Major League Baseball has dropped its two-game suspension of Dodgers infielder Chase Utley for his controversial slide that broke the leg of New York Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada last October, Chief Baseball Officer Joe Torre said Sunday.
Utley declined comment after going hitless in three at-bats in Sunday’s 5-2 exhibition win over San Francisco, saying he would address the matter Monday. Utley’s agent, Joel Wolfe, hoped the ruling would exonerate Utley, who was vilified by many for his aggressive play.
“It’s unfortunate that Chase got demonized by all of this,” Wolfe said. “He has never intended to hurt another player. He’s taken great pride in always playing the game the right way and giving maximum effort every time he steps on the field. MLB determined this was a clean play within the rules, an acceptable play, and a hearing wasn’t necessary.”
Utley appealed the suspension — enabling him to remain eligible through the playoffs — and MLB and the players’ union subsequently agreed to rescind it.
Utley, 37, has been known — and respected — for his hard-nosed play, but some thought he went too far when he barreled hard and late into Tejada while breaking up a double play in Game 2 of the National League division series.
Tejada, vulnerable because his back was turned toward Utley, suffered a fractured right fibula and was sidelined for the rest of the playoffs. In announcing the suspension for what an MLB statement called an “illegal slide,” Torre cited Utley for a “rolling block … away from the base.”
However, such a slide was not explicitly outlawed until Feb. 25, when MLB adopted a new rule to protect middle infielders on slides into second. As a result, Torre said Sunday, the league might have faced difficulty upholding the suspension via an appeal hearing.
“I think it would have been an issue,” Torre said. “There wasn’t anything clear-cut to say that play violated a rule.”
Torre said the priority for the league was not in pursuing a suspension of Utley but in revising the rules to enhance player safety.
The new rule states that slides on potential double plays “will require runners to make a bona fide attempt to reach and remain on the base,” and that a runner will be prohibited “from changing his pathway to the base or utilizing a ‘roll block’ for the purpose of initiating contact with the fielder.”
“We’ve eliminated guys being carried off the field. That’s the good news. Hopefully the same message will be delivered under this new rule. We certainly want to keep guys on the field.”
Tejada, in Florida with the Mets, was asked by reporters whether he was upset that Utley’s suspension was dropped.
“No, I don’t care, really,” Tejada said. “I care about me. I’m healthy here, I’m happy here. So I don’t care about what’s going to happen there or whatever decision they make.”
Added Mets General Manager Sandy Alderson: “The most important thing is that the rule was changed.”
The Dodgers and Mets face each other twice this season, with a series in Los Angeles starting May 9 and a series in New York starting May 27. Torre said he hopes any Mets players disappointed in the league’s decision to drop the suspension do not target Utley.
“If it happens, we’ll have to address it,” Torre said. “We’re hopeful that doesn’t happen.”
Dodgers Manager Dave Roberts hopes the ruling brings some closure to the situation.
“It’s great news for Chase and for us to turn the page and move on,” Roberts said. “I think the league has made an adjustment and made it pretty clear this year what’s legal and what’s illegal.”
Shaikin reported from Los Angeles.
Twitter: @MikeDiGiovanna; @billshaikin
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