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Former Dodgers GM weighs in on Utley slide

Brian Bencomo, Staff Reporter |
October 12, 2015 | 4:42 p.m. PDT

Chase Utley is eligible to play as the Dodgers take on the Mets in Game 3 of the National League Division Series. 

Major League Baseball chief baseball officer Joe Torre announced the suspension of Utley on Sunday following an aggressive slide into second base during Game 2 of the NLDS which broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada. Utley appealed the suspension and is available to play for the Dodgers pending a ruling.

Many current and former players have chimed in on the controversial slide. Former Dodgers GM Fred Claire said the slide was “very late” and “very high.”

“In 30 years with the Dodgers I don’t ever recall a play quite like that,” he said. 

Claire was a Dodgers executive from 1969 to 1998 and GM for the last 11 years of his tenure with the team. While some have discussed a possible rule change in the offseason to prevent similar incidents in the future, Claire doesn’t think MLB will make such a change.

“I would be surprised, frankly, because there’s already a rule there,” he said. 

Torre cited this rule, justifying Utley’s suspension on the grounds that he was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a)(13) which says: 

"The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire’s judgment play."

Mark Conley, Assistant Sports Editor at the San Jose Mercury News, agreed that there probably won’t be a rule change. However, he cited baseball’s tendency to move at a “glacial” pace.

Conley recalled a slide into second base by the Cardinals’ Matt Holliday against Giants shortstop Marco Scutaro during the 2012 National League Championship Series. That slide was arguably harder, but didn’t injure Scutaro.

“It almost takes things like that happening flukishly in succession that gets people to go, ‘Oh, we’ve got a crisis on our hands,’” Conley said.

Although the hard slide into second base to break up a double play is a common feature of the game, injuries on the play are unusual. Two of these “flukish” injuries have now happened within the past month. In September, the Pirates Jung Ho Kang suffered a broken leg on a hard slide into second by the Cubs’ Chris Coghlan.

There was a rule change in 2011 regarding collisions at home plate following an injury to Giants catcher Buster Posey, who suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments in his ankle. Collisions at home had also been considered part of the game much like the hard slide into second.

While a rule change on hard slides is still only speculation and Utley’s suspension awaiting appeal, it’s very possible that the Mets may retaliate during tonight’s game. The “unwritten rules” of baseball call for hitting opposing batters in response to perceived violations.

On Sunday, Mets manager Terry Collins acknowledged that he didn’t know what was going to happen. 

“As long as this game’s been played — and we know there’s a lot of changes — players always took care of stuff themselves,” he said.

Collins, who was a manager in the Dodgers’ minor league system during the 1980s, struck a different tone in a press conference on Monday.

“This is too big a game,” he said. “We need to not worry about retaliating. We need to worry about winning.”

“I think they’ll be very professional,” Claire said. “I’ve known Terry Collins for 40 years. They will do what they always do — what major league teams are supposed to do — go out, play hard.”

Utley has a history with the Mets, including with Monday night’s starter, Matt Harvey. In 2010 Utley slid hard into Tejada to break up a double play. Tejada was okay after the play. Earlier this season Harvey hit Utley with a pitch, seemingly in retaliation for two Mets players being hit by pitches.

On Sunday, Harvey actually hinted at retribution.

Utley is not in the starting lineup for the game, but can come off the bench. The winner of the game will take a 2-1 series lead in the best-of-five series.

Reach staff reporter Brian Bencomo here and follow him on Twitter here.



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