Without decision, Dodgers second baseman will be eligible to continue playing
By Paul Hagen
Shortly before the Mets' 13-7 win over the Dodgers in Game 3 of the National League Division Series at Citi Field on Monday night, there was still no official word on when an appeal of Dodgers second baseman Chase Utley's two-game suspension will be heard. The New York Post reported that an announcement would be made Monday, but that could not be confirmed.
Major League Baseball requested an expedited hearing in hopes of having the issue resolved before Monday's Game 3 at Citi Field in New York. However, Utley's representatives and the Major League Baseball Players' Association asked for time to prepare their case.
In the meantime, Utley remains eligible to play, though he wasn't in the starting lineup for Game 3. His aggressive slide while breaking up a potential double play in Game 2 broke the leg of Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada and resulted in the discipline that was announced Monday by MLB chief baseball officer Joe Torre.
"The Players Association and my agent are handling the appeals process," Utley said in a statement issued on Monday. "I have nothing more to say other than to reiterate that I feel terrible about Ruben's injury. Now my teammates and I are focused on Game 3 and doing everything we can to win this series."
The Collective Bargaining Agreement states that a "hearing shall be commenced within 14 days from the date of receipt of the appeal." But that isn't a hard-and-fast rule, as the CBA also states that the timing of a hearing "may be extended by mutual agreement of the parties involved."
It also isn't clear how much time a player is given to prepare for a hearing, except that it be "in [a] timely fashion":
"A player who is disciplined shall have the right to discover, in timely fashion, all documents and evidence adduced during any investigation of the charges involved."
Once the process gets underway, however, the protocol is pretty straightforward.
John McHale Jr., MLB's executive vice president of administration, interim executive VP of baseball operations and chief information officer, will conduct the hearing.
MLB representatives will explain why the punishment for Utley's slide, described by Torre as "illegal" in the original disciplinary announcement, is justified.
The MLBPA and Utley's lawyers reportedly will counter with video evidence that similar slides in the past have not resulted in disciplinary action.
After weighing the evidence, McHale will make a decision.
Pushing back the process is not without risk for Utley. Depending on when the hearing takes place, how quickly McHale makes his ruling and whether or not he upholds the original suspension, it could mean that he wouldn't be available for a decisive Game 5, if necessary, on Thursday.
If the Dodgers advance, it could affect the team's decision whether or not to keep him on the NLCS roster. Or if the Dodgers are eliminated before a decision is made, he faces the possibility of having to sit out the first two games of the 2016 season.
Said Torre after issuing his statement on Sunday:
"I recognize that there has been much commentary and many questions regarding the unfortunate play in last night's game in which Ruben Tejada was injured. As I said after the game, the determination of whether a baserunner has intentionally interfered with a player attempting to turn a double play is left to the judgment of the umpire on the field, and that judgment call is not subject to review. I should add that determining where to draw the line between an illegal slide and a legitimate hard play is an extremely difficult call for our umpires.
"However, after thoroughly reviewing the play from all conceivable angles, I have concluded that Mr. Utley's action warrants discipline. While I sincerely believe that Mr. Utley had no intention of injuring Ruben Tejada, and was attempting to help his Club in a critical situation, I believe his slide was in violation of Official Baseball Rule 5.09 (a)(13), which is designed to protect fielders from precisely this type of rolling block that occurs away from the base.
"We have been in discussions with the Players Association throughout the year regarding potential rule changes to better protect middle infielders, and we intend to continue those discussions this offseason."
The rule in question states:
"A batter is out when:
"A preceding runner shall, in the umpire's judgment, intentionally interfere with a fielder who is attempting to catch a thrown ball or to throw a ball in an attempt to complete any play.
"Comment: The objective of this rule is to penalize the offensive team for deliberate, unwarranted, unsportsmanlike action by the runner in leaving the baseline for the obvious purpose of crashing the pivot man on a double play, rather than trying to reach the base. Obviously this is an umpire's judgment play."
Umpires reviewed the play and awarded Utley second base. A replay review showed that Tejada did not make contact with second base as he attempted to turn the double play, nor did Utley. The Dodgers parlayed that call into a four-run inning, taking a 5-2 lead. Had the play been interpreted differently in the moment it occurred, the seventh inning could have ended with the Mets leading, 2-1, regardless of how far up the line the runner heading to first had advanced.
On Fox Sports 1 during Game 3 of the American League Division Series between the Blue Jays and Rangers in Arlington, Torre elaborated on his written decision.
"I was sitting behind the first-base dugout last night," he said. "I know Chase plays very hard. From my angle it looked like a hard slide. It really wasn't until I looked at video later on that I saw how late the slide was and how he sort of followed Tejada, sliding into him. It was based on the fact that he slid very late and it appeared to me he hit Tejada and the ground about the same time. He was more targeting the player as opposed to the base. He certainly didn't want to hurt him. He was just breaking up the double play, but I just thought it was a little bit much."
Joel Wolfe, Utley's agent, was quick to announce an appeal and denounce the discipline.
"A two-game suspension for a legal baseball play is outrageous and completely unacceptable," said Wolfe. "Chase did what all players are taught to do in this situation - break up the double play. We routinely see plays at second base similar to this one that have not resulted in suspensions. Chase feels terrible about Ruben Tejada's injury and everyone who knows him knows that he would never intentionally hurt anybody. We will be appealing this suspension immediately."
Torre responded to Wolfe's criticism on FS1.
"I can't worry about what's happened in the past," Torre said. "I'm just worried about what I saw and the fact that we're trying to have rules that will keep these players on the field. It's unfortunate. Chase Utley's a great player. He's always played hard. I've always admired that about him. Unfortunately this time his playing hard, it just happened to have a bad result."
When asked about a possible rule change for runners sliding into second, Torre said: "I know you want to upend the second baseman or shortstop because he has the ball and to break up the double play, but I think we're more concerned about keeping guys on the field, so we're talking more. In fact, in the Arizona Fall League we're doing some testing on having the players go into second base as opposed to going for the infielder."
"The New York Mets completely support the decision made by Major League Baseball to suspend Chase Utley for two games and feel this was the appropriate course of action. With this decision behind us, the team and our fans can now focus on playing winning baseball."
The last Dodgers player to be suspended in the postseason was reliever Jay Howell, who was suspended for three days after being found to have pine tar on his glove during Game 3 of the 1988 National League Championship Series against the Mets. The suspension was reduced to two days after his appeal.
Paul Hagen is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.