While predicting what Major League Baseball will do under its bizarre boss Bobby Manfred is a challenging endeavor, I’m going to tempt fate: When the 2019 season kicks off, there will be a new version of the Chase Utley Rule.
The Utley Rule, so-named after the future Hall of Fame snub Chase Utley viciously bulldozed New York’s Ruben Tejada at second base in the 2015 National League Championship Series, was designed to reduce carnage on double play attempts.
The rule has been somewhat effective in achieving its aims, though much less so than the Buster Posey Rule. That was the change to the rule governing home plate that was named for the victim, rather than the perpetrator, of a gruesome collision. The long-overdue Posey Rule required some adjustments by catchers to stop blocking the plate without the ball, but baserunners no longer felt compelled to piledrive the backstop to score a valuable run, and began to opt for the safer play.
In contrast, the Utley Rule is one that players and managers haven’t fully embraced. The interested parties don’t seem to have uniform understanding of its elements, or uniform acceptance of its aims.
Two plays in the last week have brought the issue to the forefront and are different examples of why the rule needs to be rewritten. On Memorial Day in Pittsburgh, Anthony Rizzo, who was out by a good eight feet on a force play at the plate, made a slight detour from his established line to make a hard slide at the legs of Pirate catcher Elias Diaz. Rizzo’s crappy slide was ruled OK by the umps at the park and, upon review, by the guys back in New York. It was also given the Seal of Approval from Rizzo’s insufferable boss, Joe Maddon. One day later, MLB ruled that Rizzo’s slide was not “just dandy,” and should have resulted in a double play.
That both the umps on the field and the ones in the booth looking at the exact same video evidence the league would use couldn’t get the call right suggests there’s not enough clarity in the rule as currently written.
Last night, we saw another example of why the rule can’t survive. On the final play of the Rangers-Angels contest, repeat offender Rougned Odor tried to break up a double play with a wide slide to catch Andrelton Simmons. The effort failed and the Angels were still able to turn two, though Simmons expressed his displeasure with the slide to Odor, a man you may not want to risk upsetting.
This play represented two other problems with the play. First, it’s clear that the players have differing views of what MLB was trying to do with the rule. Some, like Rizzo and Odor, believe the takeout slide is still a cherished part of the game, and that MLB was only trying to eliminate the horrifically egregious acts like Utley’s. Others believe the league is trying to make the game safer for our nation’s precious supply of middle infielders (and occasionally catchers), it wants to wipe out those reckless acts and the Utley Rule merely codified that desire in a way that was also manageable for the men in blue.
Moreover, even if the umps on the field had ruled that Odor’s slide violated Rule 601(j), the consequences were nil. The Angels managed to accomplish the proscribed penalty anyway.
There will be more of these types of plays, and more back and forth about whether some future slide was dirty and unwarranted or just “good hard baseball.” And that issue won’t be resolved until MLB makes it clear just what it wants, and writes a rule that meets that aim.