The MLB Playoffs are an intense time of year. They provide a jolt of excitement during the transition from Baseball to Football, Summer to Fall, and create a great deal of drama. Chase Utley, a borderline Hall of Fame second basemen, respected around the league by coaches and players alike, became a villain just days ago. Shortly after Utley’s ordeal, Jose Bautista, the Toronto Blue Jays clubhouse leader, All-Star, fan favorite, and MLB Player’s Union figure, became a jerk. These are opinions widely shared now, especially considering how riled up the playoffs can get everybody. When we look at these situations case-by-case, as they should be, we can see a more clear reality.
Chase Utley is known for playing hard. He slides hard, hurts himself much more than he hurts anyone else, and doesn’t budge when a pitch is coming at him. These are well known traits about Chase Utley. Another piece of common knowledge (maybe less for a fan than a player) is that players are trained to slide late, and taught to try to break up double plays when in certain situations. Every player is. Every. Single. Player.
During the 7th inning of Game 2 of the 2015 NLDS, with Chase Utley on first, the tying run on third, and Howie Kendrick up to bat, a ground ball was hit up the middle. It would be a tough play for anyone to turn, and Mets shortstop Ruben Tejada was already having a hard enough time trying to catch, spin, and throw all in one motion. Utley was going as much for Tejada as he was for the base (a point that is subject to much debate), and the play resulted in Utley sliding late, crashing into Tejada, and breaking his leg. No “neighborhood play” rule was called, so Utley was declared safe. If anyone is to blame for the outcome of this play, it is the League Officials, and Major League Baseball as a whole, for raising players to take out infielders when at risk of running into a double play.
Suspending Chase Utley (even for 2 games), and labelling him as a dirty player, is a massive injustice to one of the most humble and hard-working players in the entire league. This play has happened many, many times in the past, never resulting in a suspension. Now that a player has been injured, in a violent crash, under national spotlight, there is almost sure to be a rule change. Until that rule is changed, no one, including Chase Utley, ought to be suspended for sliding the way everybody is taught to slide. It simply isn’t right. As a side note, it is my personal opinion that had Ruben Tejada not been injured on the play, there would be no suspension, and certainly no talk of a rule change.
Now on to Jose Bautista (better known as Joey Bats to Blue Jays fans), and his notorious bat flip. To the best of my descriptive capabilities: bat flips are the result of an intense amount of emotion being pent up, and released along with a batter’s swing upon his realization that he’s hit a homerun. This is something that is incredibly hard to understand unless you have played baseball competitively.
Hitting a baseball takes an incredible amount of concentration and focus. It also requires that you put a cap on your emotions, and ignore the excitement and nervousness that comes with any given hitting situation. Every hitting situation is different. The later in the game it is, things are more tense, especially with your team down. Now put that tension in the setting of a playoff elimination game, and maybe you start to paint a picture of the massive level of stress and bottled-up emotion a batter might be trying to silence while attempting to hit the round ball with the round bat, squarely.
Professional athletes are often chastised for showing emotion on the field, and sometimes that is fair. Yet we at home, spectating from our couch, sometimes seem to forget just how much fun winning is. Yes, watching your team win is fun. But there is that other kind of fun, that “I did it” kind of fun that comes from competition, and even more comes from winning that competition through your hard work. Jose Bautista was experiencing the second kind of fun, the emotionally charged one that may result in a bat flip or a chest bump from time-to-time. It’s easy to get mad or be jealous of people that get to show that much emotion at work, because most of us would get fired for it. While it is easy, that does not make it fair. Realize that these men are sacrificing their bodies for the game that they love, and accept baseball for what it is: a game.
If nothing I’ve said is convincing enough, maybe ex-pro Vernon Wells will do a better job:
Takeout slides suck when they hurt players, and bat flips suck when they occur because your team gives up a home run, but these things happen. The majority of the time, these events go relatively unnoticed. The playoffs get people excited and they blow things out of proportion, they’re almost supposed to. Chase Utley was just doing his job, and Jose Bautista was having an emotional day at work, remember that we have those too.