Opinion

Don’t Let Chase Utley’s Slide Ruin Baseball

REUTERS/Hans Deryk

Sean Roman Strockyj Freelance Writer

Mets fans are understandably livid with Chase Utley. But they got cheated by instant replay in Game 2 of the Mets-Dodgers playoff series.

In the aftermath of Utley’s slide into Ruben Tejada, fans and commentators are calling for curbing aggressive attempts to break up the double-play, similar to the voices that led to the historic rule change regarding blocking home plate after Giants’ catcher Buster Posey’s leg was broken in a 2011 collision with the Marlins’ Scott Cousins. There shouldn’t be any rule changes.

Current “interference” rules already permit the umpire to call the runner out when he so obviously goes after the fielder and not the base. But the umps traditionally give the runner wide latitude in breaking up a play and also expect the fielder to not turn his back on the runner.

That isn’t to blame the victim, or to excuse Utley’s play. It is, instead, to draw attention to the biggest reason the Mets and Dodgers were even after two games: the scourge of technocratic instant-replay challenges.

The true significance of this incident goes beyond Utley’s rough slide. As if it wasn’t enough to take out the Mets’ shortstop for the rest of the season, the Dodgers unjustly benefited from a terribly flawed replay system. Suffering the injury and not getting credit for the out was a much greater penance than even Tejada’s critics would say he deserved for taking his eyes off the runner barreling toward him and putting his body at risk for the double play.

Of course, Utley should be punished for never touching second base even after he was ruled out. Joe Torre, baseball’s dean of discipline, was right to suspend him for two games.

The Utley-Tejada play echoed decades of baseball history — but the replay challenge was a new and malicious force at work.

Here’s what happened: Utley was ruled out. The Dodgers challenged the call on the field, arguing Tejada, once he had the ball, never actually touched second base. After looking at the tapes, the reviewing officials agreed and reversed the call. Every runner was ruled safe, keeping the Dodgers’ rally alive. The Mets were demoralized and did not see fit to dispense any justice on-the-field. The rest is history.

Advocates of instant replay should now see that replay has hurt the course of a significant playoff game more than it ever helped rectify a game. The available footage was sketchy. In fact, there was no natural close-up of the spot where Tejada’s foot hit — or didn’t hit — the bag. A grainy pixilated blow-up shows that Tejada’s foot “perhaps” just missed the bag. Importantly, if baseball officials utilized the standard of review for replay, they should have concluded there was a lack of indisputable evidence sufficient to overturn the umpire’s call.

After all, how can one say with absolute certainty that the very front of Tejada’s cleat did not brush the outermost part of second base? A five-minute break in the game interrupting the natural flow of the game to get the unjust result Saturday night shows why replay, in its current form, has no place in baseball.

In fact, far from using technology to get the calls right, imposing replay onto baseball led to a massive injustice. Calling Utley out should never have been overturned — and there’s an argument to be made that if replay must be used, it should allow consideration of an interference call, which would have resulted in an automatic, inning-ending double-play call. But even without the automatic double-play, there should’ve been two outs when play resumed. The Mets got the following out after the collision, which suggests that they would’ve been able to get out of the inning and send the game to the eighth all tied up. Instead, the Dodgers profited from their sins and the incident led to a three-run lead. The Mets responded well at home, but wins come at a premium in a five game series.

Of course, we’ll never know how the game would’ve turned out if the correct call was made. But the most frustrating part of all this is that the correct call was originally made by the traditional baseball law-giver, the umpire, whose voice should still have final authority