Judging the Royals

Judge weighs in: Chase Utley and Rubén Tejada? Ruben should have seen it coming

Royals baseman Frank White, firing to first to put out New York’s Willie Randolph, used to watch for which kind of cleats opposing base-runners were wearing. If they had on metal spikes, he was extra careful not to get impaled by them.
Royals baseman Frank White, firing to first to put out New York’s Willie Randolph, used to watch for which kind of cleats opposing base-runners were wearing. If they had on metal spikes, he was extra careful not to get impaled by them. ASSOCIATED PRESS

Do an Internet search for Chase Utley’s recent takeout slide of Rubén Tejada and you might come across a play that happened on Sept. 24, 2010.

Utley was still with the Phillies and Tejada was playing for the Mets. It was the fifth inning of a one-run game and there was one out in the inning — Utley was on first base and trying to break up a double play; Tejada was the pivot man and trying to complete one.

Stop the video as Utley arrives at second base and you see a slide almost identical to the recent one that has everyone squawking about Utley being a dirty player. Even back in 2010, Chase did not start his slide before the bag, he started his slide at the bag.

He makes contact with Tejada after passing the bag, hits him about thigh-high and Tejada gets dumped. Despite that slide, Tejada turns the double play. Tejada avoids injury by getting his feet up off the ground. Utley flips him, but Tejada is OK.

Cut to last Saturday night and a very similar slide

This time it’s the seventh inning, and there are runners at first and third, and Utley — now playing for the Dodgers — is once again the runner on first.

But there are some differences: This time, Tejada is playing well off the bag and the ball is hit to his second baseman. Tejada races toward second from his shortstop position, and Utley is sprinting toward second from first base.

The ball isn’t hit all that well, but the Mets’ second baseman still has to go up the middle to field it — he’s moving away from second base. He catches the ball and flips it to Tejada underhand, and the throw doesn’t have much on it. The throw is also offline and high; Tejada has to reach behind him to catch it, and that puts him in a bad position.

Tejada then makes a bad decision. You’ve gotta know who’s running.

Smart middle infielders will tell you knowing who’s running is paramount. Royals second baseman Frank White used to pay attention to which runners had on turf shoes and which runners had on spikes — if the runner on first was wearing spikes, he’d clear the area around second base faster than he would if the guy was wearing turf shoes.

These days, a lot of runners don’t make much effort to break up double plays; they peel out of the base paths early to avoid collisions. If the pivot man has one of those guys coming down the line, he can take his time in an effort to turn two.

But if the runner on first has a reputation for playing hard, old-school baseball, the pivot man better clear the area before he gets dumped.

Despite knowing it was Utley coming at him — a guy who had dumped him before — and despite knowing the play was taking too long, Tejada didn’t clear the area. He still tried to turn two and that led to a second mistake.

Tejada didn’t get his feet up off the ground

The bad throw, high and behind Tejada, put him in an awkward position; Utley was just a step or two away and Tejada decided to try to complete the play by making a 360-degree spin. Tejada turned his back to Utley just as Utley arrived — not a great idea.

Middle infielders avoid leg injuries by getting their feet up off the ground as the runner arrives. The runner might still clip his feet or shins, and that might flip the infielder, but because the infielder’s feet aren’t planted, the infielder doesn’t get hurt. That’s how Tejada avoided injury in 2010.

This time, having his back to Utley meant Tejada didn’t see Utley arrive ... so Tejada never got up off of the ground. Utley hit Tejada when Tejada still had his right foot planted. Tejada not getting up also hurt Utley; Chase took a knee to the face, his helmet went flying and then his head bounced off the infield dirt.

Old-school vs. new-school

Old-school players want to break up double plays. Tthey’ll bust it down the line and slide at the pivot man’s feet to get him to jump off the ground — and if the pivot man jumps off the ground, there won’t be much of a throw to first base.

Chase Utley has been in the league for 13 years and plays old-school ball.

The Utley slide (or non-slide) was nothing compared to the takeout slides local hero Hal McRae used to do. It was just the way the game was played, and people might not have liked it, but they expected it. Guys would make no attempt to tag second base — they were going after the pivot man.

Utley neglected to touch second, but he was still in the base path — in fact, his left hand went over the bag.

2010 vs. 2015

Just to be clear, the Mets weren’t terribly thrilled with Utley’s takeout slide of Ruben Tejada in 2010 either.

David Wright said that slide was legal and within the rules, but if Utley wanted to slide like that, the Mets would start sliding the same way when Utley was at second base. Ruben Tejada was asked if he was angry with Utley, and Tejada said no: “It’s baseball.”

Utley is now facing possible punishment for a slide almost identical to the one in 2010. The difference in the two is how Tejada handled them; in one, Tejada got up off the ground and avoided injury; in the second, more recent on, he put himself in a bad position and got hurt.

If the 2010 slide was legal and Utley did it again in 2015, but the shortstop handled it poorly, should Utley be punished for that?

Old school ballplayers might say no.

Utley slid late, and maybe that needs to be looked at. But Tejada put himself in position to be hurt — and Tejada should have seen it coming.

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