s chief disciplinarian, Joe Torre suspended Utley. The suspension was appealed, and yesterday Torre announced the suspension will be dropped.
That should be the end of things, right? Not according to New York Mets blogger, Matthew Cerrone. Today Cerrone did no less than call out for the Mets to, “Suspend Utley themselves”.
“I don’t care that MLB isn’t suspending him – because this should be settled on the field.”
– Matthew Cerrone
Never mind vigilante justice could result in a player being permanently injured, ending his career. Never mind the arousal of bad blood between the teams – which hopefully subsided in the offseason – could end up with batters being beaned in the head, infielders being spiked, and bench-clearing brawls that could ultimately hurt both team’s chances at this year’s playoffs. Cerrone wants nothing less than Utley to “taste dirt”. I suppose from the tone of his post that it would be quite alright if Utley also tasted some blood.
The problem with all of this rabble-rousing is that Cerrone doesn’t play for the Mets. That’s not his head that might get thrown at in an extended beanball war. That’s not his ankle being spiked. He’s not risking anything if the Dodgers – Mets cold war goes hot.
It all reminds me of the girl who eggs on her boyfriend to fight because she feels insulted by the group of guys at another table. Or of politicians and generals chomping at the bit for some action, when it’s not them standing on the front lines.
Sure, baseball has a long tradition of players taking care of business on the field when one of their players is hurt by another team. When Cardinals’ pitcher Joe Kelly intentionally drilled the Dodgers’ Hanley Ramirez in the ribs with a fastball in Game One of the 2013 NLCS, plenty of Dodger fans, myself included, saw that as a blatant attempt to injure the Dodgers’ best hitter. THAT deserved retaliation.
I could have written the same type of post as Cerrone at the time, but I would have been just as wrong as he is today. Later in the series Clayton Kershaw hit Matt Holliday – in the buttocks – as payback. The Dodgers handled an obvious cheap shot without resorting to the nuclear option. Kershaw could have beaned Holliday, or tried to break his wrist, but he sent a message just the same, and nobody had their career ruined.
The Utley-Tejada incident also occurred during a high-intensity playoff game. The difference is Utley and Tejada were world-class athletes hanging it all on the line in a bang-bang play. It was Utley’s job to break up that double play, and it was Tejada’s job to complete it. Utley was being tough and physical; Tejada was being graceful and athletic.
The play developed in the blink of an eye. Utley’s slide, while hard-nosed, was seen as legitimate by the umpire standing two feet away. After looking at replays from multiple angles at every possible speed, the highest officials in baseball also decided Utley was within the rules, and they lifted the suspension. It was an unfortunate accident, and Baseball even tweaked the rules over it.
So take a deep breath and chill, Matthew. I know it’s a free country, and everybody’s entitled to their opinion, but you’re wrong on this one.