Houston Astros: MLB needs to eliminate dirty “breakup slides”


The baseball world was set abuzz Saturday night when Chase Utley‘s hard slide into Ruben Tejada to break up a double play, upending him and knocking him out of the game with what turned out to be a fractured fibula.

Utley’s slide was incredibly aggressive and late, as he did not even begin his slide until he was at the bag. Former players from Cal Ripken, Jr., to Eric Karros, were quick to defend Utley’s slide as just a “hard, clean play.”

Others said, “If that was a superstar shortstop we would have a Tulo Rule being enforced tomorrow.”

Even A.J. Hinch weighed in, expressing his doubt that the MLB can ever fully protect second basemen.

Whether it can or can’t, the announcement yesterday that Utley will be suspended for two games indicates the MLB will at least attempt to make positive steps in the right direction. I have serious doubts the suspension will be upheld, since there is no precedent or rule in place to justify that suspension, but it is a positive indication of something they need to address.

Karros was right that we wouldn’t be having this discussion if Tejada hadn’t been injured. But that doesn’t make the need any less reasonable or pressing.

Utley’s slide was far from being the only one of its kind recently in which the runner’s intent was to slide into the player rather than the bag. And we have always had these types of breakup slides, but we’ve seen more of late that have aggressively gone at middle infielders in ways that could seriously injure them.

Consider this play from the AL Wild Card game between the Houston Astros and Yankees. Didi Gregorius is out by a mile, but starts his slide at the bag, rather than before it, and throws his whole body into Jose Altuve. How easily could he have been hurt exactly the same way Tejada was.

We also have this example of Josh Donaldson barreling into Rougned Odor in game one of the ALDS.

In the interest of fairness, Odor is not innocent of crimes committed against his fellow middle infielders.

Four examples of brutal, full-body “slides” (and I do use quotes because these would be more appropriately described as tackles) in the last week and a half. And many, many more that can be pointed out from the season.

Yes, MLB needs to address this problem. Just because Tejada’s injury is the first time we bothered to pay attention to it doesn’t make the issue less important.

Violent catcher collisions had been an issue for a long time before May 25, 2011, when a slide by Scott Cousins took out Buster Posey. Breaking the leg of the best catcher in baseball finally made the MLB address something they should have long before that, even though it didn’t go into place for over two years after the play took place.

They shouldn’t wait that long this time. I’m okay with old school baseball. I’m all right with hard-nosed baseball. But throwing your body into the legs of a defenseless middle infielder in a way that, regardless of intent, could end their careers or alter the course of a club’s season, has no place in baseball.

Sliding into people that way isn’t hard-nosed. It’s just dirty and detrimental to the game.

And if you think it won’t work, consider this — when is the last time you saw someone barrel into a catcher to try to jar the ball loose?

We saw the same excuses with the Posey rule. Former players who feel the need to maintain the toughness on screen they can no longer exhibit on the field said that clobbering catchers were part of the game. That it was un-enforcable. That it gave catchers an unfair advantage.

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But we’ve had the rule in place for over a year and has anyone noticed? Is the game less exciting than it used to be? Is it diminished by not watching catchers get killed by violent baserunners who somehow justified collisions for over a hundred years simply because catchers had extra padding?

The answer to all is a resounding “no.”

Joe Torre already revealed that the Arizona Fall League will experiment with a rule requiring players to slide into the bag, rather than veering off to hit fielders outside the basepath.

It’s a good start, and the MLB should work to move that rule into their books as soon as possible. I would like to see them visit the possibility of punishing players who start their slide past the bag as well. But, at least they’re taking a step in the right direction.

The rule is a good start toward protecting the league’s own investment in their star middle infielders.

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